James Laurinaitis
Football, Recruiting

James Laurinaitis Finding Recruiting To His Liking

When James Laurinaitis was named Ohio State linebackers coach two weeks ago, his job description changed in a number of ways. Perhaps the biggest change is the fact that Laurinaitis is now free to hit the road and set out upon the recruiting trail.

In his previous position as a graduate assistant, he was not permitted to recruit in-person off campus. Schools are only permitted to have 10 assistants out on the road recruiting, and those spots are generally reserved for the 10 full-time assistants. When the Buckeyes were under that 10-coach limit in January and February, however, Laurinaitis was out and about recruiting in state and out of state.

What was it like for him?

“A lot of logistics you’re trying to figure out,” he said recently. “I mean, ever since I was young, I think it was because of my dad, I always wanted to be on time. So really, to be honest, that was the first thing that popped to my mind. If I told a coach I was going to be there at a certain time, I wanted to be early or on time. And you’re just trying to map out how many schools can you see within a certain amount of time and trying to prioritize what players you wanted to see in those time periods as well.”

It is one thing to talk to players, families, and coaches over the phone — which Laurinaitis was always permitted to do. It’s another thing entirely to sit in an office or in a living room talking to people face to face. The relationships can grow a lot quicker and they become much more tangible when there is an opportunity to meet and spend time together.

In his first year at Ohio State, Laurinaitis was recruiting with one hand tied behind his back. Even so, he was instrumental in landing four-star linebackers Payton Pierce and Garrett Stover in the 2024 recruiting class.

Pierce is from Texas, which made him the first out-of-state linebacker signed by Ohio State since New Jersey’s Cody Simon and Virginia’s Mitchell Melton in 2020. That’s four years between out-of-state linebackers. In-state recruiting is always going to be the foundation for Ohio State, but it can’t be everything.

James Laurinaitis was once an out-of-state recruit himself. Before he signed with Ohio State, he was a three-star prospect out of Wayzata High School in Minneapolis. The No. 22 inside linebacker in the 2005 recruiting class, he chose the Buckeyes over the in-state Gophers.

Now as the Ohio State linebackers coach, not only is he the guy out on the road recruiting in-state and out-of-state, he’s also the guy deciding which prospects to recruit. That’s a lot of responsibility for a position coach, but that’s also part of the reason why position coaches like having Ryan Day as their head coach.

“When you go in there and make the board, yeah, you’re ranking them the way you see them,” Laurinaitis explained. “And Coach Day has always said, ‘You’re the head coach of your position, you’re the one in charge,’ to each of us. So with the title comes the responsibility.”

Aside from the ability to hit the trail and the addition of an office, there has also been an added benefit to the promotion.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s nice to be able to tell [recruits] now that I am the linebacker coach, and I don’t just coach the linebackers, because there’s a difference there,” he explained. “I’ve had that used against me over the last year, quite honestly, to where parents or recruits have said, essentially, ‘How do I know you’re going to be there?’ I won’t name names, but other schools have said, ‘Hey, he’s not even going to be there. He’s going to leave to get a full-time role.’ And so you kind of have to navigate that. Not anymore, thankfully.”

Laurinaitis has been earning rave reviews for his recruiting long before he was able to visit schools or homes. He views it simply as building relationships. Talking to players, coaches, and family, but not just talking. It’s communicating, listening, and answering every kind of question under the sun.

“Look, in recruiting, if you enjoy people, I think it’s easy. You’re just trying to get to know everyone,” he said. “And if you keep getting to know them in an authentic manner and build a relationship over time, I think it works out well for you. If you just go through the motions and all that, I think that’s where people can get in trouble — from my short time in doing it. So you just have to be intentional. Pay attention and take interest in these young people.”

There are plenty of reasons why James Laurinaitis takes recruiting so seriously. For one, it’s his job. When Ryan Day talks about the requirements of his assistant coaches, the first thing he mentions is the ability to recruit. For two, Laurinaitis obviously wants to coach the best players, so working hard in recruiting can make that desire more of a reality.

For three, you’re talking about a guy who had his life changed because of Ohio State. When he signed with OSU, he probably didn’t expect to be a three-time All-American and a Buckeye legend, but it happened. And it can happen for others as well.

It’s a difficult pitch to ignore when the pitch man is a living testimonial.

“I try to be an ambassador of Ohio State,” Laurinaitis said of recruiting. “I love this school. It’s changed my life. It’s done wonders for me and my family. To play here, recruit your position at the school you went to, at the place that you love, it’s so natural. And so when you’re explaining it to people, like, I’m sure there are some coaches who have to come off as car salesmen. There ain’t none of that because I’ve lived it. And I think that’s a huge benefit.

“When you’re talking to young people trying to convince them to come to your school, it’s like, ‘This is what it did for me.’ And the fact that I’m not from Ohio, that’s a whole ‘nother perspective when talking to kids not from Ohio. But now that I’ve been through here, and the Brotherhood has obviously accepted me, and Buckeye Nation is so incredible, there’s a reason why I’m here — because I love this place. And I want to raise my girls around this place because of how special it is and how it changed my life. And I know that it can change all these other young men’s lives too.”

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