James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins have left big shoes to fill at alma mater Ohio State University as they transition from NCAA to NFL this fall. Two of the highest picks in the 2009 draft (Jenkins was a first round pick, fourteenth overall, Laurinaitis was a second round pick, thirty-fifth overall), the former Buckeyes acquired a glittering collection of trophies, accolades, awards and titles during their four-year reign. The three-time All-Americans were regarded as two of the nation’s top defensive players: Laurinaitis was awarded the Butkus Award for the nation’s best linebacker and Jenkins was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best defensive back, among a number of other prestigious honors.
Laurinaitis and Jenkins were interviewed separately, but asked the same questions. While the two have individual nuances, life experiences and quirks—Jenkins is a leading member of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Laurinaitis comes from a lineage of WWE wrestlers—what is strikingly clear from their interviews is that they possess that universal something that takes an athlete from good to great, and eventually, to phenomenal. Each mentions passion, faith, family and competitiveness as valued traits. But perhaps the most important idea that both athletes discuss is self-sacrifice: putting their social lives on hold to squeeze in two-hour workouts between classes, sending their bodies through hell to become stronger, faster, leaner machines. And they did it all without complaining. They did it because they have the heart and that indefinable whatever-it-is: that mystery quality that it seems only the highest tier of athletes share like a whispered secret.
Laurinaitis and Jenkins leave behind a legacy of excellence at OSU. Jenkins is heading south to play for the New Orleans Saints and Laurinaitis will be trading scarlet and gray for the St. Louis Rams’ blue and gold. Certainly they will find success on their new teams, too. How could they not? These two are self-assured and dedicated beyond belief—it seems everything else just falls into place.
You’re asked to pen the newest Nike slogan. Do it.
Laurinaitis: “Get it.”
Jenkins: “Why not?”
What do you think is your most notable characteristic?
Laurinaitis: My unpredictable personality.
Jenkins: I’m kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When you’re interviewing me, I’m really relaxed. But out on the field, I go crazy. I go from one extreme to the next.
You are walking down death row. What’s your last meal?
Laurinaitis: I would have eaten some sushi. Definitely some sushi.
Jenkins: I would like to have some fried turkey, just like Thanksgiving Day meal. I would have eaten yams, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, all that stuff.
Do you talk to the opponent during the game? If you do, what do you say?
Laurinaitis: No, not that much.
Jenkins: I don’t know if you could print it in the magazine. Pretty much, if they do anything wrong, I’m going to be riding them about that through the rest of the game. Even if they do two touchdowns and 300 yards, I’m still going to be in their ear about that pass that they dropped.
Which player talks the most?
Laurinaitis: Malcolm does. By far he talks the most.
Jenkins: That would be me. I talk more than anybody I’ve ever met.
Define your tattoos?
Laurinaitis: I’ve got two of them. The one on my right bicep is a cross with my last name over top of it plus my mom, dad and my sister’s name on there. It’s really my whole family. The left bicep has my initials done in a tribal style. I really wanted it to look like a tribal tattoo.
Jenkins: I have four of them. One of them says my mom’s name, Gwendolyn, with a superman symbol with a “G” in it instead of an “S.” I have “Fear No Man” on one of my shoulders. I have “Killer Instinct” on my back. Then, on my forearm, I have all of Psalms 91:4.
What bands or songs did you listen to before games to get pumped up in college?
Laurinaitis: I usually listen to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.
Jenkins: The morning of, I would listen to all kinds of Gospel music. I wouldn’t listen to anything but about two hours of that. Then later on, I would listen to a lot of music about guns because we call ourselves the silver bullets.
Pabst Blue Ribbon or Budweiser beer?
Jenkins: I don’t drink beer. I drink Crown Royal and Sprite.
What qualities do you like most in a coach?
Laurinaitis: I like a coach that demands the best out of you. He demands perfection.
Jenkins: I like a coach who can get in your face, but at the same time will teach you. Every coach will yell at you, but in the end you won’t learn anything. Any coach can say “Do this or that,” but the best kinds of coaches will tell you what you did wrong, and what to do instead next time.
