Ohio State defensive tackle Joel Hale had thought seriously about calling it a career after a nagging injury cut short his senior season after four games in 2014.
Hale went through senior day festivities but later decided he wasn’t ready to walk away just yet. The Center Grove High School graduate was glad to watch as his Buckeyes won the national championship, but he wanted an ending with a more active role.
“That was my main drive of coming back for my fifth year,” said Hale, whose No. 1 Buckeyes are 5-0 entering Saturday’s home game with Maryland. “Last year took a toll on me; I’m not going to lie. It was hard to sit there and watch.
“I was part of everything my junior year, and then to sit out last season, it was very difficult for me because I’m one who always likes to be in the mix. I’m very happy that I can I sit here and say I’m a national champion. I played my role as well as I could.”
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Since he graduated in December, Hale said, he thought and prayed about the decision to return.
“I’m tattooed with the block O,” said Hale, speaking both figuratively and literally. “I’m a Buckeye through and through. I love this university, and there is no better place to be.”
So naturally Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was pleased when Hale returned.
“He’s one of my favorite players,” Meyer said. “He’s a guy that loves Ohio State. He’s one of the toughest guys on the team. He’s a guy that’s an inspiration, pushes guys, grinds guys. In the offseason, he’s one of coach Mick’s favorite guys.”
Mickey Marotti oversees the strength and conditioning program.
Hale showed his devotion to the program by volunteering to switch to the offensive line to help a less-experienced unit last season. But that move was short-lived due to the undisclosed injury. The 6-4, 295-pound Hale was granted a fifth year of eligibility due to medical redshirt and returned to the defensive line in spring practice.
“The transition to going back to the defensive line was easier than going from defense to offense, that’s for damn sure,” said Hale, who won the defensive line position award in the Mr. Football balloting as a Center Grove senior. “It’s more natural since I played it my entire life.
“Coach (Larry) Johnson, my defensive line coach, is pretty good at what he does, and he welcomed me with open arms. He’s made me better each day, and I got to keep improving.”
Hale has six tackles in five games for the Buckeyes.
“I’m never satisfied. I always like to improve everything that I do,” Hale said. “There is a lot of stuff I need to work on. Missing some spring ball and just coming back on the D-line, your body forgets how to so some things that my junior year I was fairly good at.”
Hale is a defensive line rotation as No. 2 on the depth list. He is not playing as many snaps as 2013, when he played in all 14 games, starting several games.
“I’m here to motivate and show people how a Buckeye works every day,” Hale said. “I’ve learned when I was a freshman from guys like (defensive players) John Simon and Garrett Goebel on how to come in every day with a positive attitude, ready to grind through practice and the watch the film and see what you did bad and improve that throughout the season.”
Hale would like to coach, preferably in the NFL.
“In 10 years, I hope to be coaching my own room at the NFL level (as a position coach),” Hale said.
Meyer said Hale is definitely suited to coach.
“He knows how I feel about that,” Meyer said. “He certainly has a position here if he wants it, that’s how strong everyone feels about him here.”
Hale’s mind, however, is primarily focused on helping the Buckeyes repeat as national champions.
“It’s hard not to look to the future,” he said, “but the main goal is to stay in the present because it will fly by before your eyes.”
Name: Joel Hale
Personal: Earned his degree in family resource management and is now taking electives toward a graduate degree. Interned with Cameron Mitchell’s restaurant group last summer in Columbus.
What do you do to relax? “I watch a lot of movies.”
Favorite class: “A geology class, and it was how they drilled wells for oil and natural gas. The professor was a funny guy, so he made it a lot more interesting than my accounting and business finance classes I had to take.”
Favorite TV show: “Tosh.0.”
Favorite musician: “Kanye West is my go-to really. I have his albums on CD in my car, and I still listen to those. I think they’re from 2004. That’s what people know me for around as the old head who knows all the old rap music.”
Favorite food: “I like pretty much everything. (Fellow defensive lineman) Joey Bosa and I go out to eat every Monday on our off-day. We try to do a new restaurant every week around Columbus. I told him we need to start a food blog around Columbus.”
Favorite Greenwood restaurants: La Trattoria and Hampton’s Market.