Dennis Dodd

Football Finalists All Agree…There’s Nothing Like a Senior Year

by Dennis Dodd October 31, 2008 in Football


It’s not really complicated. Jim Laurinaitis loves college football.

The Ohio State linebacker is a fine student too, but it’s the questions about football that kept coming his way in the offseason. 

NFL types were almost incredulous that the Ohio State linebacker didn’t go pro after his junior season in 2007. Laurinaitis had won at least a share of three Big Ten titles, as well as the Nagurski (defensive player of the year) and Butkus (best linebacker) awards. There was little else left to prove. 


Well, there was that national championship thing. 

“I think there’s a lot to prove,” he said. “If you’re going to be a leader of a team but you never get it done, it’s the same as saying certain quarterbacks haven’t won a Super Bowl yet.” 

Ohio State’s frustration in BCS championship games has been well documented. But Laurinaitis is among 12 Ohio State players who were juniors last year with NFL potential who returned for their senior season in 2008 . One of them turning down big NFL bucks to pursue a championship is admirable, 12 of them doing is group think.

“It’s something that deep in your heart (those losses are) going to sit with you always,” Laurinaitis added. “It’s more of a pact that we truly enjoy each other.”

There’s a little bit of that in all 10 of the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalists. The award celebrates the total student-athlete….seniors who recognize the importance of the classroom, the community and displaying honorable character, all while representing their university on the football field.

-USC guard Jeff Byers got his bachelor’s degree in summer 2007 and is in the second year of working on his MBA. 

-Rice quarterback Chase Clement is rewriting the school’s record book. His 79 career touchdown passes are more than double the runner-up. Forty-five of those passes have gone to Jarrett Dillard, an NCAA record between a quarterback and receiver.

-Notre Dame linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. traveled to Ghana in the offseason to help build a library for an orphanage.

-Cal Center Alex Mack, named the top Pac-10 offensive lineman in 2007, already has graduated with a 3.6 GPA in legal studies.

-Georgia Tech defensive tackle Darryl Richard was a second-team academic All-American in 2007 and part of one of the best defensive lines in the country.

-If it’s possible, punter/kicker Louie Sakoda might be Utah’s MVP. He leads the country in kick scoring (80 points).

-Indiana’s Austin Starr missed only two of 23 kicks last season in helping lead the Hoosiers to their first bowl game in 14 years.

-Wisconsin tight end Travis Beckum, another NFL prospect, saw his career end this week after surgery for a broken leg.  The 2007 All-American had more than 2,000 career yards in receiving while still finding time to visit patients in the local hospital on Saturdays before home games.

It’s really not that complicated to find a thread woven through all 10 of the finalists. Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel is chasing both a Heisman and a business degree, one life-changing event at a time. Daniel is personal friends with Warren Buffett, the result of a trip to Omaha with students in the spring.Before he is through this season, Daniel might be the most influential athlete in Missouri history. In 2007, he led the Tigers to a No. 1 ranking and a school-record 12 wins.

Off the field he was the keynote speaker last spring at the opening of the Show-Me State Games in Columbia, Mo., an event for the state’s best amateur athletes. His presence wouldn’t be as notable if not for previous keynoters—a former president (George Bush the elder) and an Olympic champion (Jackie Joyner-Kersee).

The media will forever remember his dedication. The quarterback flew from L.A. to Kansas City in July for Big 12 media days. After two hours of interviews, Daniel turned right around and caught a plane back to the coast to continue as a guest instructor at the Elite 11 prospects camp.

At something called the Blue Jean Ball in the spring a hundred or so of Missouri’s biggest donors gathered on the floor of Faurot Field to hear Daniel thank them for contributing to Missouri’s cache of facilities.

“They own what we’re doing,” Daniel said.

Like Laurinaitis, Daniel thought about coming out early. The notion was fleeting.

It’s not complicated for Daniel, Laurinaitis and the rest of the finalists. There’s nothing like a senior year.