What is your greatest fear?
Laurinaitis: I hate bugs. Spiders and things like that totally freak me out.
What is your current state of mind going into the pros?
Laurinaitis: Excitement. It’s pure excitement thinking about getting there. I will realize it is a dream fulfilled the first time I put on that uniform with that pro team emblem on the front and the matching helmet.
Jenkins: I want to come in and dominate. My mindset is kind of getting back to the way things were for me freshman year of college. I just have to be humble and be hungry to learn. I have to find my niche in the league. I can’t come in expecting to be an all-pro right away.
What one possession do you treasure the most?
Laurinaitis: My Bible.
Jenkins: My Jim Thorpe trophy.
What do you dislike the most about yourself?
Laurinaitis: I’m a perfectionist.
Jenkins: I can be a little too competitive. I’ll be playing Monopoly with my mom and stuff, and I won’t let her win. Anything I compete in, I’ll be trying to win, and I’ll even talk smack to my mom. That’s probably my biggest loss: being too competitive.
What is the most important issue facing the world today?
Laurinaitis: Lack of faith.
Jenkins: Everybody needs to learn how to love everybody else. I think everyone is so caught up with themselves that they forget the whole love thing. All the problems we have in the world today could be solved if people just stopped caring only for themselves and started really caring for other people.
What’s one thing you’ve always been a sucker for?
Laurinaitis: That would have to be strawberry cheesecake.
Jenkins: Coldstone Creamery’s birthday cake remix ice cream.
Your secret dream is to _____.
Laurinaitis: Travel to Jerusalem.
Jenkins: I wish I could sing so badly. I’ll be singing in the shower or something, and then when I turn the shower off, I’m afraid of what I sound like.
Say you can trade shoes with any other athlete. Whose shoes do you take?
Laurinaitis: LeBron James’.
Jenkins: Probably Shaq’s, just because I’m curious about how big they are and what they really look like.
Who was on the first poster in your room?
Laurinaitis: My first poster was of Kirby Pucket.
Jenkins: Kobe Bryant. I’ve never really been a big poster fan. I’ve only had that one poster on my wall my whole life.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Columbus?
Laurinaitis: It’s between Hyde Park and Haiku.
What annoys you?
Laurinaitis: Lack of effort from other football players really annoys me.
Jenkins: In team sports, the guys who just “don’t get it” really annoy me.
What makes you angry?
Jenkins: Not much makes me angry, but I really only get angry at myself when I’m not performing up to my own standards.
Ever been in a real fist fight?
Jenkins: Yeah, but not since high school, though. I never lost a fight. A lot of people say that, but I really mean it. I haven’t had a lot of fights, but I win them all.
Time is _____.
Jenkins: The best way to answer that is by referencing a poem entitled “Minute.” A minute is forced upon you. You can’t control it or get it back. If you don’t use it, you’ll have to face the consequences of not using it wisely. It is invaluable and permanent.
Family is _____ and the root of _____.
Laurinaitis: Family is everything.
Jenkins: Family is the foundation and the root of your blossom.
Got a post or pre-game ritual?
Laurinaitis: I have a ritual of praying in the end zone.
Jenkins: James, Marcus and I, we always do a Bible study before the game in the hotel room.
Besides working out, what do you look forward to most in the off-season?
Laurinaitis: I look forward to the next time I can play football.
Jenkins: In the past four years, it has been nothing but football, school and my frat. In the couple weeks that I’ve had off, I’ve gone home to New Jersey to see my family. What I’m looking forward to now, in the off-season, is just some time to myself.
Who is your hero?
Laurinaitis: Jesus Christ, for sure.
Jenkins: I really don’t have any heroes, but if I had to pick someone to follow, it would be Jesus Christ.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Laurinaitis: I’ve been blessed, I don’t know.
Jenkins: Getting into and joining my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.
What’s the best advice you ever received, and who gave it?
