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Old 02-22-2009, 06:29 AM   #1

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Default Ohio St., USC LBs go head-to-head at Combine


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis could have taken the NFL's money and run away from Ohio State last year.

But he stayed true to his word, playing four years with the Buckeyes -- and endured the consequences. His team didn't return to the national championship game, didn't even win a Big Ten title and his draft stock slid, possibly costing him money.

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Hey, at least he was part of a school-record fifth straight victory over hated rival Michigan.

So Laurinaitis has come to Indianapolis for the league's annual scouting combine on a mission.

"I've never been one to shy away from competition," he said Saturday. "I almost take it as a challenge. I see it as an opportunity, and I don't think it's unfair at all. I take it in stride."

What NFL teams will find on tape, Laurinaitis insists, is the same active linebacker scouts fell in love before the 2008 draft -- a relentless tackling machine.

The difference now is Laurinaitis must contend with more people who want to make him wait longer on draft day.

Southern California's Ray Maualuga, who like Laurinaitis opted to stay in school last year, poses the biggest challenge.

The two play similar styles and are built almost exactly the same. Laurinaitis measured in at just under 6-foot-2, 244 pounds, while Maualuga was listed at 6-1, 249.

At this point, Laurinaitis is still ranked by some as the best inside linebacker in the draft.

Maualuga is No. 2 and hopes to close the gap with an impressive workout Monday.

"I want to get discovered," he said. "This is an once-in-a-liftime opportunity to compete. You only get all 32 teams in one place at one time, and that makes it a chance to compete."

Would these two have been better served coming out last year?

Nobody will know for sure, and it's not a question Laurinaitis, the son of a pro wrestler, will even ponder.

"I have no regrets about coming back," he said Saturday. "When you lose two national championships and you're that close, as a competitor, you want to come back. I felt I owed it to Ohio State because only two schools recruited me out of high school."
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