Ryan Shazier came to media interviews on Monday wearing a T-shirt depicting the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali glowering over a fallen Sonny Liston.

Ryan Shazier came to media interviews on Monday wearing a T-shirt depicting the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali glowering over a fallen Sonny Liston.

Shazier is a big Ali fan. He has posters of him on his walls at home. Shazier is much more soft-spoken than Ali was in his boxing days - who isn't? - but it's easy to see why the Ohio State linebacker identifies with him.

"Because he wanted to be great and I want this team to be great and I want to be great," Shazier said as the Buckeyes began preparations for their opener on Saturday against Buffalo.

Shazier has had the stings-like-a-bee part down cold since he arrived at Ohio State two years ago. Even as a freshman weighing barely 200 pounds, Shazier exploded through his tackles with a ferocity belying his frame. Now he has bulked up to almost 230 pounds while retaining unusual speed. He was timed at 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash last year.

After an inconsistent first half of the 2012 season, Shazier blossomed late in the year after he became more disciplined. Now he's regarded as a top contender for Big Ten defensive player of the year.

But during much of training camp, Shazier might have felt more like Liston than Ali. As the only returning starter among the front seven in Ohio State's defense, Shazier put immense pressure on himself - and it showed.

He struggled with the best way to be the leader he wanted to be. How much should he speak up? Should he let his play speak for itself? Should he try to simply do his job well, or try to help cover for the inexperienced players around him by extending himself?

"I had gotten myself pretty stressed," Shazier said.

That appears to have eased after some heart-to-hearts with coaches.

"I've been talking to the coaches a lot more lately and I feel I've been calming down and relieving myself of the stress," Shazier said. "I think I've been playing a lot better in camp and in practice."

Coach Urban Meyer is one of Shazier's biggest fans, but he saw that the linebacker hadn't been himself.

"I have seen a guy that was pressing," Meyer said. "He would ask me, 'Should I talk to the team? Should I say something?'

"He's such a great kid from a great family. He feels the void of what was there last year, but the last week he's been Ryan Shazier. Just play, and your actions will take care of itself. Lead by example, and you'll know when the time is right to be a vocal leader. He was certainly pressing. We had a couple of conversations about it."

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said the struggles were partly a byproduct of being a junior - old enough to be a veteran but without the cachet that comes with being a senior.

"Sometimes you go into that junior year and you put a lot of pressure upon yourself," Fickell said. "And we already (put) a lot of pressure on these guys. Then when you put it on yourself or from wherever it's coming from - home, friends …

"The reality is that we need you to play within the framework of the defense, be really good at whatever it is that you do, and the rest will handle itself."

That seems to be the approach Shazier is taking now.

"He's become what I like to say is a (true) linebacker," Fickell said. "You see him making linebacker plays instead of just highlight-reel plays that he can make."

That T-shirt Shazier wore is evidence of that ethic. The punch Ali used to knock out Liston was a simple, quick right delivered with such perfect timing that most observers didn't realize its potency.

In other words, Ali wasn't trying to do too much, just as Shazier is learning to do now.