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Packers' Hawk, Jets' Mangold Go Back ... Way Back


Long before they were first-round NFL draft picks last April, and long before they were All-Big Ten standouts and Ohio State University teammates, the Green Bay Packers' A.J. Hawk and the New York Jets' Nick Mangold shared a smaller football stage together.

Smaller helmets and shoulder pads, too. Much smaller.

Back in grade school, Hawk and Mangold strapped on the uniforms of the Centerville Wee Elks, the pee-wee team in their hometown of Centerville, Ohio. Two-way standouts back then, of course, Hawk and Mangold are now focused on their specialties of linebacker and center, respectively, and they'll begin yet another chapter in the story of their forever-connected football lives when they line up opposing one another at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

Which boyhood friend will get the best of the other when Mangold pulls on a running play to throw a block against Hawk on the weak side, or when Hawk blitzes on a pass play and has to somehow get past Mangold, is anyone's guess. Even theirs.

"I have to come up with a good idea how to go about it," Mangold said in a phone interview this week. "I'm still working on how to do that."

Hawk hasn't given it much thought yet, either.

"It will be interesting," he said. "We'll run into each other a couple times for sure."

The last time Hawk and Mangold knocked helmets for opposing teams was actually in eighth grade. Beginning in junior high, Mangold switched to Catholic school and his team played against the public school Hawk attended just once.

Neither player remembers much about the encounter (except Hawk says his team won), and then in high school the public and private schools were in different divisions so they never clashed on the field.

But some recollections of the pee-wee days remain. Hawk's dad was a defensive assistant coach, with Hawk playing linebacker and Mangold on the defensive line. Mangold's father could be heard shouting as much encouragement to the boys from the sideline -- according to Hawk, who has heard him on the home videos from their sixth-grade season -- especially on offense when Hawk, playing tailback, would take a handoff and run behind Mangold, his center.

"Nick was so much bigger than everybody -- he was huge when he was young even," Hawk said of Mangold, now 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds. "So he was a great player. And when someone is that big playing O-line for you, you love it.

"It was fun having him on the team, because when I was running the ball, he was blocking, and when I was playing defense, he was there making tackles and keeping blockers off me too."

Whether he was doing the dirty work in front of him or not, Mangold just recalls Hawk having loads of fun playing football as a kid.

"Going back to that, you can remember his passion for the game even in grade school, and it's carried through 'til now," Mangold said. "The big thing that sticks out is how much he loved playing the game and how good he was on both sides of the ball."

{sportsad300}The pair remained friends while attending different junior highs and high schools. Then, though it was not necessarily planned, both wound up accepting scholarships from Ohio State.

"It was basically just a coincidence," Hawk said. "But he grew up a big Ohio State fan, and I was a pretty big fan growing up too, so both of us knew that if Ohio State offered, we would go."

The reunion was a benefit to both, having a good friend to lean on and help adjust to college life. The two moved into the dorm as freshmen roommates and then lived together in a house for their final three years of school.

Like they will on Sunday at Lambeau, they stared across the line of scrimmage at one another plenty of times at Buckeye practices. Many of the blocks, blitz pickups and other collisions with one another elicited a response of some kind.

"It was always fun because Nick was a competitive guy and so was I," Hawk said. "We were both trying to win.

"He was funny, because if I pushed him after the play, he'd get upset or mad at me and say something. Or if he pushed me after the play, then I'd get mad at him. It was fun and it was good going up against a guy like that because he helped me get better."

Since they both became first-round draft picks in April (Hawk was taken fifth overall by the Packers, Mangold 29th by the Jets), their lives have been a whirlwind and they've only chatted occasionally.

But they plan to see each other at least twice in the off-season. In March, Mangold will be a groomsman in Hawk's formal wedding celebration (he was married in a civil ceremony this summer), and the following month, Hawk will return the favor in Mangold's wedding.

It's unlikely any of their discussions on Sunday will focus on wedding arrangements, at least not between noon and 3 p.m., and Hawk will have catching up to do with some other friends as well. Rookie Anthony Schlegel, a fellow Ohio State linebacker drafted in the third round, and second-year kicker Mike Nugent, another Centerville native and Buckeye teammate, both play for the Jets too.

But on the field, when Hawk and Mangold pop one another's pads somewhere between Lambeau Field's white lines, it ought to make every pee-wee football star take a close look at the others in his team's huddle, because you never know.

"It's weird," Hawk said. "But it will be familiar with him being there."

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