Andy Gottesman / Multimedia editor
Redshirt junior linebacker Etienne Sabino had an interesting road to a starting job for the Ohio State defense.
After Sabino lost the job to current senior Andrew Sweat last spring, he and the coaches decided a redshirt might be in the his best interest. The decision was difficult for Sabino to cope with.
“I would say it was probably one of the hardest years of my life,” Sabino said. “The toughest part was sitting on the sideline on Saturday and not being able to play.”
Injuries to OSU’s defense and special teams units almost forced Sabino to give up his redshirt and play, but the team held out, giving him more time to grow.
Despite his yearlong hiatus being difficult, Sabino said it helped him develop as a player.
“I think I really got a better grasp of the defense as a whole,” he said. “As far as with me redshirting last year, I really think that helped me in that sense.”
With another year in the system, Sabino is projected to be a starter at middle linebacker this season, replacing last year’s leading tackler, Brian Rolle, who recorded 76 tackles. Sabino said learning the defensive schemes has helped him progress as a linebacker.
“It actually slows the game down for you when you’re out there and not thinking, and you can just react and know what you have,” he said. “It just helps your game and your overall football knowledge.”
As a junior, Sabino is expected to take on a leadership role for the Buckeye defense, and junior defensive back Orhian Johnson said he thinks Sabino has blossomed into someone the defense can rely on.
“He’s definitely stepped up into that leadership role,” Johnson said. “He’s been showing his dedication a lot, and I just really feel like he’s ready to let it all go and go out and perform.”
Junior defensive lineman John Simon said Sabino’s presence on the defense makes the group better.
“He’s a physical player and he gets the whole defense riled up,” Simon said. “We love having him out there when he’s making plays for us.”
Spring practice has proven Sabino is ready to contribute to the defense, Simon said.
“Right now is probably the best I’ve felt,” Sabino said, “and I feel very comfortable out there.”
Johnson said he thinks Sabino has always had the talent but that he has become even better this spring.
“We saw bright spots for him in his future,” Johnson said, “but he’s definitely stepped up a lot.”
Even with the progress he has made in the system and the talent he has, Sabino said there is room to improve.
“I’m really just trying to work on my little techniques and really just trying to get better in that sense,” he said. “I’m just focused on every day — I’m trying to get better every day.”
With a young defense and the departure of starting linebackers Rolle and Ross Homan, Sabino said he is working to be a force on this year’s version of the Silver Bullets.
“I’m just trying to be a playmaker,” he said, “and just help this team win in any way that I can.”