In the midst of the college football offseason, Ohio State football has a new series called “Tradition Talk.”
In the second episode of the series, former Buckeye great and current graduate assistant James Laurinaitis spent nearly 10 minutes talking with current Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers about the Buckeyes’ rich tradition at the linebacker position.
Chambers named his Mount Rushmore of Ohio State linebackers, which includes Laurinaitis because of “all of his accolades,” Tom Cousineau because he was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Ryan Shazier because he “modernized the position” and his roommate Tommy Eichenberg, a pick with which he acknowledged his “recency bias.”
Laurinaitis also considered picking Shazier because “if you're going to mold a linebacker in today's game, even still, Ryan's ability to go sideline to sideline was pretty special.” Ultimately, however, Laurinaitis went with Randy Gradishar, noting that Woody Hayes “called him the best linebacker he's ever coached,” as well as Chris Spielman and A.J. Hawk.
Chambers said his respect for Laurinaitis as a player who excelled at the same position he’s now coaching makes it easy to listen to and learn from Laurinaitis.
“A lot of what you say just has more gravity to it naturally because we know as a group that you've been there. You've gone through it, you've gone through all of the struggles that we have so it just has more gravity and means a lot more to us,” Chambers said. "I love our other coach, (former graduate assistant) Koy (McFarland) and Coach Knowles, all of them, you're just a little more football-savvy as far as ‘Do this with your hands, get off this block this way’ and we just know that we can really trust you because you've done it. You've gone through all that stuff. You've gone through being put on your ass here and there."
Even though he has only been involved in coaching for a short time following an eight-year NFL career, Laurinaitis has already learned that every player must be coached differently to maximize their respective skill set and strengths and improve on their weaknesses while also teaching the base skills and fundamentals.
Laurinaitis and Chambers also discussed what tradition means at Ohio State.
“There's just a standard of excellence,” Laurinaitis said. “You have to beat the rival and then you to win every other game. I played a part in four really good football teams. Fell short in two national championships and guess what, nobody cares because the standard is national titles. That's what you want as a competitor and that's why I wanted to come here. I wanted to be challenged day in and day out by the best football players in the nation so that I could accomplish my dream of playing in the NFL.
“(Tradition) is a standard. It's an unspoken standard of what it means to be a Buckeye. What it means to represent the Block O wherever you go. ... The people who have come through here set such a high standard that I was trying to uphold that standard.”
While Chambers mentioned a number of different teammates by name, Laurinaitis only directly named three current Ohio State linebackers: Chambers, Eichenberg and C.J. Hicks. Whether he meant to do that or not – and whether that's a bigger deal than it is – that seems to be a bit significant considering they are the two starting linebackers this fall and Hicks, a player many fans want to see the field for plenty of playing time this season.