Buckeyes’ Laurinaitis calmly awaits Trojans

By Rusty Miller

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An hour or two before kickoff on Saturday, James Laurinaitis will put on his headphones.

Other Ohio State players will prepare for battle with No. 1 Southern California with heavy metal and screaming vocals, or maybe bluesy bass and a mellow backbeat.

But the Buckeyes’ co-captain, the top college linebacker in America according to most experts, goes with something understated, a bit of pop to prepare him for all the collisions and violence.

“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord. I’ve been waiting for this moment, all my life, Oh Lord. Can you feel it coming in the air tonight, Oh Lord, Oh Lord,” Phil Collins sings in the song “In the Air Tonight.”

Then Laurinaitis will go about his business, knocking down opponents until he comes to one carrying a football. It’s a job he enjoys but which belies the larger part of a quiet, introspective life filled with studies and friends.

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“That’s a song that my high school listened to as a tradition before games,” Laurinaitis said.

The music soothes him, helps him focus on what’s ahead, helps him control his pent-up fury until it is time to unleash it.

“I’ll usually be calm until I get out on the field, but when Malcolm (cornerback Jenkins) starts going crazy and Thaddeus (defensive end Gibson) starts talking, it’s just time to get going,” he said. “You have to get after it. It sort of builds as you get toward game time.”

“I’ve learned to manage it a little better than my sophomore year,” he said, grinning. “I was about gassed out after warmups at Texas. I was so tired I had to get my inhaler out. I’ve learned to calm down a little bit.”

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel calls him the best linebacker in the country but seldom trumpets him. There’s no need. Laurinaitis is confident but not cocky. He knows his job and how to go about it. He said he won’t lose any sleep this week worrying about gaps, assignments and USC’s much-hyped tailbacks.

“You’ve got to believe,” he said. “Whether it’s a big game or not, you have to visualize yourself making plays.”