For the second time in his football career, Aaron James Hawk will be on a field in a Cincinnati Bengals uniform in a “playoff” atmosphere.
On Saturday, AJ Hawk and his current Bengals’ teammates will face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the third time this season in an AFC Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium (8:15 p.m. kickoff, CBS network).
The first time Hawk was in a competitive event wearing a Bengals uniform — a black No. 7 similar to the one worn by former quarterback Boomer Esiason — was in 1994 when he participated in the NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick competition at Riverfront Stadium with a berth in the national PPK competition on the line.
“We have the first uniform, Bengals uniform, he ever wore on the field in competition,” said Dean Hawk of Sabina, AJ’s grandfather. “It’s in a frame at our house. He was in fifth grade. He won the Centerville (PPK) competition then won the Dayton competition which qualified him to go to Cincinnati. He won down there and went to San Diego and competed in the nationals. I think he finished third.”
That Hawk is even wearing a Bengals uniform again is a bit of a surprise to him and his family. Following storied careers at both Centerville High School and Ohio State University, Hawk spent nine seasons with the Green Bay Packers after being a first-round draft pick in 2006.
“I have to admit, it was huge that the Bengals have been successful,” AJ said in a press release from the Bengals. “If they were going 2-14 every year, I don’t think I would have been nearly as excited about it. But I knew from watching them on film a little bit how much talent they had here. Sometimes I have to remind myself. I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m actually going to be here in Ohio during the season. That’s what’s weird to me, still. The fact that that was even an option is crazy to me. It’s awesome. I never thought it was going to be a reality.”
For grandparents Dean and Mary Hawk, they’ll be front and center at home in Sabina watching AJ and the Bengals Saturday night.
“When AJ went to the Packers we all had to buy new stuff,” said Dean. “Now, we’re going through that again with the Bengals.
“We didn’t want him to end up so far away that we’d never get to go (to a game) or see him, but you never dream that it would end up the way it did.”
Said Mary, “This is exciting.”
AJ is the son of Judy and Keith Hawk. Keith is a 1974 graduate of East Clinton High School. AJ and his wife Laura have a daughter and two sons.
Dean and Mary said Keith always was a “big Bengals fan” growing up. A student of the game, according to Dean, Keith attended many Bengals practices while they trained at Wilmington College in the 1970s.
A 6-1, 240-pound linebacker, AJ has started 11 games for Cincinnati this season and has played in all 16 games. He has 24 total tackles with one sack. He led the Packers in tackles nine seasons.
Dean said AJ and his brothers Ryan and Matt “stayed with us a lot, but once they got into sports, they were too busy.” Dean said AJ began playing football in the second grade and played up a level all the way through the sixth grade.
“With two older brothers, AJ just had that belief that he could do anything they could do, regardless of the age difference,” said Dean. “He really learned early about good habits, about practice, about keeping his body in shape.”
While the Bengals media guide credits the “AJ” name to his parents, Dean claims “dibs” on the first use of the nickname the day Aaron James Hawk was born.
“We were standing in front of the window, the same day he was born,” Dean said. “He looked twice as big as the other kids, but he wasn’t as big as Keith was when he was born. I asked them what they named him and they said Aaron James.”
Dean paused. While Dean is a racing enthusiast and even “did a little racing myself,” — including a spirited trek from Dayton to Cincinnati with AJ’s mother Judy to attend that PPK competition in 1994 — he wasn’t necessary thinking of racing legend AJ Foyt at the time.
“I said Aaron James … AJ Hawk.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, or on Twitter @wnjsports.