When Nick Mangold looks up from his crouch this Sunday, a familiar face will be looking right back
The quaint town of Centerville will be in an uproar this Sunday when three of their beloved gridiron sons clash at what many believe is the crown jewel of the NFL - Lambeau Field.
Centerville sits inconspicuously in the southwestern region of Ohio, yet the majority of the town's 23,000 residents will focus all of their attention elsewhere come Sunday. Some 515 miles up the western banks of Lake Michigan, New York's AFC representative will take on the historic Green Bay franchise, and a town of regular Bengals' supporters will root their hearts out.
In a battle of boyhood friends, the Jets' Nick Mangold and Mike Nugent are matched against A.J. Hawk and the rest of his Packers.
"It will be interesting," Hawk said of the Week 13 contest. "We'll run into each other a couple times for sure."
Even though Mangold and Hawk were teammates, best friends, and co-captains, their relationship comes off as more of a brotherhood than anything. The two roomed together for four years at Ohio State and would often catch themselves battling it out over anything and everything at practice like two misbehaving siblings.
"It was always fun because Nick was a competitive guy and so was I," Hawk said this week. "He was funny, because if I pushed him after the play, he'd get upset or mad at me and say something. Or if he pushed me after the play, then I'd get mad at him. It was fun and it was good going up against a guy like that because he helped me get better."
Those on-field contests were a direct indicator of how passionate and serious Hawk and Mangold were about the game they loved.
"You can remember his passion for the game even in grade school, and it's carried through 'til now," Mangold said. "The big thing that sticks out is how much he loved playing the game and how good he was on both sides of the ball."
Nugent, a kicker who holds or shares 22 Ohio State records and was always a grade ahead of both Hawk and Mangold, has seen the first round selections grow from dominating forces in pee-wee leagues to blue-collar Big Ten student-athletes. Now they are succeeding as professionals.
"They have great heads on their shoulders. They both work really hard in the offseason and really work hard when they're not on the field," said Nugent. "It really pays off for them because when they get on the field, they know exactly what's going on. They're just really smart hard working guys.
"Everywhere they've played," he added, "they've been the guys who have almost outworked anyone that has tried to go against them."
When the three were in junior high school, Hawk began to build his legacy. The Packers' rookie linebacker will see a lot of Mangold come this weekend. Those feisty battles are must-see television.
"I started playing with A.J. in sixth grade," Nugent said. "And he has always been a dominant player; I see Nick the same way. He has always been one of the much better players, no matter which team he's playing for and at what age."
"It was kind of a big thing around Centerville, how good A. J. was in the sixth grade," Mangold said. "He was a lot better than me or Mike. There was no question about that. He was a beast back in the day - still is."
Mangold was no slouch himself. It wasn't until a year later, in the fall of seventh grade, when Mangold volunteered as the team's center after the starting center broke his hand. Up to that point, Mangold found himself on both sides of the ball – much to his teammate's fondness.
"When someone is that big playing O-line for you, you love it," said Hawk. "It was fun having him on the team, because when I was running the ball, he was blocking. When I was playing defense, he was there making tackles and keeping blockers off me too.
"Nick was so much bigger than everybody - he was huge when he was young even," he added. "He is a great player."
Friday Injury ReportJets
Questionable: FB B.J. Askew (foot), CB David Barrett (hip), WR Tim Dwight (thigh), RB Cedric Houston (knee), DL Rashad Moore (hand), DB Eric Smith & LB Bryan Thomas (shoulder)
Probable:*RB Kevan Barlow (calf), *LB Matt Chatham (foot), *WR Jerricho Cotchery (chest), *CB Andre Dyson (neck), *OL Pete Kendall (knee), *WR Justin McCareins (foot), *QB Chad Pennington (calf) & *DL Dewayne Robertson (foot)
PackersDoubtful: T Mark Tauscher (groin)
Questionable: S Nick Collins (hamstring), *LB Nick Barnett (hand), TE David Martin (ribs) & *RB P.J. Pope (hamstring) & *LB Ben Taylor (hamstring)
Probable:T Chad Clifton (hamstring), *QB Brett Favre (right elbow), *RB Ahman Green (knee), & *CB Charles Woodson (shoulder)
*Denotes players who practiced