June 28, 2012

Sabino looking to end Buckeye career on high note

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

From redshirting as an upperclassmen to seeing some of his closest friends get suspended due to a scandal that led to the firing of his head coach, to say that 2010 was a rough year for Etienne Sabino would be an understatement. Now, two years later, the fifth-year senior is ready to end his Buckeye career on a positive note.

The expectations couldn't have much higher for the Miami, Fla. native when he arrived in Columbus four years ago. A member of the Buckeyes' No. 4-rated recruiting class in 2008, Sabino arrived on campus as a four star recruit and the nation's No. 1-ranked inside linebacker.

And yet despite joining a linebacking unit that already contained stars such as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, the then-freshman found a way to make his impact felt immediately. Playing predominately on special teams, Sabino became one of the Buckeyes best kickoff coverage tacklers and even scored a touchdown off of a blocked punt during an Oct. 11 win over Purdue.

With both Laurinaitis and Freeman graduating after 2008, the high school All-American appeared poised to be Ohio State's next great linebacker. But things didn't work out that way.

In 2009, Sabino found himself to be the odd man out when he competed against Brian Rolle and Austin Spitler to replace OSU's departed seniors. With both Rolle and Ross Homan returning as starters in 2010, that left Sabino and classmate Andrew Sweat just one spot to compete for heading into each of their junior seasons.

When Sweat ultimately won the competition, the 6-foot-3 Sabino was forced to choose between playing on special teams as a junior and hoping to win a starting spot as a senior, or take the unconventional route of redshirting as an upperclassman to extend his Ohio State career.

Sabino ultimately chose to sit out the 2010 season, giving himself 2011 and 2012 to potentially start for the Buckeyes, but the bad news was just beginning.

In Dec. 2010, five of his OSU teammates, friends, and classmates were suspended for their participation in a cash-for-memorabilia tattoo scandal. Dubbed "Tat-gate," the scandal led to the eventual resignation of the coach who recruited Sabino to Ohio State, Jim Tressel.

"You have to learn to adapt and I think it is a great lesson for life," Sabino said. "Because there is always change so it just teaches you how to adapt and help you deal with different situations."

Three years after arriving on campus, Sabino finally received his chance to start in 2011, although it that came a a disappointing 6-7 record. Following its first losing season since 1988, Ohio State hired two-time national champion Urban Meyer as its head coach, a move that Sabino says has rejuvenated the team.

"There is a lot of excitement out here with the team. You constantly see people doing extra stuff every day," Sabino said. "The sense of urgency that we have, obviously we didn't have the year last year that any of us would want so I feel like we have a lot to prove and as a team we have a lot that we want to prove."

Entering his fifth-year in the program, the now-outside linebacker is now viewed as one of the leaders of the Ohio State defense, and sees himself mentoring players like Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant, just as Laurinaitis and Freeman mentored him in 2008.

"The work ethic, they want to get better," Sabino said of his younger teammates. "I have a great feeling for this group and a lot of confidence in this group."

Although Sabino is moving forward from earlier disappointments of his career and now holds the trust of Meyer as a leader on this team, he finds himself still paying for the sins of his former teammates. With a bowl ban in place on the Buckeyes due to the 2010 memorabilia scandal, Sabino has played in the last bowl game of his college career, but that's not going to prevent him from enjoying his victory lap around Columbus.

"The motivation is to win every game. Everything else I can't control, we can't control, but what we can control is going out there and trying to beat everybody," Sabino said. "You have to just look at the bright side of things."


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