Nov. 18, 2006

By Stacey Freyer

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The road Ohio State sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis would follow throughout his life was clearly marked. With a professional wrestler for a father and a hometown that had more than one-third of its days each year below freezing, Laurinaitis was destined to be fond of two things – ice and athletics.

A native of Hamel, Minn., which has a yearly average temperature of 45 degrees, Laurinaitis knew all too well the cold and ice. Even better than freezing temperatures, he knew athletics. Growing up, Laurinaitis spent his days watching wrestling matches and being coached by his father, Joe, better known as “the Animal.”

In Minnesota, hockey is like football is to Ohioans. It is almost as if you learn to skate before you can run. By age 5 a majority of the children have tied their ice skates and are going solo in the rink. For Laurinaitis, this was no exception.

Football was the real passion for Laurinaitis with hockey being a hobby, one which he grew to be quite good. Laurinaitis was a right defenseman who averaged almost 20 pounds more than his teammates and opponents. He was thought by some to be too big for the sport, but still was one of the quickest men on the ice.

“I tried to prove people wrong that I wasn’t too big to play hockey,” Laurinaitis said. “I think I surprised many people when I played because I could do more than they thought. They knew I could play football but didn’t know about hockey. When I played they weren’t really prepared for it. They knew I was a big kid and thought all I could do was hit, but I had some skills in me, too.”

With his skill, size and quickness, Laurinaitis earned a spot in the Top 5 defensemen for points in a career and the most ever body checks at Wayzata High School.

With these honors, Laurinaitis was given more than just a spot on the record board. Because of his size and skill, his coaches and fellow teammates decided to give him the nickname, Shrek.

“Shrek was given to me by my coach, Marty Schriner,” Laurinaitis said. “I liked it on the ice but off the ice I didn’t really want to be called it. I didn’t want to be thought of as a big, ugly ogre.”

Shrek was voted team captain of the Wayzata hockey squad his senior year and helped pave the way to the 2004 state tournament where it finished fourth at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“Playing in the state tournament was my most memorable moment in hockey,” Laurinaitis said. “Growing up in Minnesota, that was your dream. I think it was the first time Wayzata had gone since 1953 so it was like a 50 year reunion. It was one heck of an experience. There were 19,000 fans there; sold out just for a hockey game.”

Laurinaitis had proved himself as a hockey player and was even offered scholarships to continue his career in the sport. Minnesota and Notre Dame were just two of the schools offering him a spot on both the football and hockey teams. He declined the offers to be fully focused on his true love of football.

“I do miss playing hockey,” Laurinaitis said. “I love both sports and it is weird to be all football and no hockey. It was routine ever since I was in fourth grade. I miss just being with the guys. There is a small amount of them compared to on the football team. They are a whole different group of people, but I have no regrets playing football. I quit baseball my sophomore year of high school to focus on getting bigger for football. That is when I knew football would be my love.”

As for Laurinaitis and his hockey days, he has not played in a year and a half but plans to someday return for an alumni game at his high school. Until then, the skates and pucks are put up while the cleats and footballs have come down off the shelf.