James Laurinaitis: A Born Leader

Ohio State superstar linebacker James Laurinaitis has won nearly every major individual award a defensive player can win. He has also led the Buckeyes into consecutive appearances in the BCS title game. Laurinaitis stunned Buckeye Nation by spurning the NFL and returning to Columbus for his senior season. Bill Greene caught up with Laurinaitis at the Lexington youth camp and filed this report.

The storied history of Ohio State football is filled with great individual performers. James Laurinaitis has earned the right to be included in the discussion of Ohio State greats because of his exceptional play as a sophomore and junior.

Laurinaitis has won most of the individual awards that a defensive player can win, but it is his leadership ability that his teammates continually speak about. Laurinaitis has led the Buckeyes to consecutive BCS title game appearances, although both ended in disappointing losses.

"It hurts to know we've lost back-to-back championship games," Laurinaitis admitted while working at the Lexington youth football camp. "The loss to LSU was so different than the loss to Florida. Against Florida, we never really had a grasp on that game at all. The LSU game was a game where I thought the talent was pretty even, but a few key mistakes kind of defined the game. I give them all the credit in the world for the way they played. They made few mistakes, while we made far too many, especially in a championship setting. The Florida game was a game where we did nothing right, but against LSU we did some good things, but just not enough of them to beat a great team."

Laurinaitis feels the Buckeyes will learn from their championship experiences and come back a stronger team because of where they've been.

"I don't think there's a limit to what we can accomplish in 2008," he said emphatically. "Everyone is saying that we're going to be good, but from my point of view we need our veteran guys to step up and be difference-makers. We need all of our returning players to dedicate themselves to having their 'career' year in 2008. We all need to be better than we have been in the past. If we aren't all driven to be better, both from a mental and a physical perspective, then we will not get to where we want to be. We need to be a much smarter team, both in the film room and on the field. We need to eliminate as many mistakes as we can."

It's interesting that Laurinaitis would mention eliminating mistakes, because the Ohio State loss to LSU was marred by personal fouls, dropped passes and breakdowns in the kicking game.

"The LSU game is a perfect example of making too many mistakes and not playing smart football," he explained. "They were a mature football team and they played the game the way we needed to play it. It's all about being more disciplined as a football player. It's about staying after practice to watch more film. It's about maturing as a player so that you have your emotions under control at all times. It's about learning to make a big play when your team needs you to step up and do the job you were taught to do. I know I can get a lot better in every area and that's what I expect out of myself this season."

Laurinaitis could have left Ohio State and entered the NFL draft after the 2007 season, but he chose to return for his senior season. It was a move that surprised a lot of people inside the program, including head coach Jim Tressel.

"To me, there are more important things in life than money," Laurinaitis explained. "I just wasn't ready to walk away from this great experience. I wasn't ready to leave my teammates and these coaches. I get along with all the guys and they're my friends for life. I'm not sure you can have those close relationships with guys at the next level, where it's far more of a business. I look at this as a great chance to really enjoy my last year with these guys, and I plan to savor every single moment of this season. This is something really special and I cherish my time left at Ohio State. We are loved by the people of Ohio and that's not something I take for granted. I made my decision to stay at Ohio State and I've never regretted making that decision."

Laurinaitis has also learned to appreciate the fact that Ohio State football players are idolized throughout the entire state. He explained why he would volunteer his time to teach youth football players how to play the game.

"When I was younger I had the opportunity to watch Marion Barber, now of the Cowboys," Laurinaitis explained. "He was from my high school and I remember being impressed after meeting him when I was a youngster. I have an image of what that did for me and this is fun for me to be around these littler guys. They are the future of this game and I think I have a responsibility to the game to give back to them."

He also feels a responsibility to keep the traditions of what it means to be an Ohio State football player alive within his younger teammates.

"Coach [Jim] Tressel has a quote that says 'With tradition comes responsibility,' and that means everything to me," he stated. "That's just something that should be obvious to every single player in our program. When you have something special like we do, it's our responsibility to make sure there is no break in the chain. We need to make sure the tradition of Ohio State football lives on in the younger players. There will be a lot of new guys taking on leadership roles next season, so it's our duty to make sure we pass on the right message to those guys. Even though I won't be at Ohio State next year, I can guarantee you I'm going to be following those guys every single step of the way and I will always be a Buckeye."

Laurinaitis feels he learned his lessons about Ohio State football from some of the players that played before him.

"No doubt, I learned everything about being an Ohio State football player from A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter," he admitted. "They were never rah-rah guys at all, but they were guys who worked extremely hard and they expected everyone else to do the same. They taught me a lot just by being able to observe their work ethic on a daily basis. They did the little things right every day and that's something I never forgot. The new linebackers, Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino, are both going to be great players here. I feel it's my job to help them succeed in any way I can. Sabino is a kid with a lot of talent, but I can tell he wants to learn and he has great desire to do well. He's a very talented kid and that's why he's at Ohio State. Etienne has all the ability to be a great player here, and so does Sweat. I need to do everything in my power to help those guys the way Hawk and Carpenter did for me. That's what being an Ohio State football player is all about. It's caring about the welfare of the team more than you care about your own personal goals. That's the lesson I want to leave behind me."

Laurinaitis denied the players are looking ahead to the September 13th game with USC. He said the focus is more on doing the daily things they need to do, rather than peeking a few weeks into the future.

"I'm not even looking ahead to the Youngstown State game at this point, let alone USC," Laurinaitis said. "We have enough to do with concentrating on the next workout, not a game that's a month away. We need to get accomplished today what needs to be done, or we're not going to play well when the games get here. We can't look that far ahead, because what we're doing today will prepare us for those games. Obviously, you come to Ohio State to play in big games, but the work we do today is all we need to give our attention to. We need to focus today on what we need to do to get better, or rather I should say that I need to concentrate on getting better."

It's hard to believe that a two time All-American would think he has a lot to work on, but that's not how James Laurinaitis thinks.

"I can get better at every single aspect of playing football," Laurinaitis stressed. "When I walk down the halls and see names like Randy Gradishar, Chris Speilman, Andy Katzenmoyer, Tom Cousineau and Ike Kelley, that just tells me that I'm not where those guys were as players. That walk every day is a humbling experience for me, and it makes me want to keep working harder to try to be like those guys. I need to play better, smarter and faster. I need to just improve every facet of my game to be the player I need to be, and I hope to accomplish that before I leave Ohio State."

Finally, Laurinaitis spoke about what he likes the most about playing football at Ohio State.

"It's definitely the family we have here at Ohio State," Laurinaitis said. "It's meeting these great guys and being around them so much that they become your brothers. That's something special, and you can't really explain it to people outside the team. The only way to know what we have as Ohio State football players is to be a part of it. We know how crazy Ohio State fans are throughout the country, and throughout the world, so to be a part of it is just the greatest feeling in the world."

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