Laurinaitis reflects on getting to OSU, its hall of fame

Bill Rabinowitz,Tim May
Former Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis acknowledges the crowd's applause after his induction Friday into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame was acknowledged at halftime of Saturday's game. He is flanked by former Ohio State quarterback Ron Maciejowski, left, and Janine Oman, deputy athletic director. [Jonathan Quilter/Dispatch]

James Laurinaitis stepped into the Ohio State athletics hall of fame this weekend, not bad for a man who is just 31.

“But I never thought I would be in a hall of fame, period, not even in a high school one,” said Laurinaitis, a mainstay at linebacker in the mid-2000s who won the 2007 Butkus Award, was a three-time All-American and was Big Ten defensive player of the year in 2007 and ’08. “In fact, I don’t even think my high school (Wayzata, Minnesota) has a hall of fame, and if they do, I haven’t been invited.”

He laughed. He’s in the Ohio State hall now, joining nine others who were honored this weekend: Richard Bruggeman (men’s track), Cassie Dickerson (women’s soccer), Greg Drown (rifle), Linda Haussner (field hockey), Ray Hupp (men’s track), Bryan Koniecko (men’s tennis), Mike Pucillo (wrestling), Jerry Welsh (men’s hockey coach and student-athlete) and Brandon Wynn (men’s gymnastics).

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Laurinaitis wasn’t even sure he would play college football coming out of that high school, “and the only hope I thought I had was Marion Barber went to my high school, then he went on to play at Minnesota. I thought, ‘That’s cool. If he did it, maybe I could, too.”

When Ohio State finally came calling, the first thing Laurinaitis said he noticed was, “Their rival is Michigan, but it’s weird they don’t have a trophy for that game like Minnesota does. Minnesota has a trophy with everybody. I was so naïve. But I loved playing football, and if someone was going to give me a scholarship to keep playing, I was all for it.”

He laughed throughout his recounting, because the joke is on everybody else. Laurinaitis went on to play eight seasons in the NFL: seven with St. Louis and one with New Orleans.

After turning down a chance to join his former coach at Ohio State, Luke Fickell, on Fickell’s coaching staff at the University of Cincinnati — “because I couldn’t really commit to that because of my young daughters” — Laurinaitis has dived into a broadcasting career.

It includes a daily sports talk show at 97.1 The Fan with Beau Bishop, analyst spots with the Big Ten Network, both at games and in studio, and game-analysts shots later this season with Fox.

“It’s still all about preparation for me, just like when I was a player,” Laurinaitis said. “Without preparation, it’s like I would have been naked out there.”

Punt-catch circus

It was quite the circus for Ohio State in the punt-return game Saturday against Rutgers.

Demario McCall took the first shot and promptly muffed, but recovered, the ball. C.J. Saunders replaced him on the second chance and was run into by a Rutgers player, drawing a catch-interference penalty that set up the Buckeyes at midfield. On the third, McCall missed the catch but picked the ball up on the run and gained a few yards. Saunders caught the fourth on the run and went 20 yards with it.

In all, the Buckeyes forced nine punts and returned five for a total of 35 yards.

Big one coming

Ohio State center Michael Jordan knows the TCU game Saturday will draw plenty of attention. He was asked how he, playing center for just the third game, and first-year starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. will handle the atmosphere.

“I think by that time we’ll be ready to go,” Jordan said.

Martell's turn

Ohio State fans finally got an extended look at why Tate Martell was a two-time national player of the year at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.

After redshirting last year, the freshman had a quiet debut against Oregon State last week. But Martell was nearly flawless as Dwayne Haskins Jr.’s backup against Rutgers. He was 10-of-10 passing for 121 yards, including a 51-yarder to Terry McLaurin in the second quarter.

Martell also was the game’s leading rusher with 95 yards. Forty-seven came on a touchdown run in which he showed his elusiveness by making a quick cut to avoid two tacklers. The play came three plays after a sideline hit knocked the wind out of him and drew a Rutgers penalty.

“As soon as I could breathe, I was like, 'All right, let me up, I’ve got to go back over there, make plays,'” Martell said. “So that's what happened.”

Acting head coach Ryan Day is also the team’s quarterbacks coach, so he’s familiar with the stress Martell can put on a defense.

“He can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm,” Day said, “and that's what makes him a special player. And we got him in the rhythm early.”

Fuller returns

New Jersey native Jordan Fuller got his first scholarship offer from Rutgers, so being able to play against the Scarlet Knights is always going to be special.

Not being able to play in the Buckeyes’ opener last week against Oregon State because of a hamstring injury made Saturday’s game even more so.

“It was so tough seeing them go out there without me, not being able to contribute,” Fuller said. “I did everything I could to get back on the field this week.”

Fuller is considered the star of the secondary, and his absence was felt in the opener.

“A big difference,” defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “He’s such a stabilizing force. What Rutgers does offensively with all the shifts and motions, there’s a lot of adjusting to do. Our guys did a good job of adjusting.”

Fuller was credited with three tackles and a pass breakup to help a defense that gave up only a field goal.

“Last week we got the win, but we definitely walked off the field with a bad taste in our mouths,” he said of giving up 31 points to Oregon State. “We felt we had something to prove to ourselves and the whole country. I feel we took a step today.”

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