Laurinaitis"I'm in the Best Shape of My Life"

Ohio State junior linebacker James Laurinaitis had a memorable season in 2006. He helped lead the Buckeyes to the Big-10 title, a berth in the national title game, and was named the Nagurski Award winner as the nation's top defensive player. Bill Greene has more on this Buckeye superstar.

Ohio State junior James Laurinaitis certainly made the most of his opportunity to start at middle linebacker in 2006. Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes in tackles with 115, registered 4 sacks and had 5 interceptions. For his efforts he was named as the Nagurski Award winner, given annually to the country's best defensive player.

Laurinaitis is in the middle of summer conditioning but still found time to serve as a youth counselor at Lexington's football camp. With fall camp soon approaching, Laurinaitis spoke about what he's doing to prepare himself for the 2007 season.

"I'm actually in the best shape of my life right now," Laurinaitis exclaimed. "I'm bigger, faster and stronger than I was last year. That's the goal of every football player in the off-season. I've healed a few nagging injuries and I'm ready to get this thing going. I have to credit Eric Lichter and our strength and conditioning program. Lichter is a good strength coach and he definitely knows what he's talking about. He works us hard and deserves a lot of credit for where we are as a team."

Laurinaitis is understandably excited about the prospects of the Ohio State defense in 2007. Last year's group surprised most of the experts by being one of the top units in the country. Laurinaitis expects an even stronger effort this year.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be better," he said. "We know we have to step our game up. You could say we were pretty good last year but were humbled in the last two games we played. We didn't play well at all the last two games and we need to correct what we did wrong. We have a lot of guys who have proven they can play. It should be an exciting year for our defense."

"I'm really excited about how good our secondary can be," he continued. "We're so deep at all the DB spots and I think a lot of guys got valuable experience last year. Malcolm Jenkins can be an All-American. Donald Washington, Anderson Russell, Curt Coleman, Aaron Gant, Jamario O'Neal and Nick Patterson can all be counted on. Chimdi Chekwa and Grant Schwartz both had outstanding springs. It will be exciting to see all those guys competing throughout fall camp. There is a lot of talent back there."

"I know some people are concerned about our defensive tackles after losing two great players like David Patterson and Quinn Pitcock," Laurinaitis noted. "We heard the same thing last year about breaking in three new linebackers. I don't doubt those guys at all. Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger and Dexter Larimore had great springs. Don't forget Nadar Abdallah either. These guys are realizing that it's their time. They need to step up and seize the opportunity and I think they will. When you get your chance, you need to take advantage of it."

No player on the roster knows more about taking advantage of an opportunity than does Laurinaitis. As a true freshman in 2005 he was called upon to play in the Michigan game after Bobby Carpenter suffered a leg injury. Laurinaitis was up to the task and he hasn't left the lineup since. He smiled when he was reminded of that day in Ann Arbor.

"That day up in Michigan was unbelievable," Laurinaitis said with a laugh. "It was fun, exciting, surprising, nerve wracking…… everything I could have imagined. It was something you never want to see happen, especially to a great player like Bobby Carpenter, but it was the start of my career at Ohio State. It was crazy the way that happened. I was just glad to be able to help some great seniors beat Michigan in their last regular season game."

Laurinaitis followed up that performance against Michigan by starting against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Then came a record setting season in 2006. Laurinaitis admitted he never saw himself succeeding the way he has.

"I never thought about winning any awards last year," Laurinaitis humbly stated. "I was just hoping to keep my position all year. My goal was to start every game. I got lucky enough to have that happen and I was lucky to have great supporting players surrounding me. It was nothing special I did. Understand that I still don't feel I've arrived yet. I know I have a long way to go to be as good as A. J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter. I'm still striving to be as good as those guys were." Laurinaitis spoke about Hawk and Carpenter being his mentors who showed him how to approach his job at Ohio State. He still seeks their advice and is grateful to have them in his life as friends.

"I still talk to A. J. and Bobby a lot," Laurinaitis admitted. "Bobby is around here a lot. Anthony Schlegel is another guy who helped me a lot. Those guys showed us how important it is to wake up early and go to work. They definitely have the respect of every linebacker in this program. I could only hope to be what they were at Ohio State."

Laurinaitis also spoke highly of his defensive coaches, specifically Luke Fickell and Jim Heacock. He said he could never envision himself playing for any other staff, even though he originally committed to Minnesota during his senior year of high school.

"Coach Fickell is a very fiery guy," he said with admiration in his voice. "Coach Heacock is similar but he has so much experience in college football. They're both very passionate about the game and I love playing for coaches like that. They're very honest and direct with all the players. They don't beat around the bush about things. They come right at you and they say what they feel needs to be said. You have to respect that as a player. We all want to know how they think we're playing and they simply tell you the way it is. They are great teachers of the game also. I look forward to seeing what they will come up with for this season."

James Laurinaitis knows he will be counted on to be more of a leader this season. It's a challenge he is aware of and is prepared for.

"I'm a vocal guy. That's just my style," Laurinaitis stated. "I don't yell and go crazy in someone's face, because that's not the way to go about it. When something needs to be said, I'll say it, but I don't go out of my way to be a screamer and a yeller. If I can lead by example, that's fine too. My job is to help the younger guys coming behind me learn the right way to play this game. We all need to get better and I look to guys like Malcolm Jenkins and Vern Gholston to lead the way also.'

"Take the Florida game for example. I think we talked about it all spring and we are talking to the freshmen about it this summer. The young guys need to get an idea of what we felt after that game. We need to learn from our mistakes in that game and take those lessons into this season."

Laurinaitis is confident the Buckeyes will put a great team on the field again in 2007. He feels the Buckeyes will always be a power as long as Jim Tressel is the head coach.

"I can't say enough good things about Jim Tressel," he noted. "He's the best coach in college football in my opinion. He's the primary reason I came to Ohio State rather than Minnesota. He's also one of the most genuine human beings I've ever met. When you first meet him you think that he can't possibly be like that all the time. I saw him on television when I played in high school and thought the same thing. Then you meet him and you realize that's who he is. He truly cares about all of his players. He loves this program and Ohio State University. As a person I can't say enough good things about him. As long as he's coaching at Ohio State, the Buckeyes will be a national power."

Finally, no interview with a junior football star would be complete without asking about NFL possibilities. Should Laurinaitis build upon his fantastic sophomore season he would figure to be a very high draft choice should he choose to enter the draft. Laurinaitis answered the question directly and without hesitation.

"I'm not thinking about the NFL at all," Laurinaitis said emphatically. "I'm just getting ready for August 6TH and the start of camp. Then it will be time to prepare for Youngstown State. I'm just hoping to see this team win another Big-10 title and try to get to New Orleans and the championship game. I'm absolutely not giving any thought to the NFL at all."

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