April 9, 2008

Laurinaitis has the it factor

As the old saying goes, you either have it or you don't. That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what it is. Going to the doctor's office it might be best not to have it. On the football field however having it is a good thing, a very good thing even though it can be a rare commodity.

Ohio State senior-to-be linebacker James Laurinaitis definitely has it, whatever that may be when it comes to how he plays on Saturdays. While Ohio State has seen many talented players grace the field at the Horseshoe year in and year out but according to linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell there haven't been too many at that position that have had it.

"Nobody knows what that it factor is but I kind of referred back to it when A.J. Hawk was here," Fickell said. "People always asked what was so special about him and I always said whatever it is, he has it."

Comparing any linebacker to Hawk is high praise but that goes without saying for Laurinaitis who was predicted to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft if he so chose to declare early. The league will have to wait and Ohio State fans will get one more chance to see the Little Animal roam the field for the Buckeyes.

"When things happen, when plays are being made, when the game is on the line it is uncanny who ends up showing up," Fickell said. "It is what happens out there and the thing (the public doesn't) see is the day-in day-out of the weight room and film work and those kinds of things that people don't realize and think those guys who have it just naturally have it but they work at it."

Laurinaitis long earned the respect of his teammates on the practice field and many are still amazed with how the Butkus Award winner doesn't take any plays off during practice and leads by example.

"A lot of coaches say you have to make yourself better in practice but when you get out there every day you get tired and don't want to keep going," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "He is that guy that finds that energy and just makes sure he gets better and better each day."

So having it doesn't limit itself to game day and comes out just as much in practice as it does during game conditions?

"(It's) a competitive nature and a day-in day-out work ethic and the ability to fight through tough times and pain and different kinds of things that guys that just perform on their best days don't do those kinds of things," Fickell said. "Whatever it is, along with ability, they have got it."

Fickell himself was no slouch as a four year starter for the Buckeyes at Nose Tackle and racking up 212 tackles including 26.5 for loss during his playing days. Does Fickell believe that he may have possessed it during his playing days?

"I hope I had it with a lot less ability (laugh)," Fickell joked. "There are guys who have it that just aren't as obvious because they don't have the kind of ability that others have. We all like to hope that we had some version of it, maybe when I was in little league. Whatever it is it is more obvious in people have the ability to do it on the field and make the plays in the big games and that is what makes great players great."

Laurinaitis has amassed 245 tackles playing as a full time starting linebacker in two seasons and getting the opportunity to come in for Bobby Carpenter during the finale against Michigan in 2005 after a broken ankle put the current Dallas Cowboy out for the remainder of the season. Was it during that time that Laurinaitis took the field that the coaches may have realized that he possessed this it factor?

"A lot of times it is having that confidence to get out there and not freeze up and relax and play football and that might have been the first time I thought to myself that this kid had a chance to have the ability and do it because it didn't bother him," Fickell said. "It wasn't a big deal and to me that is the hardest part of going from high school to the next level… being able to slow that thing down and have the confidence to do what you need to do."

Fans know they better enjoy it while they have a chance because a year from now it will be NFL general managers that are talking about the it factor that surrounds the game of Laurinaitis.

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