Without question, Joel Hale has all the tools to excel on the offensive line.
At 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, he has the size. A weight-room fanatic, he has the strength. A former track athlete, he has the athleticism.
And as a three-year major college letter winner with NFL aspirations, he has the drive and desire to be the best offensive lineman he can possibly be.
The only caveat is, he’s never played on the offensive line. Until now.
A nose tackle during his first three seasons at Ohio State, Hale — a 2010 graduate of Center Grove — will throw blocks instead of shed them in this, his fourth and final season with Buckeyes.
Unhappy with his performance late last season, Hale reluctantly concluded at the end of the year that a position switch probably would be in the team’s — and his own — best interests.
When he approached coaches about switching, they cheerfully agreed. Hale had the physical tools to play on the offensive line, and the Buckeyes had a need there.
A lifelong defensive player, Hale has been working at left guard on offense since spring ball. Currently No. 2 on the depth chart, he is competing for the starting job.
Although the adjustment has been challenging, it has been manageable for a determined, unflappable player who is playing for his second head coach and who has been a regular contributor since his freshman season.
Recruited by Jim Tressel (who was fired before Hale’s first season), he played one season for Luke Fickell (now the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator) and is beginning his third under Urban Meyer. During that span, he has earned three letters, been to two bowl games and positioned himself for a chance to play in the NFL.
Today, with the Buckeyes ranked fifth in the nation heading into today’s season-opener at Navy, Hale is all but assured a fourth letter, another bowl game — and at least a shot at the NFL, albeit at an altogether new position.
What follows is an interview with Hale, who recently spoke to the Daily Journal from Columbus, Ohio.
Q: What has the adjustment been like, switching positions?
A: It’s been a pretty smooth transition. There’s a lot of stuff I have to work on. Offensive line is a completely different game than defensive line. It’s more big-picture awareness, seeing what’s going on. Being patient, mainly, is my biggest thing. I’ve got to start being a lot more patient and just let things come to me and let things develop in front of me, and then react to it then.
Q: What led you to the position change? What made you decide to give this a try?
A: Toward the end of last year, I wasn’t doing what I thought I could to help the team. I started nine games, and then we started throwing in different packages, and so my first- and second-down plays ... I wasn’t giving enough to the team that I felt in my heart and my mind that I could, so I decided to make the change over to offensive line.
Q: What were the coaches reaction to that?
A: They were excited. They knew it was going to be a journey, but I think that they knew that with my hard work, my work ethic and my mindset and my love for the game that I would eventually fit in one way or another.
Q: Learning a new position, I’m guessing that was a lot of cramming-in during the offseason. Was it a different offseason for you?
A: Oh, yeah. I did a lot of work, man. I put in a lot of hard work that some guys may not do. I didn’t have an option. If I wanted to compete for a spot, I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. I had to step up and do something about it.
Q: How difficult was it to make the decision?
A: I was just listening to the man upstairs, and I feel like he has a plan for everything. And so I did what I felt my heart was telling me to do, so I just made that move.
Q: I realize you’re still learning the new position, but how do you like it so far?
A: I like it a lot. It is a different mindset, but being an offensive lineman it’s all about being selfless, and I feel that that’s a big trait of mine, putting others before yourself, helping out, that’s how an offensive line works. There’s a lot of communication, a lot of talk, double-team blocks, so you really depend on the man next to you to have success as a team. So I really like and embrace that. We have a lot of fun.
Q: How special is it to play for a storied program like Ohio State, a team that’s expected to compete for the national championship in any given year? What’s that experience been like?
A: It’s been awesome. There have been a couple of bumps on the journey, a coach here, a coach there, but I really love coach Meyer and what he does for his program. They really made the change for the better, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else, honestly. I love the folks in Ohio, I love being a Buckeye, there’s really no better feeling.
Q: I imagine the team has pretty high goals this year?
A: Yes, but our biggest thing right now is to take it one game at time, because you really can’t look ahead. I know a lot of coaches say that and a lot of teams say that, but it’s just to focus on Week 1, and after Week 1, then Week 2. We’re focusing on being 1-0 and beating Navy right now.
Q: Have you thought about what you might like to do after college?
A: After college, I’m going to pursue my dream of playing at the next level. But after football’s all said and done, I plan on coaching, most likely. My heart’s in football. It’s my passion. It’s everything to me, so I figure I’d love to be a coach. Right now I don’t know what level, but each level has its positives and negatives about it.
Q: With the NFL on your radar, how excited are you to pursue an opportunity like that if it comes around?
A: I’d be truly blessed. I’d be thankful for all of that, all the hard work, everything that my mother (Dawn Whitaker) has done for me, because she knew that was my dream since I was little. She did everything in her power to help me get to this point where I’m at today. To have that (chance) would be unbelievable, really.