Mike Gregg ended the story laughing and so did I. Here’s how the legend of A.J. Hawk got started. No joke.
Mike Gregg ended the story laughing and so did I. Here’s how the legend known as A.J. Hawk got started. No joke.
According to Gregg, the son of legendary Centerville and Ohio high school head coach Bob Gregg (301 career wins), the Elks defense was struggling to start the 1998 season and due to injury and ineptitude needed a spark. Insert freshman A.J. Hawk.
After just a couple snaps, Hawk – with limited knowledge of the scheme – was making play after play. He hasn’t exited a line-up since.
Said Gregg, “My dad told the coaches just to tell A.J. where to line-up and not what to do. He didn’t want them (bleeping) him up. That kid had talent you can’t coach.”
Hawk still does – and today it will be on display in Super Bowl XLV.
I have to admit I have a special relationship with Hawk. I covered his Centerville teams his freshman and sophomore years while working for the Centerville-Bellbrook Times and then followed him and his partner Bobby Carpenter during their days at Ohio State. I had the opportunity to cover Carpenter his junior and senior years while I worked at the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette.
The athlete I keep in contact with the most that I’ve covered is Hawk’s brother Ryan – who is the best QB in Centerville history (sorry Herbstreit). Just this week I got an invite from Ryan to attend his induction ceremony into the Centerville High School Athletic Hall of Fame later this month.
I have met Keith and Judy Hawk, A.J. and Ryan’s parents, and I have been to their house to collect jersey’s signed for my oldest daughter Ashley.
I also have a ticket from the 2006 Centerville Sonny Unger banquet signed by A.J.’s wife Laura, who at that time still carried her maiden name Quinn.
The Hawks are special people and today I hope is special for them. History indicates it will be.
A.J. Hawk and disappointment aren’t two things that mix. A.J. Hawk and history are two things that seem to embrace forever.
Whenever and wherever A.J. Hawk has played, his teams have been successful and memorable.
Its first appropriate to point out that while at Centerville Hawk played for both Gregg (who coached Herbstreit) and current head coach Ron Ullery. Although Ullery’s been there longer (OC under Gregg), Hawk is the singular player that unifies old and new success at the suburban Dayton powerhouse.
It can be argued – and will be by this author – that Hawk played on the best team in Centerville High School history as a sophomore. Led by Ryan, a senior who set multiple school records including points in a game (36) and career passing yards (5,013) and TDs (41), the 1999 Centerville squad finished 11-1. During the regular season, the Elks beat Wayne 34-14 in a historic match-up that was witnessed by over 13,000 people at Heidkamp Stadium in Huber Heights. The Warriors, led by then-second-year head coach Jay Minton, had future Buckeyes Will Allen (current member of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and John Hollins on the roster. Due to the over-flow crowd at that game and concern over fire regulations, Heidkamp’s capacity has since been lowered.
Centerville blew out Mason in the first round of the playoffs and in the regional semifinals faced off against Cincinnati Elder in one of the greatest playoff games in Southwest Ohio history at Middletown’s Barnitz Stadium. Elder dominated first half play and built a 28-14 halftime lead before being dismantled by Centerville’s ground game in the second half. The Panthers trailed 42-28 with three minutes to go in the game before scoring 21 straight points, the last on a 40-yard interception return with eight seconds left, to win 49-42.
It as Bob Gregg’s last game. In addition to the Hawks, that Centerville team was led by seniors J.D. Kennard (WR), Zac Elcess (OL) and Ray Huston (RB). Some guy named Mike Nugent was a junior kicker and RB.
At Ohio State, Hawk was on the national championship team in 2002 and was a three-time first team All-Big Ten performer. As a senior he won the Lombardi Award.
Taken fifth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft, Hawk was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie first team after recording 155 tackles (second most ever by a Packers rookie).
Heading into the Super Bowl, Hawk has 511 career tackles and is on the verge of his first World Championship.
And I doubt Ryan would mind sharing the spotlight this month.
The Centerville H.S. HOF is one thing.
Super Bowl XLV is another.
Did I mention Ryan wore No. 12 and was dual threat QB?