NEW YORK – James Laurinaitis idolized A.J. Hawk, Chris Spielman and the other great linebackers who played for Ohio State before him.
Now, in at least one area, he has surpassed them.
Laurinaitis became the second college football player to be a three-time AP All-American, joining Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and star receiver Michael Crabtree on the first team released Tuesday.
Ohio State has a history of great linebackers from Hawk to Spielman and Tom Cousineau to Randy Gradishar. Hawk and Spielman were both two-time AP All-Americans.
"When people throw my name in that group of players, I just laugh," Laurinaitis said. "It's extremely complimentary to be thought of in the same category."
The only other player to make the AP first-team three times was Pittsburgh offensive lineman Bill Fralic (1982-84), according to STATS LLC.
Alabama put more players on the 2008 AP first team than any school, about 1,000 pounds of linemen. Offensive tackle Andre Smith, listed at 330 pounds, was a unanimous first-team choice, and was joined by center Antoine Caldwell. Crimson Tide nose guard Terrence Cody, listed at 365 pounds, anchored the top-ranked defense in the Southeastern Conference.
Bradford beat out Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow in All-America voting that broke the same way as the Heisman balloting. McCoy, the Heisman runner-up, was the second-team quarterback. Tebow made the third team, a year after winning the Heisman and being a first-team AP All-American.
Laurinaitis and Crabtree, the Texas Tech receiver, were among five players to repeat as first-teamers.
Oklahoma guard Duke Robinson, Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber and Missouri receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin, who made it as an all-purpose player, were the others.
Two Big Ten running backs completed the All-America backfield. Iowa's Shonn Greene is second in the country in rushing (144 yards per game) and has scored 17 touchdowns. Michigan State's Javon Ringer is third in rushing (132 ypg) and has scored 21 touchdowns.
Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant was the other receiver. A sophomore like Crabtree, Bryant scored 20 touchdowns.
Rounding out the offensive line were Mississippi tackle Michael Oher and LSU guard Herman Johnson.
Chase Coffman, who led all tight ends with 83 catches, gave Missouri's high-scoring offense two All-Americans.
Utah's Louie Sakoda was the kicker. He booted 21 field goals in 23 attempts and scored 115 points for the undefeated Utes.
The defense featured Laurinaitis' teammate, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, and two players from Southern California's top-ranked unit: linebacker Rey Maualuga and safety Taylor Mays.
Florida's Brandon Spikes was the other linebacker.
Up front, Aaron Maybin of Penn State and Brian Orakpo of Texas were the defensive ends, and Cody and Mississippi's Peria Jerry were the tackles.
Wake Forest cornerback Alphonso Smith and Tennessee safety Eric Berry completed the secondary.
Laurinaitis was recruited by the Buckeyes out of Minnesota, and came to Columbus with relatively modest goals considering where he ended up.
He wanted to make the travel squad as a freshman, start as a sophomore, receive some type of all-Big Ten recognition as a junior and be an All-American and Butkus Award candidate as a senior.
By the time his sophomore season was complete, he had accomplished all his goals.
Laurinaitis said having Hawk and fellow star linebacker Bobby Carpenter, both seniors when he was a freshman, to learn from had an enormous affect his career.
"You learned a lot about work ethic," Laurinaitis said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We'd go through a two-day (practice) and I'm looking to go to sleep and those guys were in the weight room working out. If it worked for them, I had to do it."
When Carpenter and Hawk moved on to the NFL, Laurinaitis moved into the starting lineup in 2006. The son of a professional wrestler Joe Laurinaitis was known as "Animal" from the WWE's Legion of Doom James drew plenty of attention for his play and his family ties.
He led the Buckeyes with 115 tackles and five interceptions and won the Nagurski Award as national defensive player of the year.
In 2007, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Laurinaitis won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker and this season he capped his stellar three-year run with the Lott Trophy for top defensive player.
"I'm not the freak athlete other guys are," Laurinaitis said, "but I'm the guy coaches can depend on to be accountable and know my assignments."
AP Panel: Mark Anderson, Las Vegas Review-Journal; Jimmy Burch, Forth Worth Star-Telegram; Barker Davis, The Washington Times; Marcus Fuller, St. Paul Pioneer Press; Craig James, ABC/ESPN; Aditi Kinkhabla, The Bergen (N.J.) Record; Jim Lamar, Tallahassee Democrat; Stewart Mandel, SI.com; Kevin Pearson, The Press-Enterprise (Calif.); Joseph Person, The State (S.C.); Mike Prater, Idaho Statesman; Joseph Rexrode, Lansing State Journal.