April 11, 2010

Sabino's time has come

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has noticed a change in junior linebacker Etienne Sabino and it has nothing to do with his physicality.

"He has become a little bit more of a reactor," Fickell said.

And that's seemingly all that has held him back in his first two years with the Buckeyes.

Sabino has the physical tools to be one of the best linebackers on the team, but Fickell described Sabino as a "processor" in his early time with the Buckeyes. Now, instead of over-thinking situations, Fickell has noticed Sabino has been able to react to them more quickly, thus keeping in position to make big plays at a faster and more efficient level.

As a sophomore last season, Sabino was already labeled as the next best thing and many expected him to find a starting spot in the linebacker rotations last year instead of Austin Spitler. Instead, it looks as if he is the first one in line to take Spitler's place this season.

"I think he might have gotten frustrated with himself but for a young kid he is has mature of a kid as I have been around and that helps him in a lot of things," Fickell said. "So he might have been frustrated with how he was playing or what he was doing but he never showed it so he didn't complain, whine or mope around about it. He is really a mature kid who tried to get better each and every week.

"He is only 19 years old and I wish he would have been a redshirted guy because not many guys play their freshman year at 17," Fickell added. "He is still a really young guy but he is becoming more of a reactor."

Now, Fickell says the strongside linebacker position is Sabino's to lose.

At 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, Sabino certainly carries the right frame for the prototypical linebacker at Ohio State, but his speed has made him much more of a weapon. While Sabino didn't carry too many reps at linebacker in his first two seasons, he has become a mainstay on special teams for Ohio State.

In his first two years with the Buckeyes, Sabino has tallied 12 tackles - six in each both his freshman and sophomore season. But Sabino now can be spotted repping with the first team defense alongside returning linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle.

And the returning starters have noticed Sabino, who has apparently really come on strong this spring.

"Sabino has been a great worker," Homan said. "He is a weight room warrior and he is an unbelievable talent. He has kept working hard and he is doing a great job this spring making plays. He is constantly pushing to get better and that is a great thing about him."

Because Fickell won't go as far to say that Sabino has it locked up, the junior still has quite some work to do. With guys like Andrew Sweat - who will return in the fall from knee surgery to repair an ACL - and redshirt freshmen Storm Klein, Dorian Bell, and Jordan Whiting vying for a position, Sabino must keep grabbing Fickell's attention.

Thus far this spring, he has done that.

"I think this has been his best spring so far," Fickell said. "But we're only (six) practices in."

In order to hold down the job, Sabino has done what he can to make sure he irons out all the rough patches in his game. He has done that in the weight room, as Homan described, but has also tried to get it done in the film room, too.

"He is calling me to go watch film," Rolle joked. "I watch film an hour a day and he wants to call me in some more to do it. He is just a guy that wants to learn and I know he has a work ethic but he just wants to be perfect. I tell him every day that we can't be perfect but we just have to do what is within ourselves and that is when we play our best."

Sabino may not be perfect, but now it seems as if he is playing the best football of his life. It is just his job to keep it that way. Fickell discussed that with him prior to spring ball.

"We had a discussion and we had it last year before the season," Fickell said. "It's time."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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