It's time for the highly touted linebacker prospect from Miami, Fla., to take what he learned while redshirting last season and become a leader on an Ohio State defense that will be looking for several new commanders this fall.
"That's the role everyone wants to be in," Sabino said about emerging as a leader. "As far as my role changing, I just feel like I need to step up. I've been here for a while, and I haven't done what I wanted to do yet. I want to help this team win. That's where my mind is right now."
Sabino has had plenty of time to think about his new opportunity. He battled Andrew Sweat last August for the right to take the open strongside (Sam) linebacker position alongside weakside (Will) linebacker Ross Homan and middle (Mike) linebacker Brian Rolle. Sweat won the position, and Sabino chose to accept a redshirt season.
While the Buckeyes went on to share yet another Big Ten title and defeat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, Sabino was on the sidelines.
"It was extremely difficult," Sabino said. "I would say it was probably one of the hardest years of my life."
Sabino did not sit around and mope about his fate, however. Instead he focused his energies on not only learning more about playing linebacker but learning more about Ohio State's entire defense. He spent extra time in the film room, in the weight room and among then-teammates Rolle and Homan learning everything he could.
"I think I really got a better grasp on the defense as a whole," Sabino said. "Like what the safeties are doing, what the defensive line is doing in front of you, what the corners have to do."
Sweat said he was impressed by the way Sabino handled not playing last season, something Sweat knew a little something about after missing several games in 2009 after suffering a knee injury.
"It's extremely difficult (to sit out), and I can relate because I tore my ACL my sophomore year and you just stand there on the sideline watching. It is very hard because it's like you're not really a part of the defense.
"I know how hard it was for Etienne last year, but he had a great attitude about it. He got better last year and he's ready to excel this year."
The added knowledge Sabino gained while sitting out has already paid dividends for the former five-star prospect from Miami (Fla.) Dr. Krop. Sabino has uttered the phrase many players say when the proverbial light comes on before a big season: The game has slowed down.
"When you're not out there thinking, you're just reacting," he said. "You know what you have to do. You know what the guys in front you have to do. You can expect to know where the ball is going. … It just helps your overall game and your overall football knowledge."
In addition to being a smarter and more instinctual player, Sabino is also a physically bigger player. He said Saturday that he is up to 248 pounds, up from his listed weight of 240 last season.
Sabino has no regrets about missing the 2010 season, calling it something that benefited not only him but the Buckeyes as a team. Sabino will have two years of eligibility remaining when the season begins this fall.
Sabino will go into preseason camp in August as one of Ohio State's starting linebackers. What position he will play, however, has not been determined.
No matter where he'll line up, Sabino is ready for the 2011 season to begin.
"Right now is probably the best I've felt," he said.
That's some news Ohio State fans will enjoy hearing. It is Sabino's time after all.