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August 16, 2013

Shazier making leap to leader

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Ryan Shazier arrived at Ohio State in 2011, he was a linebacker, but in title only. At a scrawny 198 pounds, the Plantation, Fla. native hardly looked the part of a Buckeyes linebacker, and truth be told, for the first year and a half of his career, he didn't play like one either.

So how did a skinny kid with a disdain for the weight room and tendency to overrun ball-carriers turn into one of the key cogs on a defense expected to compete for a national title? Shazier said that much of the credit belongs to Buckeyes strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.

"With the program I'm on with Coach Marotti, he's doing a great job helping me stay hydrated, eating, and just keep pushing me and pushing me and pushing me. He's just pushed me to another level," the now 229-pound Shazier said. "Now, I love working out."

Shazier's improved body led to improved play in his sophomore season, albeit not until the second half of 2012. The All-Big Ten selection recorded a team-high 115 tackles, 17 of which came for a loss, five sacks, and defended 12 passes, although it wasn't until a 13-tackle performance in the Buckeyes' eighth game of the season that he truly felt like a linebacker.

"I felt like it was Purdue. After the Indiana game, (OSU defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell) came and talked to us and told us what we needed to work on. I just focused on what I needed to focus on: my footwork, my fundamentals," Shazier said. "Once I started focusing on those things, it helped me get where I wanted to go."

With Shazier having successfully bettered his body and his play, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is throwing another challenge at his junior linebacker. With 2012 captains John Simon, Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren, and Garrett Goebel long gone and in the NFL, Meyer has called upon Shazier to help fill the void of leadership left on a defense that returns just four starters from a season ago.

"Shazier's a name that he's always been kind of that young linebacker," Meyer said. "Guess what? He's not a young linebacker. And he's earned it. He played very well through injuries."

Shazier, for his part, has embraced Meyer's challenge, drawing on lessons learned from a senior class that helped lead the Buckeyes to a 12-0 season in 2012.

"Coming from leadership with guys like Simon, Zach Boren, Sabino, it showed me that you need to lead people differently. Everybody learns a different way," Shazier said. "You just gotta use different techniques for everybody."

Should Shazier fulfill the request of his coaches, it's not far-fetched to think that he could find his name listed alongside the likes of Gradishar, Cousineau, Spielman, Katzenmoyer, Hawk, and Laurinaitis as one of the great linebackers to ever play at Ohio State. The former Florida commit -- who de-committed from the Gators after Meyer left Gainesville following the 2010 season -- seems aware of what's at stake for him this season, but remains focused on the short-term.

In the past two seasons, Shazier has made the transformation into a player who not only looks like a linebacker, but plays like one too. In 2013, he intends on taking the next natural step in his development as a linebacker: acting like one.

"I need to focus on the things I need to focus on right now, and that's leading these guys to where they want to go," Shazier said. "I just gotta keep working on what the coaches keep telling me to do and just keep leading these guys."

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