Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007
OSU has its own 'Hitman'
By ROB TODOR
PHOENIX "Animal Junior" is out. So are about a half-dozen other names. Ohio State sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis isn't overly concerned, though, with a potential professional wrestling career.
The defensive stalwart from Hamel, Minn., and the son of one-half of the infamous Legion of Doom has a few more pressing matters at hand, first and foremost being Monday night's BCS championship game against Florida.
The son of Joe "The Animal" Laurinaitis, who made his first start in last January's Fiesta Bowl, a 34-20 win over Notre Dame, took over at middle linebacker this season and is arguably the most decorated player of a defensive unit that ranked among the nation's best in several categories.
Laurinaitis leads the Buckeyes with 100 tackles, including 43 solos, and is tops with five interceptions. He finished with 8.5 tackles for losses, including four sacks. His signature game was probably the September showdown at Texas when he forced two fumbles, including one at the Buckeyes' 1 yard line, and had an interception.
"It's crazy how much difference a year makes," Laurinaitis said. "Last year I'm still a fresh 19-year old and running around out there with a bunch of guys who are in the NFL now."
Won Nagurski award
Now it's Laurinaitis who will be getting noticed by the NFL scouts. Replacing A.J. Hawk in the middle of the Buckeyes defense, he won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player. He was also a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik awards. Laurinaitis was named first team All-Big Ten and first team All-American by The Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America and The Sporting News. He was also named to the Walter Camp All-America team.
"I learned a lot [from Hawk] about how to study the game and [having] a work ethic," said Laurinaitis. "Coming out of high school you think you know everything about everything, and you come here and you see A.J. go work out after a two-a-day practice. You learn that you have to keep working."
Laurinaitis had a pretty good work ethic before he arrived at Ohio State, thanks in part to his dad, but mostly, he says, because of his mom, Julie.
"She played a lot of catch with me when I was younger and my dad was gone a lot. She cooked all the meals we never, ever went out to eat and always made sure I was eating the right stuff. I think I was the only kid in high school who still hadn't had Fruity Pebbles and some of those cereals. I was still eating Wheaties and Special K."
In fact, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was asked if he'd ever been threatened by The Animal.
"No, he's a pretty quiet guy," quipped Tressel. "I would listen more to his mom anyway."
Laurinaitis had a pretty colorful childhood. He said his dad would be visited by his friends in wrestling, like Bret "Hitman" Hart and Hulk Hogan.
"We used to dress up and act out our favorite wrestlers, worrying my mom to death that one of us would get hurt," he said. "Whenever I wasn't my dad, I loved Goldberg. I think he resembled most likely a football player, and The Rock. I liked The Rock, and Shawn Michaels. I don't know what it was about Shawn Michaels, but he had a little swagger about him."
Laurinaitis was also an accomplished hockey player. He played through his senior year of high school, but said he prefers football.
"Football is a cleaner game," he said. "You get more vicious hits in a clean way. In hockey they'll tell you 'Go take that guy out.' I don't want to go out and ruin some other guy's career, his dream, with a dirty hit. That's not something I want to be a part of."
He's also sure he doesn't want to try any of his dad's ring moves on the football field.
"I don't know if I could use a drop kick or clothesline," he laughed. "I probably have to save that for The Longest Yard or one of those movies."
Still, there have been times he's considered a ring career after his football days end, but he's not come up with a suitable name or storyline.
"We always joke around that my first match would be me getting beat up in the ring," said Laurinaitis, "and then my dad would make this huge, heroic comeback, 60-years old, and come down and save me."
And, no doubt, with mom close behind.