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You’re Nuts: Who is your favorite Ohio State athlete you got to watch in-person?

Gene and Josh went to school with different Buckeye football teams, but both chose defensive players.

Ohio State A.J. Hawk SetNumber: X74179 TK1

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Who is your favorite Ohio State athlete you got to watch in-person?


Josh’s Take: A.J. Hawk

When Gene suggested this idea, my mind went in a million different directions. I wanted to push back and say this was too difficult to decide. I develop an affinity for multiple Buckeyes during each season; how I am I supposed to choose just one? And of all-time!? Fortunately (or unfortunately), the in-person caveat eliminated many of my favorite Ohio State athletes.

I saw Jimmy Jackson when I was very young, and to this day, he is still my favorite OSU basketball player of all time. Unfortunately, I think I was too young. I simply can’t remember enough to make an argument for him here. Same goes for Andy Katzenmoyer and Eddie George on the gridiron. That tells me a couple of things: 1) I’m getting old, and 2) I don’t have a great memory.

As my mind gravitated towards more recent Buckeyes, I crossed off a couple legends whose career(s) I thoroughly enjoyed, but I was never able to see in-person. Greg Oden attended Ohio State during the same time I did. I saw him on campus, and I met him multiple times through acquaintances I had... but I never saw him play in-person. Just a poor performance by me, really. I have been to dozens of OSU basketball games, but I didn’t have tickets during the ‘06-07 season, and I never made it to a game. Talk about regrets.

The other athlete I had to eliminate here was Kyle Snyder. He is arguably one of the top-5 athletes in school history, and I am a wrestling fan, but I wasn’t really dialed in to attending collegiate wrestling matches during his time in Columbus. Again, that’s on me. So that only leaves hundreds of other Buckeyes to choose from.

Maybe I will stop here and argue — again — that this decision is just too difficult! Gene, this is like asking me to choose my favorite burger or bourbon. I love them all. But duty calls, and I was able to narrow this down to two athletes... and then one. Before I reveal my choice, I just need to say that Braxton Miller was in it until the end. He was so close to being the pick, that I deleted a few hundred words I had written about him. Shoutout to Miller, but my favorite Buckeye that I ever saw in-person, was another football player. I got to witness his entire OSU career, and I attended a lot of his games, so there is some sentimentality at play here. My choice is A.J. Hawk.

The former All-American linebacker enrolled at Ohio State the same year I did. He played for four seasons, and I attended well over half of his home games. There may be some bias here, but I can honestly say that when I watched Hawk play in-person, I enjoyed the hell out of it. Every single time. He was obviously a part of that special 2002 team, and he would eventually go on to become one of the best linebackers in OSU history. Watching him in-person was great. Watching him a dozen or so times? Even better.

Hawk may not have been a star for the ‘02 team, but he was a contributor. I could tell that he was going to be good, if not great, eventually. He had a pick-six in Ohio State’s second game of the season, and made an instant fan out of me. The Buckeyes memorably went on to beat Miami for a National Championship that season, and that is something that will stay with me forever. While many of the greats from that team left after the season, Hawk was just getting started.

The Centerville native was good in 2003, but truly became a star the next year. In 2004, Hawk totaled an astonishing 141 tackles and received All-American honors. The Buckeyes only finished 8-4 that season, but I became obsessed with watching Hawk and his fellow linebackers play. Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel formed a terrific LB trio with Hawk, and to me, they were like the Bash Brothers from Mighty Ducks 2 — or D2: The Mighty Ducks, for all of you Emilio Estevez connoisseurs out there. Three dudes running around with their hair on fire looking for somebody to hit. That unit is neck-and-neck with this year’s wide receivers for best OSU position groups of all-time.

The Buckeyes rebounded in 2005, and after starting 3-2, won their last seven games — including a victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Hawk and some of his teammates famously grew out their hair to honor the late, great Pat Tillman, and it was just a memorable time all-around. The linebackers became rock stars, especially around Columbus. It was Hawk who led them. He added another 120+ tackles and unanimous All-American honors, cementing himself as an Ohio State legend. He was just so damn good, and fun to watch. As if his four years of play weren’t enough, he terrorized his actual girlfriend’s brother (Brady Quinn) during the Fiesta Bowl. How cool is that for a walk-off performance!?

