Sabino ‘Starving’ To Stick
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Etienne Sabino knows all too well that there is no direct link between spring glory and fall triumph.
Photo by Jim Davidson
It was a lesson he learned the hard way.
The junior out of Miami took nearly every snap at Sam linebacker with the first-team defense last spring, but it took only a matter of days for it all to be undone in the fall.
Sabino had moved outside to learn a new position in order to work his way onto the field, but soon watched as his starting spot went to classmate Andrew Sweat instead.
“It was very hard for me last year but last year is over with and now I am looking forward to this year,” Sabino said Tuesday after practice.
“I am very excited.”
It was the same type of excitement Sabino felt going into last fall when he was sure his time had finally come after two years of learning behind veterans like James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and Ross Homan.
“I think every player has that confidence. Coming out of high school you don’t come to a place like Ohio State to be a backup; to be on the bench your whole career,” said Sabino, who was the No. 1 ranked middle linebacker in the class 2008.
“Obviously you have to pay your dues and you have to learn your role. I feel like I’m ready to play and I want to contribute to this team.”
In a strange turn of events, Sabino went from being a possible starter last spring to spending the entire year on the sideline. He didn’t even help on special teams, where Sabino had made his mark during his first two seasons in Columbus.
After he lost the job to Sweat in during fall camp, Sabino was approached about the possibility of using his redshirt year to put some distance between himself and the two seniors—Homan and Brian Rolle.
“It was just better for the team at the time. We didn’t really talk much about it,” Sabino said Tuesday.
“It was hard. I was happy for my team because I feel we did a great job on the field and off the field, but it was hard just sitting there and watching.”
Sabino is not the first player to fight through adversity in order to get on the field at Ohio State. Austin Spitler had to wait three years behind Laurinaitis before he finally got his chance as a senior. Many others have had the same experience but OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell said the good ones fight through it and come out better on the other side.
“I learned to take nothing for granted,” the 6-3, 242-pound linebacker said.
“Basically I just need to get better every day and that is all that I need to worry about. You have to pay your dues and learn your role and now I feel that I am ready to play and contribute.”
He admitted that his understanding of the defense as a whole likely held him back early in his career, but Sabino found himself back at middle linebacker in the spring with another shot at cracking the starting lineup.
With Sabino now a year older, and certainly a year wiser, the time seems to be right. Sweat slid over to replace Homan at the Will outside linebacker spot and there seemed to be nothing standing between Sabino and his spot on the field.
Except it’s never that simple; not for him. After playing in the middle all during spring, Sabino found himself back outside at Sam linebacker on the first day of fall camp, with Storm Klein lining up at middle linebacker.
That normally wouldn’t be considered a demotion, except that Tyler Moeller’s presence all but guarantees that the Buckeyes will spend more time in the nickel defense than their traditional 4-3 base.
“I think it all depends on the game plan and who we’re playing,” Sabino said.
“So we’ll see, but coach said we’re going to get the best 11 on the field and determine what that is, whether it’s base or nickel.”
Either way, it appears as though Sabino could be on the field.
“As of right now I’m playing Sam in base and I’m playing Mike in nickel,” he said.
“So I’m trying to learn both and get better at both.”
Learning has always been the key for Sabino. If he can do that, he may finally get that playing time he so craves.
“I’m starving (for it),” he added.
“I’m happy I get to play this year. That’s all I get to worry about.”
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