Former Centerville High star Ryan Hawk on being A.J.’s brother, battling Ben Roethlisberger and forging his own path

Why Ryan Hawk is always looking for a new challenge shouldn’t be a mystery.

After you have tackled A.J. Hawk in the backyard, battled Ben Roethlisberger for a starting quarterback job and become a dad five times, how hard could anything in the business world really be?

“You look around and gain perspective,” said Hawk, who was once Centerville High School’s starting quarterback and now hosts a highly regarded podcast. “Life happens, right? There are people you see with cancer or going through other tough moments and you’re like, ‘Why?’ I’ve got to figure out a way to do what I really love all the time, and for me the work I do has a chance to impact millions of people all over the world.”

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Hawk, who starred at quarterback for the Elks from 1996-99, is in his fourth year hosting The Learning Leader Show podcast. He also does motivational speaking, counsels business leaders and works with small groups that meet online to talk about leadership.

As the name implies, learning about leadership is the goal of the podcast, which has featured people from many walks of life, including business leaders as well as names sports fans would know that include former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, Buckeye players Maurice Clarett and Bobby Carpenter, Marquette basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski, Jay Bilas and Maria Taylor of ESPN and legendary college football coach Bill Curry.

(Little brother A.J. found some time to talk, too, last spring.)

“I’ve been studying and practicing leadership excellence my whole life,” the elder Hawk said. “I started playing quarterback in second grade, but when I speak with leaders on my podcast, I’m surfacing the commonalties of people who sustain excellence.”

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He is less than one year removed from leaving a lucrative job at Elsevier to concentrate on a new chapter in his life, one that revolves around challenging himself and helping others.

“There’s nothing better than getting up in front of an audience of 500 people and seeing the look in their eyes that you’re getting through to them and potentially changing their behavior,” he said.

Hawk is having a blast so far, raising his five daughters with his wife, Miranda, in the Miami Valley and relying on lessons learned from playing quarterback at Centerville — not to mention Miami University and Ohio University.

Credit: Danny Moloshok

Credit: Danny Moloshok

Pretty good for a guy who went from Big Man on Campus as the Elks quarterback to A.J. Hawk’s Little Brother in a few short years.

Lest anyone think there is any jealousy there, though, big bro says, “No.”

While football got more challenging for the elder Hawk after he left Centerville, Ryan never let it get in the way of his pride watching A.J. become a star at Ohio State and a decorated NFL linebacker.

“It was the best,” Ryan Hawk said. “There’s nothing better than to see your brother after you’ve had some success come up and play so well and help the team win at a young age and earn the respect of all your peers and your friends. I think we all had an idea he was going to be really good, but he really worked hard and made himself into what he is today.”

Credit: Elisabeth Heimlich

Credit: Elisabeth Heimlich

Meanwhile, the elder Hawk found a roadblock to stardom in Oxford, where Miami had signed Hawk, another quarterback who was Mr. Football in Indiana and some guy from Findlay named Ben Roethlisberger.

The man who would go on to be known as “Big Ben” ultimately won the battle to be the starter, but Hawk took away an important lesson from the competition.

“Sometimes you can do everything in your power, even outwork people, and it still isn’t enough,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t enough because he’s a flat-out better player than me, so I was stuck.”

Hawk ultimately chose to transfer to RedHawks rival Ohio and became a starter for the Bobcats instead.

After finishing his career in Athens, Hawk spent time in the CFL and with the Birmingham Steel Dogs in the Arena League 2.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said of his seven months in The South. “I threw a bunch of touchdowns. It was fun to play in the Arena League. Different than anything I had experienced before, but good experience to get away from home after playing in college.”

Figuring he was not likely to follow in Kurt Warner’s footsteps — from the AFL to the Super Bowl — Hawk left football to join the salesforce at LexisNexis.

He eventually moved over to LN partner Elsevier, where he was Vice President of North American Sales until partnering with local firm Brixey and Meyer last fall to concentrate full time on his podcast, speaking engagements and leadership circles.

“I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself or being pushed enough to learn or grow and develop,” Hawk said. “I’ve had this yearning to develop my intellectual curiosity and I wasn’t scratching that itch, so I thought, ‘How can I do that?’

“I have great support and complete empowerment to do what I think is right, and all I’ve been told is make sure you treat it as your own business. We’re just getting started. That’s the fun part. I see so many opportunities in the future. We could do this for a really long, long time.”

After jumping off the corporate ladder, Hawk is back to making a name for himself — again.

He spends his days working to build up his podcast audience, giving motivational speeches and providing a positive role model for his daughters.

It’s all he can do to pay forward what he got from those who mentored him as a youth.

“High school football for me is the foundation of everything in my life,” he said. “If I didn’t have coach Bob Gregg, Coach Ron Ullery and my teammates, I wouldn’t have learned how to work. They truly taught me how to work hard. How to get there early in the morning to study film, how to lift weights, how to run. They lifted me to levels I did not know were possible.

“I also learned to lead. Great leaders are willing to push, and those guys taught me that. Other than having two incredible parents, the luckiest thing that has happened is having those coaches to really build the foundation — because without those people, I don’t know what would have happened.”

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