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COLUMBUS - When Dexter Larimore chose football as the sport he would play in college, the move likely disappointed many college wrestling coaches, because they had been beating a path to his doorstep, enthralled by his size, strength and mobility.
But Larimore's high school wrestling coach, the guy that had taken the Indiana heavyweight to a state championship, and then a national title, was not chagrined, not for a second.
"I knew Dexter would be great at whatever he did, but it had to be his choice," Merrillville High School coach David Maldonado said.
"Did I feel bad that he wouldn't be wrestling any more? Not for a second. I felt bad for those guys who would have to try and block him."
Larimore is a redshirt freshman defensive tackle for No. 1 Ohio State, and he has been a consistent performer on the unit that leads the country in limiting the opposition's scoring to 6.57 points per game, and also is first in the nation in total defense, allowing 211.86 yards per game.
"He's one of those guys who came in here with a lot of potential, and he's been working hard to improve and learn the system," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said about Larimore, a 6-3, 305-pounder.
"We think Dexter Larimore is gonna be a heck of a force along that defensive line for us."
Larimore spent 2006, his first year at Ohio State, learning the system and getting stronger, as absurd as that might sound, considering he was a national champion heavyweight wrestler.
"There's always more that you can do," Larimore said, "so I came here with the mind-set that I'd work as hard as I possibly could, and put myself in the best position to help the team."
Larimore added 30 pounds, but it was his strength that had all the Buckeyes talking.
"We've got a lot of strong players, but the guys were talking about Dexter and his strength and what he could do in the weight room," Tressel said.
"But it's not just a weight room thing. His strength translates very well on the football field."
Ohio State's offensive linemen, who mix it up with Larimore in practice, get regular reminder's of his wrestling background.
"It's hard to get your hands on him, and I think that's got to be the champion wrestler coming out," Ohio State senior offensive tackle Kirk Barton said.
"Dexter knows how to use his hands, and he's real hard to contain."
Maldonado said that while Larimore wrestled against other behemoths, his style was much more like that of a lightweight, with an emphasis on footwork and - of course - dexterity.
"Usually when you see a couple of heavyweights out there, they are more like dancing bears. But Dexter was one of a kind, since he moved so well and knew how to use his hands," Maldonado said.
"He is certainly strong and powerful, but he was very good on his feet, so Dexter's opponents never knew what to do with him."
When Larimore, who was the state runner-up at heavyweight as a sophomore and again as a junior, moved over to the football field in high school, the odds sometimes were stacked against him.
"He was double and triple-teamed all the time," Maldonado said.
"And it took that many or more to try and stop him. He'd carry guys with him."
Larimore's football skills earned him scholarship offers from many Big Ten and Mid-American Conference schools, and in-home visits from Tressel and Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
When Larimore chose the Buckeyes and decided to dedicate himself to football, his high school wrestling coach gave him his blessing, and had but one simple request.
"With his competitiveness, and his will to get better, I knew Dexter would be making an impact real soon," Maldonado said.
"He has an endless amount of talent, and in a place like Ohio State where he gets good coaching and leadership, the sky is the limit.
"I know a lot of coaches from every major Division I wrestling program in the country were probably upset when he made his choice to play football, but not me.
"I wished him good luck, and told him when you make it to the Super Bowl, save me a ticket."
Contact Matt Markey at:
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