Dec. 4, 2006
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Monday night, awarded to the nation’s best defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club.
Laurinaitis, the first sophomore to win the award, leads the top-ranked Buckeyes with 100 tackles and five interceptions. He also has four sacks.
The award was another victory for Ohio State over rival Michigan, with Laurinaitis edging Wolverines cornerback Leon Hall and three other finalists. The 6-foot-3 244-pound Laurinaitis also beat out Florida safety Reggie Nelson. The Buckeyes will face the Gators for the national championship on Jan. 8.
Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams and Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis were the other two finalists.
Laurinaitis, the son of former pro wrestler Joe Laurinaitis better known as the “Animal,” had to leave Charlotte before the award was given out so he could take a final exam on Tuesday. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell accepted the award in his place.
“It’s easier for me to say good thing about him when he’s not here, especially since he’s only a sophomore,” Fickell joked. “He’s got a great work ethic and attitude.”
Laurinaitis, a native of Hamel, Minn., has only nine tackles as a true freshmen last season playing behind senior Bobby Carpenter. But after gaining 10 pounds in the offseason, he burst onto the scene this year for the 12-0 Buckeyes. He had an interception in four straight games early in the season and was named first-team All-Big Ten.
Fickell said it’s fortunate he’s not eligible for the NFL draft until 2008.
“He’s a true sophomore so he can’t go anywhere,” he said.
The 14-year-old Bronko Nagurski Trophy is named after the late All-American at Minnesota in 1929. He led the Chicago Bears to three NFL championships and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Past winners include Warren Sapp, Charles Woodson, Champ Bailey, Dan Morgan and Roy Williams.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who won the award in 1995 and 1996, was the keynote speaker.