Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Blue Rookie Is at Home in Detroit

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Blue Rookie Is at Home in Detroit

Article excerpt

DETROIT -- Johnathan Hankins once played a glamour position.

Yes, it has been awhile, but there was indeed a time when the Giants' rookie defensive tackle nicknamed "Big Hank" dreamed about being the next Barry Sanders.

Back when he used to run through opposing defenses on the youth football fields here in the Motor City and later break down game film of his performance with his father, James Ward, in the back of Dad's work van.

"I'm sure everybody in my neighborhood wanted to be Barry at one point or another," Hankins said with a smile. "I've pretty much always been a front-seven guy, but I did play running back when I was little. First practice in high school, they said they needed help on the O-line. I was like, ' All right,' and that was it."

He paused before adding: "That's when my Barry Sanders dream ended."

At 6 feet 2 and 318 pounds, Hankins has gone from running the ball to stopping those who do. He was seemingly always one game away from playing inside Ford Field, whether it would have been for a Pop Warner championship or a high school title.

Now Hankins will get his homecoming this afternoon when the Giants (5-9) meet the Lions (7-7) in a game that represents Detroit's last gasp to remain in contention for the NFC North crown.

Nearly 40 family members and friends will be in attendance to cheer for Hankins, whom the Giants drafted in the second round out of Ohio State this spring. They identified a player whom they referred to as a "throwback," a potential cornerstone to a run defense that has drastically improved despite the team's struggles overall.

"Talented guy," veteran teammate Kevin Boothe said of Hankins, whom he has spent much of the season battling in practice. "He doesn't look like he'd be as quick. You think of him as a stout run- stopper-type of guy, which he is, but he's definitely got some agility that will surprise you at first. …

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