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Published: 12/30/2005

Quite a character: OSU player's father is a real Animal

Joe Laurinaitis, known in professional wrestling circles as the Road Warrior Animal, turned down a football scholarship himself to raise a family but is enjoying watching his son James play at Ohio State as a freshman linebacker. Joe Laurinaitis, known in professional wrestling circles as the Road Warrior Animal, turned down a football scholarship himself to raise a family but is enjoying watching his son James play at Ohio State as a freshman linebacker.
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Laurinaitis Laurinaitis
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TEMPE, Ariz. - It's hard to comprehend how a guy who reports to work with a painted face, spiked shoulder pads and a body covered in tattoos would have any concerns about image.

But Joe Laurinaitis, better known as the Road Warrior Animal on the professional wrestling circuit, prefers that his son James, a freshman linebacker at Ohio State, never follow his fashion preferences.

Heck, proud papa doesn't even want his hulking youngster to sport a long, flowing mane, like the Buckeyes' talented linebacking trio of A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter.

"My hair got long for a while this season, and dad said, 'You're not growing your hair like A.J., are you?' " James Laurinaitis said. "I said, 'Why?' He said, 'You'll look ridiculous.' "

Joe Laurinaitis, 43, and still an active member of the world champion Road Warriors/Legion of Doom World Wrestling Entertainment tag team that includes John Heidenreich, laughs heartily when reminded of the conversation.

Young James, who turned 19 on Dec. 3, used to dress up like his father on Halloween and put on his trademark makeup for high school games back in Hamel, Minn.

But all of that garb and disguise has been put in mothballs since he started wearing the scarlet and gray.

"I did tell James I didn't want him to have long hair," said Joe Laurinaitis, who is 6-1 and 285 pounds. "Of course, I'm not much of an authority or a father figure on the subject, since I have had a Mohawk as part of my act for the last 20 years."

Joe Laurinaitis has been a familiar face to all of the Buckeyes' players and coaches this season. He has attended eight of the team's 11 games.

And he doesn't plan to miss what figures to be his son's finest hour on the national stage Monday against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

James, a 6-3, 231-pound backup, is expected to get his first start as a Buckeye at strong-side linebacker, replacing the injured Carpenter.

Talk about having a barrel of fun in the Valley of Sun.

This experience figures to be even sweeter for Laurinaitis' doting father than the 1992 World Wrestling Federation Summerslam in Wembley Stadium that drew 80,355.

"James will be pumped if he gets his first start, I'm sure," his father said. "But I know he can handle it. He had 365 tackles his last two years of high school. He has a nose for the football, unlike anybody I've ever seen.

"I think, in time, he can be the same kind of impact player for Ohio State that A.J. Hawk has been. He's not a kid who settles for being second best. I would be surprised if he wasn't making all of their defensive calls next year."

Don't snicker too loud.

Carpenter, who suffered a broken right ankle on the first play of the Michigan game and is questionable for the Fiesta Bowl, also believes Laurinaitis has a bright future ahead of him in football-crazed Columbus.

"James reminds me of myself when I was younger," Carpenter said. "By the time his senior year rolls around, I think he'll be one of the better linebackers in Ohio State history."

Those words make Joe Laurinaitis' eyes sparkle.

He has been a lifelong Ohio State fan. His two favorite Ohio State players of all time are both linebackers - Andy Katzenmoyer and Chris Spielman.

He loves guys who are tough.

That's how he expects his son to play.

Joe turned down a scholarship offer from Brigham Young to raise a family. A guard and linebacker, he ended up being a junior college All-American at Golden Valley Lutheran College in Minnesota.

He later passed up a tryout with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League to enter the world of wrestling.

Football, though, is still dear to his heart.

"Dad called every day this year to see how practice was going," James said. "Even on days when I didn't have practice, he'd call and ask, 'How's practice?' And I'd say, 'You've been body-slammed too many times.'●"

The Laurinaitis name is rooted in the wrestling industry. Joe's brother John once wrestled as "Johnny Ace" and is a high-ranking member of WWE. And older brother Mark briefly wrestled under the name "Terminator" in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, James grew up rubbing elbows with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka.

Joe thinks his son has the personality suited for pro wrestling, but for now, James is sticking with football.

"Obviously, wrestling is an option that is available if everything else fails," said James, who played in every game this season, mostly on the special teams, and was credited with nine tackles. "But my dream has always been to get to the NFL, and that's what I'm working toward."

Laurinaitis, the first Minnesota native on Ohio State's roster since Sid Gillman in 1933, has gotten his opportunity because of injuries.

When Marcus Freeman injured his knee in the opener against Miami, Laurinaitis moved onto the two-deep roster behind Carpenter. When Carpenter went down at Michigan, Laurinaitis moved up to No. 1.

Perhaps it's a bit ironic that his first start will come against Notre Dame.

"Shortly after he gave coach [Jim] Tressel his commitment that he was coming to Ohio State, Notre Dame called an hour later and the coach said, 'I am 12 miles from your house and I have a scholarship offer in my hand,'●" Joe Laurinaitis said.

"James politely said, 'Sorry, it's too late. I'm going to Ohio State.'●"

Score another body slam for the Laurinaitis family.

Contact Blade columnist

Ron Musselman at: mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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