Hawks’ careers take different paths


As Ryan clings to hope in Arena League 2, brother A.J. looks to be a Top 5 pick in the NFL draft.

Ryan Hawk was a high school football standout just like his younger brother, A.J. But their career paths diverged widely from there.

A.J. became an All-American linebacker at Ohio State and is a possible Top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Ryan labored at two lower-profile Ohio colleges and is trying to forge a professional arena football career in Alabama with the af2’s Birmingham Steeldogs.

One thing they share: A fervent interest in each others’ careers.

A.J. plans to cut short a meeting this weekend with the New York Jets, who will fly him to Louisville, Ky., to see Ryan’s Steeldogs game.

“He was so upset that he wanted to cancel the meeting” so he wouldn’t miss the game, Ryan said. “His agent said, No, you can’t cancel.”‘

Never mind that the Jets hold the fourth overall pick for the April 29-30 draft and A.J. has millions on the line. Brotherly love wins out.

“I get more nervous watching his game than anything else I do,” A.J. said. “We’re both really supportive of each other regardless of what level it is.

“Every time he has a game, my dad goes to most of them. He’ll call me and text message me throughout the game if I can’t get them through the Webcast.”

Two years older than his brother, 24-year-old Ryan graduated last June and was briefly with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tigercats. Then he returned to Ohio and took a job in sales, but he wasn’t giving up on a football career.

“I knew I was going to keep playing,” Ryan said. “I wasn’t just going to sit around and wait. I wanted to start working and get my foot in the door in the business world as well.”

Now, he’s playing for $200 a game – $250 if the Steeldogs win – and hoping to perform well enough to move up to the Arena Football League. The Steeldogs are part of a developmental league for the AFL. Ryan went to Miami of Ohio at the same time as fellow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He played some as a freshman while Roethlisberger – now quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers – redshirted.

Roethlisberger won the job the following season, and Hawk transferred to Ohio after working some at receiver. But the mobile 6-2, 212-pounder spent much of his two-year career at the Mid-American Conference school on the run from defenders and was frequently sacked.

“He still scrambled out of a lot of them and made a bunch of plays,” A.J. points out.

Ryan isn’t complaining.

“There were definitely some obstacles to overcome,” he said. “It kind of makes you strong. It didn’t go how I planned it at all. I don’t know how many people do have things go as they planned it.”

A.J. doesn’t feel his brother ever got a chance to really display his throwing ability in college.

“He could run so well people didn’t think he had a strong arm,” A.J. said. “We didn’t throw that often (in high school). When he got to college, he didn’t get that much of a chance.”

Ryan is getting another shot, though.

“You’re always trying to go out and prove to people you can play,” he said. “That’s why you come down here.

“That’s why all of us are down here. We want to win a bunch of games and show that we can play. We want to move up in the ranks.”