Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
With a faster game and a different lifestyle, the transition for some student-athletes from high school to college can be steep.
That might have been the case for Ohio State linebacker Etienne Sabino, who arrived for the Buckeyes’ 2008 season at age 17.
Not only was Sabino a teenager, but he also began his first camp under former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel with the distinction of being rated both a four and five-star recruit, according to Rivals.com and Scout.com, respectively, and all the expectations that come along with it.
Now a redshirt senior, Sabino said the transition for the Buckeyes’ 2008 season forced him to rush the maturation process.
“I think maybe it forced me to grow up a little faster,” Sabino said.
Growth on the field was slow for Sabino in 2008 – he saw action in all 13 games for a Buckeyes team that finished 10-3 and advanced to the Fiesta Bowl against Texas, but managed only six tackles on the year.
Six tackles for a five-star recruit caused some in Buckeye Nation to question Sabino’s ability, but not anymore.
The North Miami Beach, Fla., native is a captain of the 2012 Buckeyes, and a leader both in the weight room and on the field.
As a captain, he’s excited for the defensive responsibility that rests on his 6-foot-3, 237-pound frame, and could finally be ready to make good on the the potential he arrived in Columbus with.
As far as not meeting the expectations of some in prior seasons, first-year assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers absolved Sabino of any underperforming during a Monday press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“Well, when you say ‘underperformed’ – we’ve hit restart around here. Maybe that was last year,” Withers said. “He’s had a pretty good camp for us so far.”
First-year coach Urban Meyer agreed.
“I didn’t realize he didn’t play that much,” Meyer said of Sabino’s history of the Buckeyes, “because he acts like a veteran player and he’s playing pretty good ball for us.”
To Sabino’s credit, his career was on an upward trajectory as Meyer arrived to coach OSU in November. He collected a career-high 39 solo tackles, 62 tackles overall and two sacks last season – all career highs.
Sabino has continued his run of good form into preparations for the 2012 season, Withers said.
Of all the linebackers that have been developed in fall camp, including sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant, Withers said Sabino has lead the way, adding, “Sabino’s really done a good job at that position.”
For Sabino’s part, he said he’s bought into his new role of leadership in the team along with fellow senior captains fullback Zach Boren, defensive lineman John Simon, nose tackle Garrett Goebel and running back Jordan Hall.
“We’re the ones the young guys are going to look up to, whether they like to admit it or not,” Sabino said. “The young guys – they’re going to do what you do. If they see you do something wrong, they’re going to think it’s OK for them to do it. If they see you miss a rep in the weight room, they might think it’s OK to miss a rep in the weight room.”
Leadership doesn’t just come from his title as captain and dedication in the weight room, though. Sabino said he’s relishing in the speed with which he’ll be commanding the defensive unit this season.
Without flinching, Sabino said he’s looking forward to having more defensive responsibility than ever before in his football career.
“With offenses that have fast tempos, your linebackers need to be able to make all the calls and make all the adjustments,” Sabino said. “So, you just need to feel comfortable out there and make all the checks and do everything quickly … I’m excited for it.”
Sabino and the Buckeyes are scheduled to kick off the 2012 season Saturday against Miami (Ohio) at noon in Ohio Stadium.