Laurinaitis Preparing Like Starter At OLB

True freshman James Laurinaitis was pressed into service at Michigan when senior outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter went down with a broken leg. Now, Laurinaitis is preparing as if he will be the starter for the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. He shares his thoughts on his sudden rise, Carpenter's injury, the Notre Dame offense and the future. Click here for more.

Ohio State freshman linebacker James Laurinaitis is preparing as if he may be called upon to start against Notre Dame in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Jan. 2 in Tempe, Ariz.

Of course, the 6-3, 231-pound Laurinaitis is waiting like everybody else for a determination on the status of starting linebacker Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter, a third-team All-American as a senior, went down with a broken leg on the first play of OSU's Nov. 19 win at Michigan.

Laurinaitis relieved Carpenter that day and finished the Michigan game. Carpenter hopes to be able to run by the time OSU reports to Arizona for the bowl game. He and OSU medical personnel will make a decision on his status in the days leading up to the game.

In the meantime, Laurinaitis is getting ready with the idea he will probably have to play.

"Obviously, I have to prepare like I'm going to be going the whole game," Laurinaitis said. "But, obviously, I wish the best of luck for Bobby to come back. I want Bob to come back and finish off his senior season on the right note."

Laurinaitis, himself, is rooting for Carpenter's return.

"After I got off the bus for the Michigan game, the first thing my mom says to me wasn't, ‘Good job' or anything," he said. "It was ‘What's Bob's number? I want to call Bobby.' She felt so bad and I feel the same way. You want Bob to come back and finish that game and leave his legacy here at OSU the right way.

"As for me, I have to prepare like I'm the starter. He's been helping me out with the stuff to look at."

OSU coach Jim Tressel has no qualms with going with Laurinaitis if he has to.

"He is getting all of the Sam linebacker work," Tressel said. "He's just getting more opportunity to prove. I think he was solid (against Michigan). He played 30-some plays."

Laurinaitis ended the year with nine tackles, including one in the Michigan game. Carpenter suffered his injury on Michigan's first play from scrimmage.

"I didn't have a chance to get nervous or anything or to even think about it," Laurinaitis said. "I was over there getting a drink of water and I heard them yell out my name. Next thing I know, I've got to run out there on the field. A.J. (Hawk) was like, ‘Calm down, we've seen you do it in practice. You'll be fine.'

"Two weeks before that, Bobby's shoulder was bothering him and I had to practice with the ones all week. I knew I just had to go out there and relax.

"It was really unbelievable to play against Michigan in The Game. All week, they preach that the best players have to play their best against Michigan. Being in that kind of game and in that kind of spotlight, to come out there and break the ice in that game for the first time, it is kind of amazing. I was nervous at first – I didn't want to screw anything up. Then, you get a few plays under your belt and you're fine."

So you have a freshman that got his first appreciable playing time against Michigan and could make his first start against Notre Dame. That's pretty heady stuff.

"That's pretty amazing," Laurinaitis admitted. "I haven't had a chance to sit down and think about it yet. My first game I got in for meaningful time was Michigan. You don't really realize it until you walk down the street and people are like, ‘Great job against Michigan.'

"That was one game and that was all it took. And it was The Game. If I get a chance to start against Notre Dame, it would be amazing."

Laurinaitis, a native of Hamel, Minn., amassed 193 tackles as a high school senior last year at Wayzata High School. But with OSU stacked at the linebacker position, he seemed destined for a redshirt year.

But when backup Marcus Freeman went down with an early season injury, Laurinaitis moved into the two-deep. He saw action in all 11 regular season games.

"Basically, I felt like I could keep up when I got into the groove against Indiana," he said. "Against Miami (Ohio), the first game, I got in there and I was surprised.

"To learn from A.J., Bobby and these guys, you'd never guess the kind of success that they have. They're in that weight room more than anybody. That's why they're great. They are never satisfied and never feel that they've made it. You have to keep working."

Laurinaitis' dad, Joe Laurinaitis, is better known far and wide as professional wrestler Road Warrior Animal. He has thrilled crowds all over the world for two decades and still enjoys a career touring with the WWE. Because of his work schedule and a European tour, Joe Laurinaitis missed his son's big coming-out party as a Buckeye.

"He was pumped," James Laurinaitis said. "He was over in Finland wrestling during the Michigan game. He didn't get to see it. I had to tape it and then watch it later with him. He's just excited overall for me to be able to come here and have a shot like that and now to look forward to next year. I think he told me he had a sense of pride seeing me in there against Michigan."

Laurinaitis has already begun to take a look at Notre Dame, which was one of the nation's top offenses this year.

"They're a well coached team and they have good players," he said. "(Darius) Walker is a good back. They have (Jeff) Samardzija at wide receiver and (Brady) Quinn at quarterback. They have some good guys at the skill positions. They throw a lot of stuff at you. The two games they lost were by three points each. They're six points away from being undefeated. You've got to look at it that way. They're going to be ready to go."

Carpenter notched a team-high eight sacks as a pass rusher in nickel situations. Laurinaitis knows how important it will be to get after Quinn in this game.

"Like Coach says every week, we've got to disrupt the quarterback," he said. "After scouting Brady Quinn, we've got to focus on getting him out of his rhythm. We can't let him get in a rhythm out there and control the game. We have to get in his face and his mind going like, ‘Where are they coming from?' We've got to be able to get pressure, whether we run a three-man rush or a four-man rush."

And, with Hawk, Carpenter and starting middle linebacker Anthony Schlegel all graduating, Laurinaitis hopes the bowl practice will help him stake an early claim on a starting job for next year.

"I would sure hope so," he said. "Everyone behind those three is thinking that right now. You want to be the man after them. All you can do right now is sit back, work your butt off and watch what they do. You see what lifts they do in the weight room after practice. They're in there working out when most guys would go home. You take up how they practice and how they work. You put it into your own game and hope it works out for the best.

"It is a jump start for next year. (Linebackers coach Luke Fickell) told all of us young linebackers that this is like springtime practice for all of us. The older guys start leaving practice early and the young guys get to go out there a little bit. This is our chance to try and move into those spots. You have to take advantage of it."


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