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Mike Hall Jr. is an “alpha dog,” according to Ohio State’s Larry Johnson.

Ohio State University defensive line coach Larry Johnson already had a lot to say about Mike Hall Jr., the youngest of his students to reach the NFL. Of course, a lot of that had to do with his abilities on the football field.

At the end, however, Johnson was asked if there was anything else he would like to share about Hall. Everything he wanted had not been asked, but had to be known.

Johnson seized the opportunity. Not to add to the story of Mike Hall Jr. the football player, but to add to the story of Mike Hall Jr. the person.

“Mike is very, very highly intelligent,” Johnson said in a telephone interview with the Beacon Journal on Monday. “He is very mature. Mike gets it. He is like a son to me. We have a really close relationship. He lets you into his heart and a lot of kids don’t do that, but Mike does.”

“I think that’s the thing about him that people don’t know is that Mike is really sincere. He cares about people. He really does, and I think that's what people in Cleveland are going to find out. He's a really generous guy.” He has a big smile, walks across a room, loves life and wants to be great.

Johnson knows what great defensive linemen look like, having been directly responsible for helping dozens of them develop during their college years, whether at Ohio State or previously at Penn State. Some of the NFL's best have currently existed under his tutelage.

Hall, whom the Browns took 54th overall last Friday, is just last on this list. The Streetsboro High School product emerged as a full-time rotation player over the past two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman in 2021, including 12 starts in 24 games played in 2022-23.

But as Hall talked about Johnson's influence on him during his introductory press conference last Saturday, he kept coming back to how much his position coach helped him outside of football.

“You know, he’s my mentor and he was my sports psychologist before I became interested in sports psychology,” Hall said. “So, you know, just being transparent with him and being able to talk to him about everything, I think that was the best thing that could have happened to him and me. And just having that really close bond and that relationship, you know, it really helped me as a player.”

Hall earned All Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons in Columbus. He received honorable mention in 2022 and was named to the third team last season.

This 2022 season, Hall had his best year statistically with 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Last season he had just 2.5 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Even if the stats say Hall has taken a step back, Johnson would dispute such thoughts. In fact, he would claim that such ideas of “stepping back” do not exist in Hall’s Leixcon.

“First of all, he’s an alpha dog,” Johnson said. “He's a brave guy. He wants to be great. He wears it on his chest and his heart.”

However, there is something else that has grown even more dear to Hall over the last year. That was his son, Mike Hall III, who was born in September.

Hall himself has spoken about how much the birth of his son changed him and his perspective. This was a motivating factor in his decision to forego his final two seasons with the Buckeyes to advance to the NFL ranks.

It was a different hall that Johnson coached last season at Ohio State. This was someone who understood that what he was taking on was much more than just a random blocker or a double team on the offensive line.

“I think it’s completely different,” Johnson said. “I think when you take on the responsibility of becoming a father, and Mike had the mindset that he wanted to be a great father, and I think he's changed again in his sense of responsibility. … He saw a way to really do this.” I'm glad it was worth it for him to change his life, his son's, because that deserves to be the best.

Hall, who doesn't turn 21 until June 13, will be almost like a freshman again when he joins the Browns. Specifically, he will be joining a position group intentionally made up of many older veterans.

Johnson, who still considers Hall “like a son” as he leaves the nest for the next phase of his life, believes this is the ideal place for his young student to land. Just as he gave Hall a voice of wisdom, he believes players like Dalvin Tomlinson, Shelby Harris, Myles Garrett and Za'Darius Smith will give it to him too.

“I don’t know where you can put a price tag on that,” Johnson said. “Man, this is priceless. You're talking about All-Pro players walking into the room. They will take Mike under their wing and teach him. Man, you can't ask for a better room than the one Mike's going to walk into. “I think when you're around great players, you have the choice to either be great or be average.

Chris Easterling can be reached at [email protected]. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/browns. Follow him on X at @ceasterlingABJ

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