COLUMBUS, Ohio - Before he leaves Ohio State - after one more game or one more season - James Laurinaitis will undoubtedly rank among the school's top linebackers ever.
This astounds Laurinaitis, the son of a professional wrestling icon who still thinks of himself as a work in progress despite winning the Butkus Award earlier this month and the Nagurski Award a year ago.
"It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable to be mentioned in the same category as A.J. [Hawk] or Chris Spielman," he said during the Buckeyes' preparations for their BCS title game showdown with LSU on Jan. 7 in New Orleans. "To be honest, I don't even feel like it's necessary yet. I'm so humbled to even be up for these awards and to think of the past players that have been up for the awards. It's so humbling and such a blessing. I still don't feel like I'm on the same level as those same players."
For instance, LSU coach Les Miles has no trouble putting Laurinaitis among the best players in his position, at Ohio State or any other school.
"I watched Laurinaitis' highlights and no guy should be allowed to have that many highlights," he said. "He is one of the finest players in college football."
Ohio State has churned out several quality linebackers, including Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Bob Brudzinski, Stan White, Marcus Marek, Thomas "Pepper" Johnson, Spielman and Hawk, who now plays for the Green Bay Packers.
Coach Jim Tressel was an assistant coach at Ohio State when Johnson and Spielman, who both went on to glittering NFL careers, were Buckeyes.
"In the midst of someone's career, I hesitate to compare them," he said. "I think James really enjoys the fact that there is that tradition of people that weren't just great linebackers, but they were great people and they've gone on and done excellent things after [their playing careers]."
Laurinaitis, a two-time first-team all-American, is the face of the current Buckeyes. Quiet and unassuming, humble to a fault, he prefers his actions to do the talking. He leads the Buckeyes with 103 tackles and is among the leaders with five sacks, 8.5 tackles for minus yardage, two interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Although he's not screaming at teammates, he sets the tone for the defensive unit.
"With James, the things you're going to get out of him are energy and effort," said defensive end Vernon Gholston, also an all-American. "He will run to the ball and come up with big plays. It's been great for us to have that aspect for our defense."