NFL Draft Q&A: LB James Laurinaitis

James Laurinaitis (C.Graythen/Getty Images)

Scout.com's Ed Thompson talks to first-round NFL Draft talent James Laurinaitis about his "I'm A Top Draft Prospect" videos, his breakout sophomore campaign, returning to Ohio State for his senior year and his pre-draft experience.

Ed Thompson: Talk about how and why you got involved in the "I'm a Top Prospect" video project and website along with some of the other draft prospects in this class.

James Laurinaitis: I thought it was kind of a cool angle to see inside the process from the player's point of view, what's going through their minds, hearing their feedback on what they feel and when they feel it. I thought it was a good situation, and my agency got involved at and thought it was a good idea.

Thompson: Do they send somebody out to your home periodically or do you work it out yourself with someone locally?

Laurinaitis: They send out a camera that you just push a button. It plugs right into the USB port on the computer, it uploads it and it's that simple. Of course, they've got to keep it idiot proof for meathead football players, you know? (laughs)

Thompson: I notice that your family has also been involved. Has this been fun for you to do as a family at this busy and important time?

Laurinaitis: Yeah, I think everyone knows we got a unique situation with my father and I. So we can get his and my mom's and my sister's point of view as well.  So it's kind of cool to get their opinions and see what they think, which helps people know more about my background, which I have no problem with. We got some clips of playing golf just loaded up. You just try to find little things that show what I'm doing with my life.


Otto Greule, Jr./Getty Images

Thompson: With your dad's background in professional wrestling, what have you learned from him?

Laurinaitis: I learned a lot about work ethic, how to handle myself in the public light. It's all about that drive, and to know that no matter how hard that you're working, there's always somebody out there trying to work harder than you. That's the kind of mindset that he had and that's the kind of mindset that I have.

Thompson: Talk about your early years at Ohio State, your opportunity to step in and taking full advantage of it with a big year in 2006.

Laurinaitis: During my freshman year, I tried to learn as much as I could from A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter. And we had a lot of great seniors who were guys that you could look up to as far as work ethic and studying. Right away, in the first week, Freeman got hurt my freshman year and I moved from being three deep and probably being redshirted to being a backup Sam linebacker. So I was playing outside behind Carpenter. Then we played Michigan and on the first play on defense, Carpenter snaps his leg and the next play I go in. So now I go from being a third-string guy and I'm basically starting in the Michigan game against our most hated rival. It was the biggest game of the year and it was a whirlwind. I went in there and I just tried to do my job, tried not to screw up, and I realized my first start was going to be the Fiesta Bowl. That game experience gave me a little confidence to step up and try to be a leader for this defense. As a sophomore, I think it made it clear that I wanted to be the leader of the squad and I went to the coach and asked to be the middle linebacker. It turned out that they were planning to do that anyway, so it was an easy transition. My first game sophomore year was against Northern Illinois, and we didn't play that well. Garrett Wolfe ran for over 200 yards against us. And then that Texans game, Week Two down in Austin, I had 13 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception. And things just changed from then on out. I realized that with that game was going to come a lot of expectations to do more of that. I ended up having four interceptions four weeks in a row. When you have that much success early on, it's easy for some people to lose track of what they've been doing. But it's always in the forefront of my mind to keep doing the same things that got you where you are, because those are the things that have been working for you. And when you start getting successful like that, everyone has an opinion about what you should be doing.

Thompson: I look at that 2006 year, James, with your 115 tackles, five interceptions and you win the Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. As someone just finishing up their sophomore year, how do you deal with that sudden fame and keep yourself from coasting?

Laurinaitis: It's just a mindset. When I won the award, I was truly surprised to win it. When you're that young, you really don't expect to win it. I was a bit surprised and shocked, but then I realized there were people with expectations, and with added expectations comes added responsibility. I felt a responsibility to my teammates to get better and to lead them. We didn't win the national championship that year, so that was a goal that was going to be in the forefront of our minds, and I've always been a team first guy. The thing that I had to remember after that year was that any time someone came to a stadium, I knew that they would be watching to find out what this linebacker was all about. And I wanted them to leave impressed, saying that the hype about this kid was real, instead of leaving saying they don't think he's that good. So that's always been my motivation I always wanted to leave people impressed by what I did on the field and what our team did. So I wanted to give my best performance every time.

Thompson: With that success during your sophomore year, did it creep into your thought process early in your junior year that the 2007 season could be your last at Ohio State and that you might make the leap to the NFL at the end of that season?

Laurinaitis: No. I think most of my focus was on having another big year our junior season for the fact of trying to live up to the hype that we created. Junior year was more about a young team coming back with an unknown quarterback, Beanie Wells is taking over the running back spot, new receivers in Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, and we were kind of wondering how good this team was going to be.


James Laurinaitis wraps-up Michigan's Justin Feagin during 2008 action.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Thompson: At the end of that year, you're sitting there as the winner of the Butkus Award and the Lambert Award, both recognizing you as the top linebacker in the nation. So at the point, did you realize that you'd have to make the decision to stay or go?

Laurinaitis: For me, it was an easy decision. I talked to A.J. Hawk, who decided to stay. I talked to Anthony Gonzalez, who had decided to leave. It was a no-brainer for me to stay. I thought that I would become a better football player, which I felt like I did. I've been more consistent this year. And I felt like I owed it to Ohio State to honor my commitment to being there for at least four years. I've always been a firm believer of honoring commitment, that when you agree to something, you keep your word. I felt I owed it to Ohio State to come back and play here.

Thompson: Was the fact that you were the first junior captain under Jim Tressel also a factor in the decision?

Laurinaitis: Yeah. It was definitely in the back of my mind. When you think about what a special opportunity it was to be a two-time captain at Ohio State, I think I'm one of a handful, and to be the first one under Coach Tressel, that was something that I thought was above and beyond anything I had ever received as an award. When you get voted captain by your peers and your coaches, that's something that I'll cherish longer than any trophy.

Thompson: After deciding to stay, did you feel like you had to come out and make a statement in your senior year?

Laurinaitis: Yes, I wanted to go out there and play and get better. You don't want to go out and say it before the season starts, but part of the reason that we all came back was that when you get to the national championship twice and you're that big of a competitor, you hate losing. That's one thing about me is I hate to lose, and when you are that close twice and you have all the weapons to do it again, logic tells you let's go back and win this thing. Obviously things didn't go the way we wanted, we had a rough start against USC, we lost a close one to Penn State, then there was a quarterback change and some things that were basically unexpected to a lot of the guys on the team. But I think a lot of seniors did a great job of leading the group, keeping everything on track, and then we got into the Fiesta Bowl against Texas. In the way that game happened, one play different and that's a different outcome. But to be part of that kind of a football game, a great game like that, I don't have any regrets.

Scout.com subscribers can listen to the rest of this exclusive interview with James Laurinaitis:  

Everyone can check out James Laurinaitis' videos, and those of other top draft prospects like Aaron Maybin, Josh Freeman, Darius Butler, Brian Cushing and Darrius Heyward-Bey at I'mATopProspect.com.

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Or contact him by email through this link.

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