Hartman: Laurinaitis stands out among Wayzata LBs

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 12, 2012 - 11:19 PM

The middle linebacker of the Rams, who will face the Vikings on Sunday, was a star at Ohio State as well.

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Former Wayzata and Ohio State star linebacker James Laurinaitis, now a pro standout with the Rams, tackled Bears tight end Kellen Davis back in September. Laurinaitis and the Rams face the Vikings on Sunday.

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Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson, who has led the Trojans to three large-school state titles since 2005, has a reputation of developing great linebackers who go on to national recognition in college. One of them is former Ohio State star and Rams standout James Laurinaitis, who the Vikings offense will have a hard time blocking Sunday when they face the Rams in St. Louis.

A.J. Tarpley, who had five tackles, an interception and a pass breakup in Stanford's 17-14 overtime victory over No. 1 Oregon on Nov. 17, and Chris Wipson, who has committed to the Gophers, are two other well-known linebackers who learned under Anderson.

And Anderson praised Grant Olson, who set a North Dakota State school record with 29 tackles last Saturday in their 14-7 victory over Wofford in an FCS quarterfinal game in Fargo, N.D. Olson played on the same Wayzata team with Tarpley that won the 2008 Class 5A championship.

Asked if he had any idea Laurinaitis would develop into one of the NFL's best linebackers, Anderson replied: "Well, you never know. James Laurinaitis we knew was a great player, [but] you never know if they're going to make it all the way to the pros. I knew he was pretty special. I knew A.J. Tarpley and Grant Olson were pretty special. You can tell when kids really stand out, that's for sure."

Anderson has high praise for Wipson, who has committed to the Gophers but unfortunately missed most of the past season after injuring his knee. But Laurinaitis might be the best linebacker developed in Minnesota in a long, long time.

Key to Rams defense

If the Rams are to have any success in shutting down the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and the best running game in the NFL on Sunday, they will need a big game from Laurinaitis, who has become a force at linebacker over his four years in the pros.

Laurinaitis, who signed a five-year, $41.5 million contract extension in September, ranks fourth in the NFL in tackles with 119 and is on pace to break his career high of 142, which he set last season.

Earlier in the season there were reports that some on the Rams coaching staff were not happy with Laurinaitis' play in the team's new defensive scheme. But after 38 tackles over the past four games, Rams coach Jeff Fisher was full of compliments for the middle linebacker.

"He's played well," Fisher told Pro Football Weekly. "He's been on the field every snap. He plays in our nickel and all our packages. He understands the defense very well, and he's getting to the ball."

Laurinaitis has been a star at every level. At Wayzata, he was named Defensive Mr. Football in 2004 and led his team into the Class 5A championship game before losing 23-14 to Minnetonka. At Ohio State, he was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year twice, the only player in league history to accomplish that.

Laurinaitis has been a consistent standout for the Rams since being drafted in the second round in 2009. He has 495 career tackles -- averaging just more than eight tackles per game -- and has never missed a game because of an injury.

Laurinaitis originally committed to play for the Gophers. In fact, I was standing next to him and former Gophers coach Glen Mason after the spring football game during Laurinaitis' senior year in high school when he told Mason to count on him.

"I was a big fan of Glen's and liked the program and all of that, and I remember he was all excited," Anderson recalled. "I said [to Laurinaitis], 'This is kind of like getting engaged to be married. You don't make a commitment unless you're planning on going through with getting married.' I told him when he committed to the Gophers that if that's what he wanted, that's great, but just make sure it's what you want. He was sure.

"But I think when Ohio State came in and they started really recruiting him hard and he saw their facilities, and they had everything kind of going there at that time, he changed his mind."

As for Wipson, Anderson said he has seen some of the same attributes in him that he saw in Laurinaitis, Tarpley and Olson.

"The fact [is] that ability will take you so far and then you have to have those extra things," Anderson said. "You have to have the work ethic, you have to have the smarts, you have to have the leadership skills, and this guy has all of that. He should be a pretty good player for the Gophers once he's recovered. I know he'll do all the work to recover from his knee surgery."

Jottings

• Tyus Jones scored 36 points to spark Apple Valley to a 82-68 victory over Minnetonka on Tuesday night, impressing a group of college coaches including Bill Self of Kansas and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. Jones, a junior point guard, is attracting national attention from coaches and recruiters for many college basketball powers.

• Through 16 games in the Dominican Winter League, Twins prospect Miguel Sano has continued his dominant play. Sano is hitting .333 (12-for-36) with a .457 on-base percentage, three home runs, three doubles, 11 RBI and 10 runs scored. ... Also in the Dominican League is former Twins infielder Alexi Casilla, playing for Gigantes del Cibao, hitting .270 with nine RBI and 14 runs scored in 28 games.

• It's been a good week for Minnesota natives in college basketball. Former Minnesota Transitions standout Kevin Noreen scored a career-high 14 points to go with 12 rebounds as West Virginia edged previously unbeaten Virginia Tech 68-67 on Saturday. ... Former Roseville star Mike Muscala, a 6-11 senior forward/center at Bucknell, repeated as Bison Athlete of the Week after scoring 27 points in a 76-60 victory over Kent State to follow up a 29-point, 19-rebound performance in a 65-57 victory over Columbia.

• It's been a tough run for a former Hopkins player, Mike Broghammer, at Notre Dame. Though he remains listed on the Irish roster, the 6-9 senior forward will not play this season because of knee problems that have kept him out for much of his career, and it doesn't appear as if he will play college basketball again.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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