Laurinaitis Continues To Impress

Media members covering Ohio State who stuck around Thursday afternoon at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center got a chance to talk with junior linebacker James Laurinaitis. A semifinalist for two national awards, find out his reaction to being on the lists and how his coach feels he has improved since last season.

For most returning award winners, it is an expectation that they will be in the running for similar awards the following season. James Laurinaitis is not like most players, then, as his response to being listed as a semifinalist for both the Lombardi and Butkus awards shows.

Asked if he would have been disappointed to not make the cut for the two awards – given annually to the nation's top linebacker or lineman and linebacker, respectively – the junior linebacker did not bat an eye.

"No, because we're 7-0 and that's all that matters to me," he said. "As long as we keep winning and our team is doing well, that's the only thing that matters."

One season ago, Laurinaitis was the most recognizable new face when the season began on a defense replacing nine starters. He finished the season with 115 tackles and five interceptions – both team-highs. Following Ohio State's 42-39 victory over Michigan in week 12, the Minnesota native brought home the Bronco Nagurski award, given annually to the nation's best defensive player.

In addition, Laurinaitis was a finalist for both the Butkus and the Bednarik awards, the latter of which is awarded to the nation's top defensive player.

He is now one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award and one of 10 such players for the Butkus. OSU head coach Jim Tressel said Laurinaitis is deserving of the honors because he has continued to improve on his performance one season ago.

"James Laurinaitis is, I think, playing better than he did a year ago and a year ago I thought he played well," he said. "He's older, he's smarter, he's stronger, he's faster. He's just more experienced and has done a good job of adding that leadership component to it. He seems to have things in good perspective and is I think very deserving to be on any of those cut lists."

Laurinaitis attributed his improvement to an increased understanding of the team's defensive schemes.

"You have to understand certain coverages, certain front stunts and stuff like that," he said. ", it's kind of a general understanding of where my teammates are going to be. It's really a benefit from last year when I was just trying to make the right call, get lined up and get out there. This year, I'm more relaxed, I'm showing around a little bit trying to disguise things and really just play football."

During Laurinaitis' freshman season, he said he remembered sitting in the dorm room he shared with fellow linebacker Austin Spitler and watching A.J. Hawk win the Nagurski Award.

"It's very exciting to see your teammates doing well, and I hope some of my teammates feel the same way," he said.

Through seven games this season, Laurinaitis has recorded a team-high 52 and is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. While those numbers might not translate to an improvement on his 2006 production, it is his leadership that has particularly benefited the team.

Prior to the season, Laurinaitis was named as one of three team captains. He is the first junior to be named a captain since Steve Bellisari and Joe Cooper received the honor in 2000.

According to junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, it is Laurinaitis' quiet demeanor that makes him a natural leader.

"I've never heard him yell at anybody and get upset," he said. "If he got that mad I would probably laugh at him. I don't think I've ever seen him mad mad. He's a great leader. He motivates us. If I'm not enthusiastic about practice one day he'll make sure he's in my ear. He knows how to talk to every individual because you can't talk to everybody the same."

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