And one of Ohio State’s best defensive players in program history and one of the top linebackers currently in the NFL, Mike Vrabel, was on hand at Centerville High School’s Sonny Unger Scholarship banquet Wednesday evening and spoke of Ohio State’s current situation at his position.
“The thing about Ohio State is they recruit every year and they challenge the kids that are there to get better each week that they are there,” Vrabel said. “They have young kids that are going in and guys that are pushing (James) Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman and all those guys. They know nothing is guaranteed for them so they go out there and they work hard and set the example for all these young guys coming in.”
Of course, Laurinaitis made the decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season putting off the NFL for another year.
Vrabel, a perennial Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion for the New England Patriots, commented on the talented linebacker’s decision.
“I think that (is a personal decision) with whatever his thoughts are heading in to the draft and looking at it and evaluating it,” he said. “I respect him for coming back but there are certainly guys out there that it is important for them that they leave early.
“I never really thought about it, though. I was having too much fun in college,” he joked.
With the NFL draft coming up this weekend, several former Buckeyes are looking forward to and hoping to hear their names called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, including defensive end Vernon Gholston, linebacker Larry Grant, tackle Kirk Barton and fullback Dionte Johnson.
Vrabel, who set Ohio State career records with 36 sacks and 66 tackles for loss at defensive end, offered his advice to the pro football hopefuls.
“I would say not to have a whole lot of expectations on draft day and the lower (a player is picked) the better because you never know what is going to happen,” he said.
“After that, just get everything taken care of and go out there and play football and not worry about everything else that can get in the way off the field. Your performance on the field will dictate how long you stick around.”
Vrabel, who graduated from Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit High School in 1993 and makes his home in Columbus, spoke to an audience of several hundred at the banquet about life in professional football.
The Sonny Unger Memorial Scholarship Fund commemorates Lester “Sonny” Unger, a former Centerville football player killed in the Vietnam War.
This year’s recipients of the scholarships were former quarterback and Akron recruit David Fleming and former defensive lineman Ryan Donnini.
“I certainly know how important high school football is in (Ohio), the type of players and coaches this state has produced and it is very well-represented throughout college and the NFL, so, it is important for me to get out there and help these programs whenever they ask,” he said.
Vrabel and the Patriots (18-1) are coming off one of the most memorable NFL seasons in league history despite falling to the New York Giants 17-14 in Super Bowl XLII in February.
“I don’t really carry it into the off-season too much,” he said about the championship game loss. “I try to get back home and I try to be a dad. My offseason started the next morning when I got on the flight after the Super Bowl.
“So, for me, it’s just about coming back here and being part of this community in and around Columbus.”
Other special guests at the banquet included former Ohio State and current NFL players A.J. Hawk, Mike Nugent, and Anthony Gonzalez as well as former Ohio State quarterback and ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.