Home might be where the heart is, but it is also where Malcolm Jenkins can go to get away from being Malcolm Jenkins.
Although the two-time reigning first-team all-Big Ten cornerback is considered one of the favorites for the Jim Thorpe Award – given annually to the nation’s top defensive back – it is only when he goes home to Piscataway, N.J., that he can truly get away from the hype.
When he is in Columbus, it is an entirely different story.
“I’m from New Jersey where football really isn’t that big,” he said. “I can go home and nobody will know who I am, but I can come out here and people know my name, my stats, where I’m from, all kinds of things. It’s funny to me.”
At least Jenkins can get away, though. The last time Laurinaitis was back home in Minneapolis, Minn., he was running on a treadmill when he got a not-too-subtle reminder of the Buckeyes.
“Some guy comes by with an Ohio State hat and a 1997 Rose Bowl sweatshirt and yells ‘Go Bucks!’ ” Laurinaitis said with a laugh. “It still surprises me, but I consider it normal.”
When you play football at Ohio State, that sort of attention simply comes with the territory. Whether you are Todd Boeckman walking to class, Jenkins purchasing something with a credit card or James Laurinaitis lounging by the pool with your shirt off, odds are others are going to notice you. And stop you. And talk to you. And probably ask for your autograph.
Even when taking a final, it turns out. Aside from that, Laurinaitis said he has a normal college experience.
“I guess the only thing that’s different is that after finals sometimes people will be lined up outside the classroom, but I consider it normal,” he said. “Other people might not.”
Then again, other people have never been asked to autograph a baby like Jenkins has. Or a five-dollar-bill like Laurinaitis has. Or random slips of paper like Boeckman has.
But with all kinds of things being thrust at them to sign, the Buckeyes are careful with what they affix their signature to.
“If it’s a little kid or some older person with one thing they want to get signed, I have no problems signing for those guys,” Jenkins said. “But when you have guys lined up with a bagful of things and you ask them ‘Who can I make it out to?’ and they say ‘Buck’ so they can put Buckeyes on it, it gets a little overboard sometimes.”
Neither of the trio of senior Buckeyes still live on campus. All three of them lived in the residence halls for their freshman year only before heading to the off-campus area. While on campus for class, though, they often get stopped by fellow students.
While the messages delivered are overwhelmingly positive, that is not always the case, according to Boeckman.
“The majority wish you the best,” he said. “If you see a big guy on campus, usually they play some kind of sport. Every now and then you’ll have someone stop you and say good luck and stuff like that.”
Guys like Laurinaitis draw attention simply for hanging out near the pool with his shirt off. It takes a special kind of girl to be his girlfriend, and the linebacker said his is more than understanding enough of his situation to not be jealous.
“She’s very comfortable with it,” he said. “She understands what comes with everything. I feel bad for the girlfriends of players because they have to deal with a lot of things that other girlfriends don’t have to deal with. It’s all a part of it and she’s very good at handling everything.”
Even when people are asking her boyfriend to sign a five-dollar bill, apparently.
“I personally would rather spend the five-dollar bill than have it autographed,” Laurinaitis said. “Sometimes people are in desperate moments and they’re trying to find anything they can to have signed.”