Laurinaitis: My dad told me that the day I get completely satisfied with the way I am as a football player, I should quit, because at that point, everyone will start to catch me.
Jenkins: I’ve had a lot of good advice, but just recently, when I was meeting with the Tennessee Titans, a woman gave me some. This lady was in the shuttle with me going to the airport, and overheard me talking with the driver about the whole process of the draft and everything. She said, “Oh, so you’re about to get drafted in a couple weeks?” I said, “Yeah.” And then she said, “Well, don’t you think you need to buckle up?” That was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in a long time.
Do you work out because you enjoy it, or do you work out to be the best?
Laurinaitis: I enjoy it.
Jenkins: I work out ‘cause I want to be the best.
What is your favorite part of a football game?
Laurinaitis: Winning as a part of the team.
Jenkins: Playing it. You know, I wouldn’t even say that preparing for it is a necessary evil, but you have to work out and all that. But once you take all that, you put it into a game you have on a Sunday afternoon and everything. There’s nothing like that. It’s one thing I love the most. It’s gratifying. You as a person, you know how good your work can be. That’s why you see guys can have a big game, but they know the opportunity could’ve been missed. Whenever you can see it play out, you take advantage of your opportunities.
Laurinaitis: 300, Step Brothers, and Sex and the City.
Jenkins: Any Will Ferrell movie is my favorite movie. But between Step Brothers and Superbad, I think those are the two movies I probably watch the most.
The draft: were you scared just a bit at how chance and circumstance might play with your future?
Laurinaitis: I’m not scared at all.
Jenkins: Not at all. I mean, people ask me over and over again if I was all right because I was calm, and honestly the draft was really the last thing on my mind. I was more about trying to spend time with my family. And everyone was worried about me because I wasn’t really nervous. It was just ‘cause I knew God was going to put me where He wanted me to be. He really put me in a great place and in a great situation.
Choose one to be remembered by: class act, tough as nails, or smart as hell.
Laurinaitis: Class act.
Jenkins: I think I’ll be remembered as the guy who had all three of them. If I had to choose one, it wouldn’t be any of those. It would be “ultimate competitor.”
Single or dating?
Do you ever wake up and go, “I’m the man!”
Jenkins: Nah, I wake up and go, “Dang, I gotta go to class.”
Laurinaitis, I read about you playing hockey when you were growing up. Explain that.
Laurinaitis: I played up through senior year of high school. I had to decide in my junior year to either enter my name in the draft for the NHL or to focus on college football. I decided on football.
Did what you learn in hockey end up helping you in football?
Laurinaitis: Hockey helped me with my angles. I had to deal with a lot of short and quick guys, and so I had to take angles and cut them off. Hockey helped me learn to cut guys off and keep them away from the net. It also trained me in moving from my hips.
Build the perfect athlete using past and present athletes from all sports to address speed, power, vision and endurance.
Laurinaitis: Dion Sanders would represent speed. LeBron James will bring the explosive power. Barry Sanders had vision and Lance Armstrong is endurance.
Jenkins: I would take Dion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Payton Manning and Lance Armstrong.
How long do you train per day?
Laurinaitis: Two and a half hours.
Jenkins: I probably train about two hours a day.
Self sacrifice: apply it to your career and personal life.
Laurinaitis: Self sacrifice for football is training when you don’t want to. In my personal life, it is putting others before yourself.
Jenkins: You gotta sacrifice your body, you know, because basically our body is our business now. You gotta fight the pain in your muscles, and train your body, period. If you cannot do that, then you cannot play this game. In my personal life, somebody like me, I prepare. I take my day seriously so during the season there really is no social life. We may hang out after games at the end of the week, but during the week there really is no social life. I’m doing extra film in the morning between classes, after classes I’m doing some more extra film, and then in the evening, I’m popping in take home DVD’s and studying what I’ve learned, so there really is no extra social life.
Given your aspirations and projected future, are you really able to leave it all on the field at this point in your career? Can you take those risks?
