With his head down and helmet in hand, team captain Etienne Sabino slowly made his way across the indoor field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The Buckeye veteran trailed behind an energized pack of fellow linebackers who were more than ready for a lunch break following the first of two practices scheduled that day.
“I feel old now,” Sabino joked.
Before the start of the 2012 season, the fifth-year senior appeared in 39 total matchups, including five games as a starter. Sabino, who returned to action after redshirting the 2010 season, was one of the team’s Top 5 tacklers with 62 stops last season. Named Ohio State’s MVP in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, the North Miami Beach, Fla., native has developed into a reliable component of the Silver Bullet defense.
This season, the team will also look upon Sabino to command a very youthful linebacking core. It is a job he has taken seriously every day.
“I try my best to be a role model for all the younger guys,” Sabino said. “Overall, we are a pretty young team and I’m one of the few guys who have been here for awhile. I try to be someone they can look up to at all times.
“The younger linebackers all want to get better and they take coaching very well. We need to get better with fundamentals because at the end of the day that is all it comes down to. The defense will come to you, it is the fundamentals you need to cater to.”
The fundamentals he refers to are not limited to the playing field. Earning a degree in family resource management at the most recent summer commencement, Sabino’s off the field accomplishments are also something for younger players to strive toward.
“You come to Ohio State ultimately to graduate, so I’m thankful I was able to accomplish that,” Sabino said. “During my time here I have really matured off the field. Through the adversity, everything I have been through as well as this team, I have grown up and become a man.”
Despite the challenges the Ohio State program has faced during the last few years, Sabino has a positive outlook.
The experience, he feels, taught him not only more about himself, but also the teammates he calls family.
“I learned I can get through adversity,” Sabino said. “Really though, I can get through anything. Times are going to be hard, but with that said nothing is worth it if you don’t have to fight for it.
“We have been through a lot. Anything on the field will be nothing compared to what we have gone through off the field together.”
Accountability is something the new coaching staff, helmed by head coach Urban Meyer, has not only preached but also continually showcased.
“There is no gray area,” Sabino said. “The coaching staff will tell you exactly how it is all the time. You are never wondering what they might think about you. Everything is clear.”
It is leaders, like Sabino, who Meyer will call upon to instill a culture of accountability within the team – a foundation that could last long after Sabino’s playing days are through.
During the last four years Sabino has had the opportunity to study various leadership styles. The two he admired most were Buckeye greats Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis.
“They (Jenkins and Laurinaitis) just did a great job as leaders,” Sabino said. “Malcolm was more of a vocal leader, while James was more of a ‘lead by example’ kind of guy. I think having a combination of those two was what worked best.”
Although leading the team is an important quality Sabino hopes to one day be remembered for, it is ultimately the team he wants to receive all the recognition.
“I’m going to cherish my last eight games in the Horseshoe,” Sabino said. “I want people to someday say, ‘They were really good.’ Regardless of the circumstances, I just want people to remember us not as individuals, but as a really, really good football team.”
Even if Sabino sometimes feels his age after a long practice, his maturity and experience could be essential to the Buckeyes this fall. And who knows, along the way he might just pick up a little boost from his underclassmen pupils as well.
By: Ashley Albertson, Athletics Communications