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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Football unleashes the Animal in him
Ex-pro wrestler's son wields spikeless pads to bring foes to submission.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published January 8, 2007
[Special to the Times]
Former wrestler Joseph Laurinaitis, a.k.a. Road Warrior Animal, is the father of Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis.
GLENDALE, Ariz. - Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis couldn't help but pick them out in the crowd that September day.
A group of students had intricately painted their faces and strapped on a set of spiked shoulder pads - the trademark trappings of his famous wrestling father, Joe, known as Road Warrior Animal, half of the "Legion of Doom" tag team - and were whooping it up.
"Those guys are awesome," said Laurinaitis, 20. "It's really creative and really cool. It all started with signs, 'I've got Laurinaitis as a disease,' to painting themselves up (like my dad)."
"I get a kick out of it now because it's a totally different sport," his father said. "It's kind of crazy. But they say imitation is the biggest form of flattery."
And rest assured, all Buckeye fans - with or without the makeup and accessories - recognize the similarities between father and son and applaud what each has done.
Although the offense, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, is breathtaking, the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes wouldn't be going for, well, a pinfall against No. 2 Florida were it not for the defense and the play of Laurinaitis.
Thanks to his natural abilities and a relentless work ethic on the field, in the film room and the weight room, the 6-foot-3, 244-pound sophomore has blossomed into a star.
"The thing you knew about James Laurinaitis from the day he got there was that he was going to pay close attention and study from the right people," coach Jim Tressel said. "You couple that with his extraordinary talent and (you knew) he's going to end up being a very good player."
Laurinaitis leads the team in tackles (100) and interceptions (five) and won the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's top defensive player. He's also filled a leadership void on a revamped defense that lost nine starters, including linebackers A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel and is among the nation's stingiest.
He is, simply put, an "Animal."
"I used to ask my dad, 'Why don't you ever take a day off from the weight room?' " he said. "He'd be like, 'If I take a day off, there might be some kid out there who's working harder and wants to take my spot and be the next Road Warrior.' "
Football wasn't any different in that regard, the father said.
"I told James all along, 'Wherever you go, there's going to be somebody bigger, stronger, faster, waiting around the corner to jump in your shoes,' " said Joe, 46, who recently retired from the business and is a motivational speaker. "I told him, 'Never let your guard down, strive to be the best you can be and good things will happen.' "
The son didn't have to be hit in the head with, well, a steel chair to get it.
He has followed that simple advice in hockey, baseball and football, and his father, despite near-constant travel, has tried to be there to make sure. He coached him (as well as older brother Joey and younger sister Jessica) in all three sports growing up, even hockey.
James was lucky to be able to draw inspiration and see the benefits of perspiration from both parents.
His mother, Julie, a swimmer and runner growing up, is a longtime health-food advocate (there's no sweetened cereals in the house, just Wheaties and Special K) who became a bodybuilder. She met Joe in the weight room when she asked him for a spot.
"My teammates love that story," James said. "They think it's hilarious. Whenever I'm in the weight room working out they say, 'You need a spot.' 'No, I'm a fine.' They say, 'Well, can I marry you?' I say, 'That's not how it went.' It's all fun and games."
"He's an easy guy to tease, and he takes it so well," said sophomore linebacker Marcus Freeman, adding he grew up a wrestling fan and was more excited at first to meet "Animal" than his new teammate. "After getting to meet them, they're just alike."
Intense, competitive and with a surprising soft side.
Could they one day be alike in their profession?
Well, the topic has come up a lot in the Laurinaitis home. James enjoys wrestling with his teammates (less often during the season, and steel chairs and tables are out). Vince McMahon of the WWE has told him that if football doesn't work out, just call. Father and son have even kicked around possible nom de plumes, such as "Animal Jr."
"A lot of the guys joke around how like my first match would be me getting beat up," James said, smiling, "and my dad would make a huge heroic comeback and help me out."