Pickerington North Roundup: Elijah Hawk leading Panthers' defense

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Pickerington North's Elijah Hawk (right) takles Westerville Central's Judah Holtzclaw on Sept. 4 at Central. Hawk has 17.5 tackles with one forced fumble, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss for the Panthers, who have won four in a row since losing the opener.

With his right foot in an ice bath Sept. 21, Pickerington North senior football player Elijah Hawk couldn’t stop raving about how far his team has come over the past few weeks. 

The Panthers lost their opener 35-9 to Pickerington Central on Aug. 30 but now are 4-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division after beating New Albany 56-21 on Sept. 25. 

Not much has slowed down North or Hawk, not even the turf toe that he suffered during the second quarter of a 47-24 victory over Grove City on Sept. 18. 

“(My injury) doesn’t feel too good, but I’m able to get into my stance now,” said Hawk, whose contributions have been especially crucial after senior Jack Sawyer announced before the opener that he was sitting out the season to concentrate on preparing for his playing career with Ohio State. 

Both Sawyer and Hawk play defensive end, although Hawk has seen some time at defensive tackle. 

After finishing with 6.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups a year ago, Hawk has 17.5 tackles with one forced fumble, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss. 

“He’s been awesome,” coach Nate Hillerich said. “He’s been the leader of our defense.” 

Hawk was a tight end for Groveport, seeing significant action as a sophomore in 2018, before moving last year. He played all last season for the Panthers, as they finished 6-5 after reaching the Division I, Region 3 playoffs. 

Every team was given the opportunity to play in this year’s postseason and there are 16 teams that have entered the Region 3 playoffs, which begin Oct. 9. Teams will learn where they are placed in each bracket Thursday, Oct. 1. 

North plays its OCC-Ohio finale Friday, Oct. 2, at Gahanna. The Panthers earned at least a share of the league title with the win over New Albany and can win it outright with a win over the Lions. 

Hawk hasn’t seen much action on offense this season but is hoping he’ll become a contributor at tight end or wide receiver over the coming weeks. 

Also playing a key role on defense has been senior linebacker Cole Johnson, a longtime friend of Hawk’s who had 20 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss through four games. 

“(The loss to Central) was a wake-up call,” Hawk said. “Since the Central game, we’ve just started to play better and play more aggressively. We play two good teams going into the playoffs and that’s going to get us ready.” 

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Hawk projects as a strong-side defensive end collegiately and has received offers from most Mid-American Conference schools, although the in-person recruiting dead period for Division I has been extended to Jan. 1 because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

“At first I was a tight end when I came (to North) and was playing a little defense, but I fell in love with (defensive end) and realized that it’s a better position for me,” Hawk said. “The hardest part (of the recruiting process) is not being able to go (on visits). Right now I don’t really have a (narrowed-down) list, but I’ve been talking to a lot of coaches for schools that have offered me and I have 16 offers. I’ve got interest, but schools want to see my senior year. 

“Over the years I’ve just kept getting better and better. This offseason was the hardest I’ve ever gone (through) and I think I developed a lot this offseason, and that’s the reason I’m playing at the level I am now. I’ve been getting a lot stronger.” 

State-ranked boys  

soccer team thriving 

The boys soccer team was 10-0-1 overall before a Sept. 29 game at Upper Arlington, and North is 2-0 in the OCC-Ohio entering a Thursday, Oct. 1, game at Grove City.  

That record propelled the Panthers to the No. 3 spot in last week’s Division I state poll behind defending state champion Cleveland St. Ignatius and Cincinnati St. Xavier. 

According to coach Darrin Monhollen, that is the best ranking for one of his teams since 1994, when Pickerington went 20-1, won a district championship and was ranked as high as third. 

“This team has kept its priorities straight. They know the next game is the most important one on the schedule and they really have taken things one game at a time,” said Monhollen, whose team beat Reynoldsburg 4-0 on Sept. 24 in a non-league matchup. “(The ranking) is exciting and it’s nice to be recognized, but we also know the only ranking that counts is the last one at the end of the year. 

“The guys communicate well. We have a solid style of play that involves a lot of guys and we’ve been able to adapt to what our opponents have shown us. This is a results-driven business. They’re not taking anything for granted.” 

Uche Odemena had a team-leading 10 goals through 11 games. Tyler Reitano had seven and Nico Briones six as 12 players had scored at least once entering the week. 

North outscored its first 11 opponents 42-2. Both goals came in a short span surrounding halftime of a 5-2 win at Thomas Worthington on Sept. 10. 

“Experience told me we had something special (entering this season),” Monhollen said. “They have a strong love of the game and appreciation of their teammates.” 

-Dave Purpura 

Girls tennis team 

sees improvement 

The girls tennis team’s three-match winning streak ended Sept. 23 with a 5-0 loss at Dublin Jerome. 

North was 6-9 overall after beating Chillicothe 5-0 on Sept. 24 and finished 2-3 in the OCC-Ohio with a 5-0 home win over Westland on Sept. 21. 

Those wins coincided with some lineup changes, including moving Jeslyn Eskander to first singles and Corinna Moesle from first singles to first doubles with Tasha Miller.  

The rest of the lineup has largely been stable, with Kanisha Thambyrajah at second singles, Gabrielle Dobberstein at third singles and Laken Dreher and Sarah McCully at second doubles. 

“Doubles have become stronger. The girls are gaining confidence with our doubles strategies and techniques and are more comfortable on the court with their partners,” coach Brian Hoff said. “The girls have gotten much better at learning to compete (and) knowing that if they fall behind in a match, lose the first set, that they can come back and win the match.” 

In addition to playing within the challenging OCC-Ohio that was won by New Albany, which has captured 14 league championships in 15 seasons since joining the OCC in 2006, North’s non-league schedule included matches against OCC-Buckeye champion Central and OCC-Cardinal winner Jerome. 

“It’s taken us a while to get used to playing against this level of competition,” Hoff said. “It’s a new experience for most of the girls.” 

-Dave Purpura 

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