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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2007

Buckeyes' Laurinaitis removes tuxedo, puts pads on again

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
OSU's James Laurinaitis has tasted banquet fare recently in North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California.
OSU's James Laurinaitis has tasted banquet fare recently in North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California.
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COLUMBUS - James Laurinaitis spent more time in a tuxedo last week than he did in shoulder pads. A college football postseason awards tour took the highly-decorated Ohio State linebacker to North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California.

Some 7,000 air miles later, Laurinaitis finds his way back and starts concentrating on the No. 1 Buckeyes' preparations for their Jan. 7 meeting in New Orleans with No. 2 Louisiana State in the Bowl Championship Series national title game.

On his whirlwind trip, the 6-3, 245-pound junior from Minnesota won the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker in the college game. Andy Katzenmoyer (1997) is the only other Buckeye to win the Butkus. Chris Spielman (1986-87) and A.J. Hawk (2005) were the only other Ohio State finalists for the prestigious honor.

"I think I was the most surprised guy in the room," Laurinaitis said after receiving the award at the Downtown Athletic Club of Orlando. "It's really overwhelming."

Laurinaitis maintained a daily blog of his travels, which started once he had finished his final exams at Ohio State for classes in communications and Romanian. The first stop was Charlotte, where the Bronco Nagurski Award went to LSU's Glenn Dorsey.

Laurinaitis had won the Nagurski last year as a sophomore.

Laurinaitis said he enjoyed all the 21st birthday texts and messages he received while in North Carolina, and the presentation of a special Legends Award to former Michigan State great Bubba Smith.

"Bubba is quite a character," Laurinaitis wrote in his blog.

The following morning a 4 a.m. wakeup call rousted Laurinaitis for his 6 a.m. flight to Houston, where the Lombardi Award was to be presented. After learning about the cancer research that is funded by the award, the players had a chance to interact with the many fans on hand in Houston.

"When the host asked me what my favorite Ohio State football traditions were, I had a lot of fun staring over at Jake Long while telling about the tradition of gold pants," Laurinaitis said about the Michigan offensive lineman who was also a finalist for the Lombardi.

Ohio State players are awarded a small gold charm of football pants for each victory over Michigan.

"Everywhere we go, we keep meeting Buckeyes and Ohio State fans, or people who have OSU alums in their families," Laurinaitis said.

The next day Laurinaitis visited young patients at MD Anderson Hospital and the Texas Children's Hospital.

"It's hard for me to put in words what that was like," Laurinaitis wrote in his blog.

Dorsey won the Lombardi Award, and after the banquet Laurinaitis got to meet with members of the Ohio State alumni chapter in Houston, who told him they have 300 to 1,000 get together each week to watch the OSU games.

The tour continued with an early flight on Thursday to Orlando, where the ESPN awards show took place. Laurinaitis was joined in Florida by his dad, who had been snowed-in in Minnesota. They sat near Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon and Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree at the ceremony that evening, along with Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, who was honored as the top assistant coach in the country.

After being honored as an All-American, Laurinaitis won the Butkus Award on Friday as the leader of an Ohio State unit that led the nation in total defense and scoring defense, allowing just 222.5 yards and 10.7 points per game.

"It's an honor for our whole defense, for all my teammates and coaches," said Laurinaitis, who led Ohio State with 103 tackles, five sacks and two interceptions.

"Their play allows me to receive this type of attention. I can't even pick up the trophy without breaking into a smile. This is terrific."

After a flight back here for a short respite, Laurinaitis was again in the air and headed across the country for Los Angeles and the Lott Trophy ceremony. That award also went to Dorsey, while Laurinaitis was named to the Football Writers Association of America's All-American team, The Sporting News All-American team, and the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American team.

Laurinaitis said recently he considers it an honor to play linebacker at Ohio State, with the tradition established at the position by the likes of Katzenmoyer, Spielman, Hawk, and Tom Cousineau.

"That's why I chose Ohio State, " he said. "You have to realize there were a lot of people here before you that made this possible, that made this place what it is. And with that tradition comes the responsibility to kind of carry that on and have the most respect for those guys that built this place."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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