Clearly, Joel Hale did something right during his first two seasons on the Ohio State football team.
As a true freshman, he appeared in eight games. As a sophomore, he played in seven.
Moreover, he lettered both seasons, hardly an everyday distinction for young players at tradition-rich Ohio State.
Impressed? Hale isn’t.
THE HALE FILE
Name: Joel Hale
College: Ohio State
Position: Defensive tackle
Size: 6-foot-4, 310 pounds
Experience: Has appeared in 17 games since freshman season; is currently the starting nose tackle
High school: Center Grove (2011)
High school highlights: Two-time Daily Journal All-County first team; defensive line position award winner in Indiana Mr. Football balloting; had 40 tackles and forced nine fumbles his senior year; was one of nation’s top recruits
Favorite TV show: “I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. Something funny.”
Favorite movie: “Olympus Has Fallen”
Favorite NFL team: Indianapolis Colts
Favorite NFL players: New York Giants defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, Baltimore Ravens linebacker and Ohio State graduate John Simon
On whether he will pull up if he runs into Indiana University wide receiver and former Center Grove teammate Nick Stoner during a game: “No, I’ll run right through him.” Laughs.
Career goals: Play in the NFL and coach college football
Major: Consumer and family financial services
Parents: Dawn Whitaker and Khris Hale
CATCH THE BUCKEYES
Local football fans can watch Ohio State, featuring Center Grove graduate Joel Hale at nose tackle, when it visits Purdue on Nov. 2. Game time is TBA. The Buckeyes will host Indiana on Nov. 23, with that game time also TBA.
Early playing time notwithstanding, the former Center Grove High School standout doesn’t mince words when he reflects on where he was a year ago compared to where he is today.
“I wasn’t a good player last year. I’ve grown a lot in the last year,” said Hale, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior defensive tackle. “It’s crazy how much I’ve grown since being a freshman, just the thought process that went through my head with everything.
“I’ve just got to keep getting better and better and better every day.”
As evidenced by circumstance, Hale is succeeding on that front.
A role player his first two seasons, he’s in the spotlight now as a starting nose tackle for the fourth-ranked Buckeyes (2-0).
By virtue of his previous playing time, he also happens to be one of the most experienced members of a rebuilt line that returned no starters from last year’s 12-0 team.
“As a defensive line, I think we’ve all improved a lot since spring. I think that we work really well together,” said Hale, one of two juniors on a starting front that also features two sophomores. “We all truly love each other like a brother.
“We have to improve from week to week.”
So far, so good.
Although the Buckeyes’ stiffest tests are yet to come, they beat visiting Buffalo 40-20 in the season-opener and blew out visiting San Diego State last week, 42-7. They play at California on Saturday, where they will try to take the next step in their bid for a national championship.
Bowl ineligible last year because of NCAA infractions committed under former coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State — now under the direction of second-year coach Urban Meyer — is eligible this season and expected to be in the national title hunt.
But Hale insists the Buckeyes aren’t looking that far down the road.
“Our main goal that we need to focus on is the next team, the next game, focus on improving that day in practice on what’s going to help us on Saturdays to win the next game,” Hale said. “Then we’ll focus on the next week, after we get that win.”
Despite being a first-year starter, Hale is already comfortable in his new role. Although he by no means considers himself a finished product, he’s regained the self-assurance he had when he was one the nation’s top high school linemen.
“For me, personally, it’s been more about adjusting to the game-day, getting into the groove of the game,” Hale said. “Not playing a whole lot my first two seasons, I figured it would take me a while to get into the groove of the game (during) my first game.
“I felt kind of out of it the first couple of series of that first game, but once you get into a rhythm, it just goes back to normal.”
Moving forward, it’s all about improving and refining. Hale, an aspiring NFL player, is eager to do both.
One of the Buckeyes’ most prized recruits two years ago, Hale is a tireless worker in the weight room and has become a more astute student of the game. His position coach is former New England Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, and Hale attributes his rise up the depth chart to a combination of dedication and learning from the best.
“I think I still have a lot of growth potential,” Hale said. “I’ve just got to take advantage of my great coaching that I have, getting in watching extra film, just learning every day, just to become the best player that I can be. I think that I can improve a lot more.
“It’s just coming down to being consistent.”
One of two former Center Grove players in the Big Ten (Nick Stoner is a wide receiver at Indiana), Hale is savoring every aspect of the Ohio State experience, from succeeding in the classroom to starting for one of college football’s most storied programs.
Playing on national television, in front of home crowds of 107,000-plus, on a team with a shot at the BCS championship, under one of the college football’s most renowned coaches in Urban Meyer, is all part of a unique opportunity that is not lost on Hale.
Yet his sole focus is always on performance and living up to the highest of major college football expectations.
“The hype of the team never really crosses my mind,” Hale said. “What really crosses my mind is the fact I’m an Ohio State Buckeye, and I represent so much more than just that team on the field. There’s so many traditions, the game-day atmosphere. It’s just unreal. Coming to Ohio State, you obviously want to play as a freshman, but it’s just like in high school, you’ve got to wait your turn. Once it finally comes around, you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity that you have.
“This year’s the first year I can truly say I understand what it means to be a part of something great, what it means to be an Ohio State Buckeye.”