Redshirt Year Paying Dividends for Sabino This Spring
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sometimes greatness takes time to develop.
Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock is hoping that’s the case for Etienne Sabino, a fourth-year linebacker out of Miami who spent last year redshirting for the Buckeyes.
“You hope he has success and you hope he comes on and becomes that player for you,” said Heacock, who enters his 15th season as an assistant at Ohio State.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“What happens a lot of times is when it’s your time, you step up. At Ohio State, with the tradition and the legacies, when it’s your time, you don’t have a choice, you’ve got to step up.”
Heacock and the Buckeyes are hoping that 2011 will be Sabino’s time. They were hoping the same thing a year ago, but the 2010 season turned out to be one of the toughest of Sabino’s career.
Not only did he lose the starting job to classmate Andrew Sweat just before the launch of his third season in Columbus, but Sabino would spend the year watching his team from the sideline as the Buckeyes went 12-1 with a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.
“It is hard, but it was pretty much his decision that that was best for him,” Heacock said of the 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker.
“When they’re going through it, it’s hard, and then they look back on it and that was the best thing.”
With the departure of senior Austin Spitler, Sabino looked to be the top candidate to replace him in the starting lineup alongside returning starters Brian Rolle and Ross Homan.
Sabino took nearly all the snaps as the first-team Sam linebacker last spring, and it appeared that the former blue-chip prospect was physically ready to start, even if he was still learning the position.
The one piece missing from the puzzle was Andrew Sweat.
Still recovering from a knee injury, Sweat did not participate in spring practice, but it didn’t take long for him to overtake Sabino when he returned in the fall.
“Usually if a guy redshirts, it’s in his best interest. If he’s capable of playing and should be playing and can play, then it’s best to play,” Heacock said of the decision to redshirt Sabino after he lost the battle with Sweat.
“Most times if a guy redshirts, it’s in his best interest. It’s hard to do when you’re going through it, but when you come out the other side it’s better.”
That usually depends on exactly how the player goes through it.
“The important thing of a redshirt is did you get better during the redshirt year,” Heacock said.
“If you’re redshirting and you’re like ‘well I’m not playing anyways, so heck with it.’ Then you don’t improve and the redshirt is basically wasted.”
That wasn’t the case with Sabino.
“I think Etienne worked harder during his redshirt year,” Heacock said.
“He was in the weight room, he was trying to get faster and stronger, so hopefully that pays off.”
He was also learning the system, which was something the coaches talked about as being a major reason behind the decision to redshirt Sabino last season. He certainly could have helped them on special teams, particularly considering how they struggled on kick coverage, but they obviously saw the potential for him to be great.
Although he came in with guys like Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey and Michael Brewster, Sabino was only 17 when he stepped on to the field for the first time back in 2008. He was young, but eager, and even at an early age, Sabino was already a physical specimen.
It was hard to keep him off the field, and he played on special teams in all 13 games as a freshman. He would post similar numbers as a sophomore the following year, but there seems to be something different about Sabino this spring.
“The thing I see with Etienne right now is he’s just working his tail off,” Heacock said.
“He’s a guy that’s obsessed. He’s working out, he’s over here watching film, and he’s coaching the young guys.”
Now a fourth-year junior, Sabino was working as the first-team Mike linebacker during Tuesday’s practice. The Buckeyes need someone to step up this off-season in order to replace departed seniors Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, who finished first and second on the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons, with a grand total of 351 stops.
“It will be interesting to see how Etienne does. Sweat really proved himself a lot last year. He was put in some tough situations and played well,” Heacock said.
“I think he’s going to be a good player for us, and then some young guys. Dorian (Bell) and those guys are going to have to step up and play.”
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