Just when it looked like James Laurinaitis would be shut out of this year's awards, the Ohio State linebacker was honored as the recipient of the 2008 Lott Trophy Sunday in a ceremony at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, Calif.
After winning the Bronko Nagurski Award as a sophomore in 2006 and the coveted Dick Butkus Award as a junior last season, Laurinaitis had come up empty as a finalist for three national awards in 2008 – the Butkus, Lombardi and Bednarik, which were handed out Thursday night at the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards show in Orlando.
There would be no denying the two-time Ohio State captain on this night, however, as he beat out Brian Orakpo of Texas (Nagurski winner), Aaron Curry of Wake Forest (Butkus winner) and Florida State safety Myron Rolle to become college football's Impact Player of the Year.
The award is named after legendary defensive back Ronnie Lott – who is a member of both the college and pro football halls of fame – and it is given annually to the college defender who best demonstrates integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity throughout the course of the season.
"This is so surprising to me, but such a tremendous honor," Laurinaitis said in a statement. "I have to thank my Lord Jesus Christ for all the amazing blessings he has sent me and this is such a blessing. Knowing what this award stands for and knowing the reputation and character of Mr. Lott makes it very special."
A three-time All-American, Laurinaitis is also the first two-time finalist in the history of the award and the first ever Buckeye to bring home the Lott Trophy. He was overcome with emotion after hearing his name called by legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson, who served as the keynote speaker for the ceremony.
"Hearing Keith Jackson announce my name is something I will never forget," Laurinaitis said. "It's a credit to all my Ohio State teammates and an amazing honor. This is truly overwhelming."
Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes with 121 total tackles this season to go with four sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He shared the team's Bill Willis Award for outstanding defensive player with senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins – who earlier this week took home the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back – and was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. His 366 career tackles are seventh most in Ohio State history, only 13 behind Thomas "Pepper" Johnson for sixth place all-time.
He was introduced Sunday by Hall of Famer Howie Long, a member of the Impact Foundation board, who talked about the relationship he formed with OSU's three-time All-American last year on the college football awards circuit when Long's son Chris was a candidate for many of the same awards.
Long closed his remarks by saying, "Most of all, this is a guy I would have liked to have played with as a teammate, and Ronnie would have too."
Brandon Castel is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.