James Laurinaitis is an animal. No, wait, that is his father, Joe, the professional wrestler who was known as “Animal” during his three decades as half of the World Wresting Entertainment’s innovative, face-painted, tag-team tandem known as the Road Warriors and the Legion of Doom.
Laurinaitis is a road warrior.
As a true freshman stepping in when Ohio State starter linebacker Bobby Carpenter suffered a broken ankle on the first play of the Michigan game in Ann Arbor, Mich., last season, Laurinaitis had a tackle on the final play of the game to help preserve a 25-21 victory before 100,000 or so fans. Those fans would rather have seen him caught in the Doomsday Device, his father’s pet put-away – think clothesline karate chop in mid-air — while helping the Buckeyes reach the Fiesta Bowl.
A month later and again away from home, Laurinaitis made his first college start in the Buckeyes’ 34-20 victory over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
Since, he became an All-American middle linebacker as a true sophomore, leading the team with 100 tackles while winning the Bronco Nagurski Award as the top defensive player in college and becoming a finalist for the Butkus and Bednarik awards.
His ascension was about as hard to call as a WWE decision.
No foreign object here.
“The thing about James Laurinaitis … from the day he got here, he was going to pay close attention and study the right people,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
“He would follow (2005 starting linebackers) A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel into the weight room, the film room. He was going to pick up things from the right people.
“Academically, he was going to get around the people to whom academics were very important. He was an excellent decision-maker from the day he walked in the door. You couple that with his extraordinary talent, and he is going to end up being a very good player.”
Laurinaitis, 20 last month, was a member of the Walter Camp All-American team and also was named a firstteam All-American by The Associated Press, the Football Writers Association and the Sporting News.
He had a team-high five interceptions, including one each in consecutive early-season games against Texas, Cincinnati, Penn State and Iowa that helped dispel the notion that a Buckeyes’ defense that lost nine regulars from the 2005 team would not be able to maintain a top level of play.
The Buckeyes rank No. 2 in NCAA Division 1-A in scoring defense, having given up only 125 points in 12 games. They have created 27 turnovers.
In addition to his interception, Laurinaitis caused two fumbles against Texas, the first at the Ohio State 1-yard line that kept the Longhorns from breaking a tie at 7. He also had a pass deflection.
Laurinaitis, 6-foot-3 and 244 pounds, grew up in a physical world. He was named the state of Minnesota’s Defensive Mr. Football while leading Wayzata High to the Class 5A state championship in 2004, and also was a captain of the school’s hockey team.
In addition, Laurinaitis and his siblings — an older brother who is in the Army and a younger sister who is fielding college scholarship offers in ice hockey — often simulated the Doomsday Device in the backyard of the family home in Hamel, Minn., 20 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Lauranaitis still has an action figure of his father in his campus apartment, plus an “Animal” poster that is autographed: “James, Keep living the dream. Love, Dad.”
“I keep it in my room to remind myself of the success he had, the hard work he put into it,” Laurinaitis told USA Today.