After leaving his hometown of Dearborn Heights, Mich., Johnathan Hankins found a second home at Ohio State University.
Three years later, the 6-foot-2, 320-pound defensive lineman again made the decision to leave “home.”
Following Ohio State’s perfect 12-0 season in 2012, Hankins decided to forgo his senior year and enter the 2013 NFL Draft, where he was given a first-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board.
“I was just thinking about all of the things I’ve been through, how I’ve progressed from my freshman year to junior year and all of the things with the coaching change,” Hankins said of his decision at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. “With Coach (Urban) Meyer being there my junior year and not having a few years with him, I really thought about that. I’m sure they’re going to do well without me, but it was a good decision for me and my family. I went with it, and all of the coaches supported me.”
Hankins said he established a “good relationship” with Meyer during the coach’s first season at Ohio State. Under Meyer’s guidance, Hankins started all 12 games for the Buckeyes and totaled 55 tackles, four for lost yardage, and one sack.
“He was kind of surprised a little bit, but he knew I was thinking about it, and he supported me 100 percent of the way,” Hankins said. “That’s what a good guy he is. I had a few second-thoughts, just kept talking to my teammates and heard what they were saying about all the struggles we’ve been through, going undefeated. Potentially, next year, they could win the National Championship, I feel. It was a tough decision.
“Without him this year, I feel like I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. I’m blessed he came to Ohio State and was the head coach there.”
In addition to Meyer, Hankins credited his defensive line coach, former NFL linebacker Mike Vrabel, with the progression he from his freshman season. After making only 16 tackles in 2010 -- a year without Vrabel’s guidance -- Hankins registered 67 stops and three sacks as a sophomore.
“He brought a lot of energy to the D-line, and a lot of technique, just using your hands and not always letting offensive guys get all in you,” Hankins said. “He stressed just using your extension, and making plays by just using your arms and your hands. I got a good technique aspect from him, his history, what he has done playing at Ohio State, playing in the NFL with the Patriots. I try to build off what he’s done and incorporate that into my game.”
Being a versatile player was one of the many things Hankins learned from Vrabel, who in addition to his contributions as a linebacker, served as a goal-line tight end for Bill Belichick on Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots teams in the early 2000s.
“Anywhere I can be on the defensive line and help out the team, I’m willing to do it,” Hankins said. “In a 3-4, I can play the edge or the nose. I’m good going lateral. I can definitely get some pressure and some push. Anywhere is a good fit for me.”