A.J. Hawk was a legend at OSU, and I was fortunate enough to witness his entire career. I’ve been able to watch plenty of other stars compete for the Buckeyes, but never to that extent. That’s why Hawk eventually became the choice for me. He wasn’t the best in school history, or one of the most scintillating athletes, but he was my guy. I got to see it all, including one of the most memorable CFB National Championships in recent history. The volume, and number of memories, left me no other choice.

Gene’s Take: Malik Hooker

Much like Josh, I was fortunate enough during my time at Ohio State to see a litany of phenomenal athletes across a multitude of sports, so it was hard to choose just one.

I’m not the biggest basketball fan in the world, and the Buckeyes’ hoops teams during my stint in Columbus certainly weren’t the best, but D’Angelo Russell was certainly a name I considered for this piece. Other than the fact that we were both born on the exact same day (Feb. 23, 1996 — same birthday, differing bank accounts), Russell was a treat to watch on the hardwood. In his one season at Ohio State in 2014-15, the star guard averaged 19.3 points to go along with five assists and 1.6 steals per game as he put the team on his back night in and night out.

Then, of course, there was all of the ridiculous football talent I had the fortune of watching in the Shoe. I made sure to get season tickets all four years I was at Ohio State, and with my freshman year being in 2014, I was indoctrinated into Buckeye Nation with a bang as that team went on to win a national title. Of course, that meant my first ever game at Ohio Stadium was the loss to Virginia Tech, but alas, things worked out pretty well in the end. It also meant I got to see guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Joey Bosa, and so many other terrific players that year. I even traveled to Indy that year to watch the debut of 12 Gauge as they demolished Wisconsin in the B1G Title Game, but none of those are my selection.

Over the years, while the team wouldn’t reach quite the same heights they did that first year, I still got to witness a ton of future NFL talent. I was never a huge J.T. Barrett fan (sorry), but Curtis Samuel and J.K. Dobbins were both electric on offense. While their professional careers didn’t quite pan out, I always enjoyed watching Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee up the middle with Jerome Baker outside later on. I also got to see some really terrific defensive linemen among the likes of Nick Bosa, Sam Hubbard, Dre’Mont Jones, and the beginnings of Chase Young. It was also a great time for BIA, with Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, and others making their way through the program.

Those guys were great, but the man I'm thinking of is a different member of that defensive secondary. My choice is Malik Hooker, who despite only being a starter for one season, had one of my most entertaining campaigns by any player on either side of the ball I saw during my time in Columbus. Even with all those players who would go on to be stars even at the next level, Hooker is the one who stood out among the rest, and is still one of my favorite Ohio State players ever.

The stats paint a pretty good picture of the type of player Hooker was, but even they dont tell the whole story. During that special 2016 season, the ballhawking safety picked off a whopping seven passes, three of which he returned for touchdowns. While his pick-sixes against Indiana and Nebraska were both over 45 yards, his most memorable was his pick-six against Michigan, which gave Ohio State its first lead of the game in what would go on to be a double-OT win for the Buckeyes. His many interceptions were in addition to his 74 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups that year.

Hooker was seemingly near the ball on every single play, and it was really made him really fun to watch. He would routinely range from one side of the field all the way across to the other to make a play, and was a perfect guy to have at the back end of your defense. He had a nose for making plays, and he was exceptional at tracking balls in the air and either knocking them down or running the route better than the receiver to make an interception. He was also one of the only players who decided to show up for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl, picking off Deshaun Watson in a game that we otherwise will not speak of.

Injuries have severely hampered Hooker’s NFL career, but that doesn’t take anything away from just how special a player he was at Ohio State. It was just a flash in the pan across the four years I spent in Columbus, but I vividly remember No. 24 making plays on every part of the field week in and week out. He may not find his name among the many Ohio State greats and he never won a national title in his time with the Buckeyes, but I loved watching Malik Hooker play football. His success at the safety position will be tough to replicate, but hopefully Ohio State can soon get back to the type of defense that could accurately call itself the Silver Bullets during Hooker’s time with the program.