What A Rush: Laurinaitis Returning Home

OSU freshman linebacker James Laurinaitis said he is looking forward to returning to his hometown with the Buckeyes as they visit Minnesota this Saturday (noon, ABC). Laurinaitis talks about cracking the two-deep as a freshman and also having a famous dad in Animal from pro wrestling's Legion Of Doom. Click this free link for more.

It is a special week for Ohio State freshman linebacker James Laurinaitis.

The 6-3, 231-pound Laurinaitis will return to his home state of Minnesota as the Buckeyes tackle the Golden Gophers Saturday (noon, ABC).

"It will be nice to see family and friends up there supporting me," said Laurinaitis, who earned state player of the year honors a year ago at Wayzata High School. "I'll have my mom and dad there, my grandparents, numerous friends. I have a few kids from my high school who always root for Michigan. They will be back home and wearing Ohio State stuff for the first time. I'll have a lot of support."

With an injury to Marcus Freeman, Laurinaitis moved into the two-deep behind Bobby Carpenter at outside linebacker as a freshman. He has played in all seven games on special teams, logging four tackles.

"My dad always coached me from when I was young that it doesn't matter if you're a backup," Laurinaitis said. "You have to prepare like you're a starter. At a university like this, no matter what string you are you are expected to be great. You really don't have a choice. You better live up to the expectations."

Last December, there were reports that Laurinaitis had originally committed to Minnesota. But he subsequently did verbal to Ohio State. He hopes there are no bad feelings.

"That's a different story," he said. "That was a miscommunication. I don't want to get into that. I said something to an old sports reporter … and he took it the wrong way. The next thing you know, it's on (the Internet)."

But Laurinaitis is quite familiar with the Minnesota program.

"I know a few guys," he said. "Actually, my best friend from home, Dom Barber, is on the team. He's the little brother of Marion Barber III. Come Saturday, there are no friends on the field.

"I followed Minnesota all the time. As I said, I was friends with Dom Barber and his older brother played for the Gophers. I went to a lot of the games. I watched them growing up. But, as I've said before, my dad gave me an authentic Andy Katzenmoyer jersey. After that, I was a Buckeye.

"They have a lot of good backs. It doesn't matter who is in the game. You have to know it starts up front. They have a great offensive line. That's the way we are approaching it."

Laurinaitis is believed to be OSU's first scholarship player from Minnesota since Sid Gillman, who played from 1930-33 and was a captain in 1933. Laurinaitis said it is not uncommon for Minnesota's top football players to look elsewhere to play college ball.

"Usually, out of the state of Minnesota, a lot of the top kids leave," he said. "Last year, Walker Ashley went to Southern Cal. Things didn't work out for him and I guess now he's going back. I came here. That happens every year. Minnesota is a nice state. They're polite. I'm not expecting any boos at all."

The difference between Minnesota prep football and the Ohio high school ranks is apparent, Laurinaitis said.

"After I saw the first Columbus Dispatch after the first weekend of high school football, you get the perspective of how big it is," he said. "In Minnesota, the Vikings is the whole sports page. On Saturday, (preps) have the back page maybe. Ohio high school football is a lot more serious here. Up there, hockey is the big thing. I think they take it a lot more seriously."

Of course, Laurinaitis is known as the son of Joe Laurinaitis – better known worldwide as one half of the Road Warriors and/or the Legion Of Doom, one of the biggest acts in professional wrestling history. Joe Laurinaitis has spent his whole career known as Animal. He and his latest partner, John Heidenreich, have spent the last several months touring as the WWE tag team champions.

"My dad still wrestles," Laurinaitis said. "He's still in the WWE. He's a tag team champion right now. I don't know how he does it age 43. But he still does it. He's still being an athlete out there. Dad has been there every week for my games except Penn State.

"He loves it. I think that's why he is still doing it. He loves being a part of that business. I think the whole semi-retirement thing is when his original partner (Hawk) died, it really hit him hard. He feels if he can give a little back to the fans, he'll do it. If he can't give it back to the fans, he'll stop."

According to Laurinaitis, his dad had a football career of his own before the wrestling business called.

"He loved football," he said. "But things sometimes happen for the worse. He got my brother's mom pregnant and just said, ‘Hey, I need to make money now.' Some guy asked him if he wanted to train for wrestling. He said, ‘Sure, why not?' It ended up working out better for him, I think."

Laurinaitis said his teammates constantly ask him about pro wrestling.

"On the flight home from Indiana, I sat with Roy Hall and Santonio Holmes," he said. "I think we talked for the whole 45-minute flight home about different wrestlers and whether I had met them. It was hilarious. We went from all the way from Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake to Jimmy Snuka to all these people. It was fun.

"My uncle (John) is the second-hand man to Vince McMahon. When they came here for a show in August, the freshman class got to go as a group. A lot of the guys are into it. I was kind of hoping I'd come in here and people wouldn't talk about it all the time."

So will James Laurinaitis follow in his dad's footsteps?

"He told me growing up, ‘You are not going to be a wrestler. You are going to be a football player or a hockey player,' " James said. "He said I should do everything. Growing up, I did it all – football, hockey and baseball. He wanted me to follow my passion."

On Saturday, he will follow that passion back home to the Metrodome, where he got to play as a high school player.

"It's like in the indoor facility here," he said. "We have the heat turned up and it's hot and dry, not like an outdoor game. It's hard to catch your breath. You lose sweat a lot quicker there and it's harder to put air back in your lungs."

And aside from the conditions inside the dome, Laurinaitis knows UM coach Glen Mason will have his team ready for the Buckeyes.

"Mason will have them riled up," Laurinaitis said. "He's an Ohio State guy. They'll be ready to go and they'll come out gunning. They're a good team. We can't take them lightly at all."

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