Less Of A Good Thing

While individual awards and national acclaim can mean a lot of great things for a program, Ohio State appears to be just fine with having had a fairly quiet award season. Instead, the team's focus is on achieving victory where the Buckeyes suffered their biggest -- and only -- loss one season ago.

Consider it yet another way Kirk Barton has served as Ohio State's senior leader this season.

Precious little word had leaked out of the Buckeyes' camp in the aftermath of their loss to Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game, so it was naturally the hot topic when the team reassembled for spring football. As camp began, the senior right tackle held court with reporters in the atrium of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and began breaking down the loss to the Gators.

Although he declined to mention names, Barton made it clear the way the season ended would not be happening on his watch.

"It's a lot easier if you've got a bunch of guys that are hungry as opposed to a bunch of fatcats that are getting new rings and victory parades," he said. "I never wanted that to happen, but since it's happened you've got to roll with the hand you're dealt."

Flash forward eight months, and the hand Barton and the Buckeyes have been dealt has taken them to a repeat berth in the national championship game. This time around, they appear to be heeding Barton's words.

On a team short on seniors but long on juniors, leaders have emerged from the latter group. But while junior linebacker James Laurinaitis just got finished from spending a week traversing the country on the national awards circuit, he was one of just two OSU players to find themselves up for such awards.

Junior defensive end Vernon Gholston was one of eight finalists for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. Laurinaitis was up for four awards and walked away with the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's top linebacker.

Although he logged nearly 7,000 miles while attending the various awards ceremonies, Laurinaitis said he knew exactly where his focus needed to be.

Namely, in Columbus with his teammates. As a result, he made sure to stay in shape while traveling the country.

"I remember talking to A.J. (Hawk) he said the worst thing about (the circuit) was not being able to work out," Laurinaitis said. "So the first thing I did was found out where the weight room was. Mostly it was just cardio and sit-ups just to stay in decent shape."

As a result, the All-American said, he did not gain a pound while bouncing from ceremony to ceremony.

Last season, however, was another story for the Buckeyes. Four players were traveling the country for extended periods of time, with players such as Troy Smith and Quinn Pitcock finding themselves up for multiple awards.

Smith in particular looked to have put on a few pounds while away from his team, and although he was not the only player to have an off night against the Gators concerns about his weight lingered following the loss.

At the NFL Combine less than two months later, Smith weighed in 10 pounds heavier than his listed playing weight. He attributed some of the weight to the awards circuit he had traversed a full two months prior.

Still, Smith put together a spectacular senior season prior to that that peaked with a Heisman Trophy before the debacle in the desert against Florida.

And while bringing home individual awards is seldom a bad thing, having so many players up for so many might have hampered OSU's attempts to remain focused on the task at hand.

Junior defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, who has served as an alternating defensive captain this season, said during the season that he could tell this year's team would be able to handle the awards circuit.

"At the beginning of last year we played as a team and then toward the end all the awards and things started to come out and kind of broke us up into individuals," he said prior to the Penn State game. "I think this year everybody is making plays so all the glory is being spread around.

"I know it's a different mentality this year. Most of the defense is my class so we all came in together. We all know how good each other are and things like that. I think we won't let awards and big accolades and things like that get in the way."

While Laurinaitis said he was appreciative of his honor, and his teammates expressed their support, senior Larry Grant said it was obvious he was focused upon his return to OSU.

"This year we had a couple of guys up for awards but they understood we have a task at hand," he said. "As soon as they got home there was some work to be done."

It appears, then, that the team's juniors heeded Barton's advice. Now the question is whether or not the Buckeyes will be able to turn it into success where they suffered their biggest failure a year ago.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories