Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
As a product of Miami, Fla., linebacker Etienne Sabino said he was not familiar with Ohio State. Now in his redshirt senior season, Sabino is starting for the Buckeyes.
He’s one of first-year coach Urban Meyer’s favorite players.
In OSU’s 17-16 victory against Michigan State on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., Meyer said Sabino had “a hell of a game.”
Sabino, who recorded eight total tackles, one pass breakup, two quarterback hurries, one tackle for loss, and one sack against the Spartans, was named defensive player of the game by Meyer during the coach’s weekly Monday press conference.
Meyer wasn’t the only one who took note of the captain’s play.
“(Sabino) played exceptionally well to me. He made a lot of good plays,” said redshirt junior defensive back Corey Brown.
Notably, the linebacker’s sack came at the end of the third quarter and during a crucial time in the game.
After the Buckeyes’ offense scored a touchdown to take a 17-13 lead against MSU, it seemed that OSU had not only seized the game’s lead, but also its momentum.
Looking to respond, the Spartans returned the ensuing kickoff to their 31-yard line and drove the ball to the 50-yard line.
The Spartans offense stalled, though after an incomplete pass from redshirt junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell and short run by junior running back Le`Veon Bell.
Facing a 3rd-and-7, Maxwell dropped back to pass before Sabino burst into the backfield and brought down the Spartan quarterback for a 7-yard loss.
The play forced MSU to punt and kept the momentum on the side of the Buckeyes.
“I just want to give all the credit to the people around me,” Sabino said. “I think our defensive line did a great job making my job easy and the back end did a great job covering allowing us to get pressure. I think it was a good defensive effort.”
Meyer said he’s not only impressed with Sabino’s play, but also said he has a different relationship with him compared to other players.
“It’s hard for me to say he’s not my favorite player on this team,” Meyer said. “I have conversations with him like I would a coach. I listen to him. I usually don’t listen a lot, and then I listen to him.”
Sabino said his relationship with and respect for Meyer helps him be honest with the former Florida Gators coach.
“The thing with coach Meyer is honesty … I keep it real with him, he keeps it real with me,” Sabino said. “So I think he respects that and we have that respect for each other.”
The Florida native, however, has experienced ups and downs during his career since coming to Columbus in 2008.
Sabino arrived with high expectations as the No. 1-overall high school inside linebacker in the country, according to ESPN.com’s recruiting rankings.
But during his freshman and sophomore years, he never started a game and only made six tackles and one sack.
In 2010, he sat out for the season and redshirted after losing a position battle to former OSU linebacker Andrew Sweat.
Last season, though, Sabino saw time in all 13 of the Buckeyes’ games, collecting 62 total tackles, two sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Sabino only started five times for the Buckeyes last year.
But this year might be a different story as Sabino has started in all five of OSU’s games under Meyer.
“He hasn’t played a lot. I didn’t realize that until I went back and did a study on it,” Meyer said. “He’s been a classic underachiever. Now he’s a leader. He’s a grown man,”
As of the Buckeyes’ game against the Spartans, Sabino is second on the team in tackles with 36 total stops and has amassed two sacks, two tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble.
“Sometimes things don’t pan out as fast as you want them to happen, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. So that’s my motto,” Sabino said.