Laurinaitis: Yes. That is what the game is. It’s finite and won’t last forever. I have to go 100 percent all the time.
Jenkins: I’m gonna play the game. The money part only comes because that is what the NFL is now. If people in the league weren’t making so much money, I would still play. It’s not about the money, it’s about the game. That’s just the way I have to play the game, full speed with all the strength I’ve got.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Laurinaitis: Perfectionist, faithful, and passionate.
Jenkins: Passionate, enthusiastic, and caring.
What three words would your mother use to describe you?
Jenkins: Competitive, passionate, and enthusiastic.
Oatmeal and a banana, or steak and eggs?
Laurinaitis: Oh, steak and eggs.
Jenkins: Oatmeal and banana.
What moment are you most proud of in your college career?
Laurinaitis: Every time we would beat Michigan.
Jenkins: When I won the Jim Thorpe Award.
If you could change one thing in your past, what would it be?
Laurinaitis: I would be scared to change anything because it might place me somewhere different than I am today.
Jenkins: I gave up a touchdown in a championship game, and I would take that back.
What game did you play during recess growing up?
Laurinaitis: Touch football.
Women are the best at _____.
Laurinaitis: I’ve got to be careful how I answer this. They are the best at getting what they want.
Jenkins: Breaking you down.
What animal would you be?
Laurinaitis: A lion. Jenkins: A cheetah.
If you could combine any two sports what would they be, and what would you call it?
Laurinaitis: I would combine hockey and football. It would be called “football on ice.”
Jenkins: Oh man, um, that’s funny. I’ve never gotten that question. Probably football and hockey: “football on ice.”
What’s more important—talent or heart?
Any new ink planned?
Laurinaitis: I might get some scripture on the inside of my biceps. I was thinking about a chest tattoo too, but I haven’t had anything drawn up yet. I’ve been kinda busy.
Jenkins, What’s it like growing up with your initials being MJ?
Jenkins: You would think that for my entire life people would call me MJ, but they never did. I’m glad cause I would have hated it.
Your favorite team growing up was?
Laurinaitis: The Lakers, definitely.
What is 13-year-old James’ WWF name?
Laurinaitis: The Beast.
Did your dad accidentally hurt you while horsing around?
Laurinaitis: No. We did a few belly flops and back flops in the pool, body slams off the diving board as a kid that stung, but nothing like that.
Did you ever drop an elbow on your pop, thinking it was fun, and then hurt him?
Laurinaitis: No, I knew better than to even mistakenly hurt my Big Man.
What do you bet when playing Madden with your buddies?
Laurinaitis: Nothing. I don’t do the betting thing. But I am the best at Madden. If it’s anything, it’s who picks up the next meal.
Jenkins: I don’t even play Madden anymore cause I would always lose against my teammates. I’m so competitive that I just can’t stand losing.
If you could put the world on pause, where would you go?
Laurinaitis: I would go back to three days after Jesus died. I would go back to A.D. 33.
Jenkins: I would probably go to some island. I’m not saying which one, but somewhere where there’s a beautiful beach and a couple of jet skis.
What was your take on the draft?
Jenkins: It was exciting. It was great to have all my family around, all my high school friends and coaches.
Are you a numbers guy? If so, what numbers matter?
Laurinaitis: Football production.
Jenkins: Um, I’m not really a numbers guy but if I do look at the number, I look at how many games you have won.
What was the hardest test you took in college? Name the class if you can.
Laurinaitis: Accouting 101. The midterm and final were horrible. I got an F on the midterm and a C- on the final. I got a C- in the class, it was the worst grade in my life. That killed my GPA forever.
Jenkins: The hardest test…probably would have been this test I just took in a class on Hip Hop and R&B. We took just this test over midterms and we had to break down 30 songs and write down who the artist of the song was and the genres and all sorts of these questions and matching. It was just ridiculous. You would think, "it’s an R&B class," and it was all these things that all these people know, but no, we were learning about doo-wop and The Temptations and all this stuff you can’t relate to. The name of the class was Music Choice, or something like that.
