A Good Case Of Laurinaitis

Following in the footsteps of teammates Brian Robiskie, Malcolm Jenkins, Alex Boone and Marcus Freeman, All-America linebacker James Laurinaitis was the last Ohio State junior to say yes to one more year when he made his decision Monday afternoon, bolstering a team that harbors national title aspirations in 2007.

If it weren't for Vernon Gholston, the Ohio State football team would have made it a clean sweep for the good.

Unlike a year ago, when offensive stars Ted Ginn Jr., Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez left the university a year early to enter the NFL draft, this time all of the high-profile Buckeye juniors except Gholston considering a leap to the next level have chosen to return to school for another shot at a title after two straight losses in the national title game.

Capping the positive news for Ohio State fans was the decision of James Laurinaitis, who waited until Monday afternoon to make it public that he would, in fact, return for a fourth year as a Buckeye. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported the news first before Ohio State confirmed the report in a statement released in the 5 o'clock hour.

"After a long thought process and strategic evaluation of the pros and cons of this decision with my close family and friends, I've decided to stay at Ohio State for my senior season to complete my schoolwork and football career," Laurinaitis said in a statement.

"I know I can still improve as a player, and I know there is still much more to me and for the Buckeyes to accomplish. My love for this university, my love for the people of the state of Ohio, and my love for teammates and friends is so great that I want stay a Buckeye for another season. You only get to do this once, so I want to take full advantage."

Laurinaitis won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker in 2007, compiling 121 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. He had 18 sacks in the BCS National Championship Game against LSU, a record for a BCS crowning game.

Laurinaitis burst onto the scene with 115 tackles and five interceptions in 2006 on the way to earning the Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player. Those numbers helped him become a captain in 2007, the first junior to be so named under head coach Jim Tressel. He would figure to reprise that role again in 2008.

"There are a lot of things that money can't buy, and some of those things are the experiences of a senior season," he said. "Going through those things with my teammates next year is what I look forward to the most."

Laurinaitis was the last of a group that included Gholston, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, wideout Brian Robiskie, offensive lineman Alex Boone and fellow linebacker Marcus Freeman to make his feelings publicly known. The deadline to enter his name into the draft is Tuesday.

"I received a lot of great advice from those close to me: my parents, close friends, former players and through prayer," Laurinaitis said in the statement. "I knew the right decision for me was to follow my heart and figure out what's important to me right now. That's the decision to remain at Ohio State, have a great senior season, and graduate with my degree in communications next year. I am very satisfied with that decision."

A year ago, when Ohio State lost the national title game in crushing fashion to Florida, the loss was said to give pause to Pittman, Ginn and Gonzalez before the three chose to play pro ball.

This time around, it appears the pull was too much for most. Jenkins made his decision to stay public Friday afternoon moments before Gholston's decision to leave surfaced. Freeman, who finished with 109 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, told his hometown paper, the Dayton Daily News, Saturday that he would return after hinting that he would before the title game.

Boone told numerous news agencies Sunday afternoon, including Columbus' WBNS-TV, that he would be returning.

With those players back, Ohio State can expect to be a national title contender again in 2008. Quarterback Todd Boeckman, tailback Chris Wells and top wideouts Robiskie and Brian Hartline come back to lead the offense, while the now-returning seniors on defense should help a unit that went into the bowl game ranked No. 1 in the nation.

The Buckeyes can expect to return nine starters on offense and nine on defense as well as both specialists. Already, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel has tabbed Ohio State as his second-ranked team to begin 2008, while both Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com and Matt Hayes of The Sporting News have the Buckeyes in their top seven.

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