When Etienne Sabino looks around his linebacker meeting room at Ohio State, he doesn’t find any scholarship players that are close to his age or experience level.
That makes him the leader of a small group that includes himself as a fifth-year senior as well as two sophomores and as many as six freshmen. (Senior walk-on Stewart Smith, a converted defensive end, is also in that group.)
“I feel like the grandfather in the room,” Sabino said. “It’s cool. I look around and I say, ‘Man, I didn’t come in with any of these guys.’ But I like being around them. They are a funny bunch. They do some things that I just die laughing. When it’s time to work, we go do it. But we have fun.”
The 6-3, 237-pound Sabino is the elder statesman of this reloading linebacker group. He lost out to Andrew Sweat in a bid to start in 2010 and took a redshirt year. That allowed him to come back this season as a fifth-year senior. He started five games last year as a junior, finishing fifth on the team in tackles with 62. He also had two sacks and 6-1/2 tackles-for-loss. He is listed as the starter at the strongside spot going into fall camp.
He was a backup over his first two seasons at OSU. He had six tackles as a sophomore in 2009. He enrolled early for spring practice in 2008 after graduating from Miami Krop High School, where he was a national top-100 prospect. He played on special teams and as a backup player in 2008 as a freshman. He had six tackles as a freshman.
“My career has been not by the books as most people would say,” Sabino said. “But that’s in the past for me. I’m excited to be where I’m at. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still come to Ohio State and everything that has happened, I love it here.
“I’ve played behind a lot of great guys. It’s cool because I can pick from a lot of things I’ve seen like James Laurinaitis or Brian Rolle or Ross Homan. Everybody does something a little bit different.”
Sabino wants to have his career best season as a senior.
“On a personal level, I feel like I have something to prove,” he said. “I feel like if I play to my maximum ability, I can help this team win. My maximum goal is to win as many games as I can. That’s what I’m striving to do.”
Sabino was fifth on the team in tackles last season
(For more on Sabino, check out the video interview above. He talks about changes in the program under Urban Meyer, demands by the new staff, his career at OSU, the progress of Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant, the expectations of the seniors and much more.)
Sabino was one of three Buckeyes to represent the team in Chicago last week for the Big Ten media days. It is a possibility he could also be selected as a team captain as well.
“If that happened, I would be honored,” he said. “It would be an honor for me to represent this team, this university and the state of Ohio and my family in general. I haven’t thought about it all. I was privileged to come to the Big Ten media day.”
Sabino played well down the stretch last year for the Buckeyes. He had eight tackles against Michigan and four more with two for losses against Florida in the Gator Bowl.
“I would say I played pretty good in the Gator Bowl,” Sabino said. “I wish we would have won. I would have taken a win over anything else. But I would say I did pretty good. Maybe I felt more comfortable. I feel like it was the start of a new year for me.”
He talked about how things have changed for him from early in his career.
“I think the game slows down for you,” he said. “With more reps and being on the field and film study, it slows down for you.”
OSU’s fall camp begins Friday with one practice for the returning players and another for the incoming freshmen. It will hit full stride for everybody on Monday.
Sabino was among 3 seniors representing OSU in Chicago
“I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I know it will be grueling and I know it will be hard. But I am excited to put the pads back on. Camp is where you find out what you have as a team. You can get an idea of what kind of team you will have.
“Spring is cool, but you practice and then you’re off for a couple of days. After we’re done with camp, we get to go play somebody else and that’s the fun part.”
“Ryan has shown a lot of commitment,” Sabino said. “That’s one of the biggest things he has shown. He was a lot smaller. He’s up to about 230 pounds now and he still runs like a gazelle. His commitment and his want-to has improved.
“Curtis has done a 360-degree spin from where he was at when he got here to where he is now. His approach and his demeanor and his work ethic have all improved. I am excited to play with both of those guys. I have all the confidence in the world in both of them. They have a lot of great ability and they can do a lot of great things.”
At the same time, Sabino, Shazier and Grant will be showing redshirt freshman Connor Crowell and incoming freshmen Josh Perry, Luke Roberts, David Perkins, Jamal Marcus and Camren Williams the ropes.
“It’s hard to say one (freshman) jumps out at me,” Sabino said. “They all bring something different to the table. Josh is a big, athletic kid who has through-the-roof potential. Luke Roberts is another kid who is a smart player. He is a student of the game and studies film.
“David Perkins can run like a gazelle. He is a great athlete. Jamal (Marcus) is the same way. It’s hard to pinpoint one guy. I think the potential in that room may be better than it’s been.”
Sabino likes the idea of working again with Luke Fickell as his linebackers coach. Last year, Fickell was OSU’s head coach and Mike Vrabel stepped in as the linebackers coach. Urban Meyer retained Fickell as his defensive coordinator/linebackers coach with Vrabel moving to the defensive line job.
“The great thing about Coach Fickell is he’s not going to change,” Sabino said. “Whether he is bothered by something or not, his demeanor is not going to change. Coach Fickell is very straightforward. With his honesty, he is going to tell you if he doesn’t like something. He has the same mind-set as Coach Meyer. If you act like a man, he will treat you like a man.
“It’s been good. I’ve known him. We know what to expect from each other. We are usually on the same page, whether it’s on the field or off the field. We can watch a play together and we’re thinking the same thing.”
Sabino revealed that he was acquainted with Meyer during the recruiting process several years ago.
“My decision came down to USC, Florida and Ohio State,” Sabino said. “I met Coach Meyer throughout recruiting. I thought he was a great coach. Personally, I just wanted to get out of the state of Florida and experience something new.”