What is your favorite book?
Laurinaitis: I just got done reading The Shack, but my favorite books are the Left Behind series.
Jenkins: The Bible.
If you could sum up your philosophy of life in one sentence what would it be?
Jenkins: Life is a day-to-day struggle to make the right decision.
Tomorrow you get to hand out with God, make a wish.
Laurinaitis: All my family and friends accept Jesus Christ.
Jenkins: I don’t even know. I would wish for some Jet Skis in heaven. I love Jet Skis, I did it one time and it was just mind blowing. I don’t know, I couldn’t answer that question.
It’s raining and you have the day off, what are you going to do?
Laurinaitis: Play Xbox Live.
Jenkins: I would just be watching movies.
If you were president, what’s the first think you do and why?
Lauriniatis: I’m not into politics, but one thing I would do is take a flight in Air Force One.
Jenkins: My first order of business would be to get somebody else in there cause I don’t think I could do it.
How do you want to be remembered?
Laurinaitis: As a servant of God.
What’s the orgin of your name and what’s the strangest way it’s been said or spelled?
Laurinaitis: It’s Lithuanian. The strangest way it’s been said was at a hockey tournament. The announcer tried to say it three times and then just gave up and called me "James L." The spelling is usually just off by one letter. People do a pretty solid job of spelling it.
When do you think it’s OK to lie?
Laurinaitis: That would be never. I don’t think it’s OK to lie.
Jenkins: Probably when you’re really going to hurt somebody’s feelings, when it’s not that serious, or if you just want somebody to just shut up.
If you died and could come back as anything, who or what would you be?
Laurinaitis: I would say I’m happy with where I am right now. I don’t want to do anything more than play pro football.
Jenkins: I would come back as either a bird or a cheetah.
Who was your favorite fictional hero?
Laurinaitis: You know, I was a big Power Ranger’s fan.
Jenkins: Nah, don’t have one.
Name three CD’s you could not live without.
Laurinaitis: I’m going to give you three artists: Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, and Kenny Allen.
Jenkins: Kool Moe Dee, there’s a CD I have in my car called Wild Wild West, and then there’s a gospel artist and his name is Kwon Howard, I want to say. He’s a local guy too. If I had a third one, I’m not sure.
Name one you could.
Jenkins: One album I could live without is any CD that Laurinaitis has.
What goes on your ice cream sundae?
Laurinaitis: Peanuts and chocolate sauce. The peanut butter parfait is my thing.
Jenkins: I don’t even get ice cream sundaes, but if I did, it would just be rainbow sprinkles.
What is the one subject in school you could not get?
Laurinaitis: Accouting. Anything with numbers.
In which subject did you excel most?
For a late night delivery: pizza or Chinese?
Jenkins: Oh, see the problem is when I’m in Jersey, it’s Chinese, but in Columbus, it’s pizza.
Browns or Bengals?
Jenkins: No man, I’m not even getting into that world. I’m from New Jersey. No, I can’t even answer that. I’m gonna say, you know what, I’m gonna say the Browns.
Do you have a nickname?
Laurinaitis: In high school they called me "Shrek." At Ohio State it’s been "Jimmy."
What was your favorite childhood memory?
Laurinaitis: I feel like the best time of my life has been here in college. The best time was when my whole family was there on Senior Day.
Jenkins: This is sad, I can’t think of one for real. You know what, we used to go to Virginia to meet my grandmother in Harrisonburg. It was definitely a car trip.
What is your favorite part of the game?
Laurinaitis: Just winning.
Jenkins: I would say my favorite part of the game is hitting people. When you dominate somebody, you know, they’re lined up just trying to get it done and I’m happy just to dominate, that’s the best feeling.
What are you going to buy with your first paycheck?
Laurinaitis: A Bentley Firespur.
Jenkins: If I don’t already have one, probably a car. Probably a Benz, I don’t know what kind, but probably a Benz.