Packers draft pick Linsley turned life around
GREEN BAY — He nearly quit football entirely. Two years into a sinking collegiate career — on and off the field — Corey Linsley considered switching to track and field at Ohio State.
The center even spoke with the Ohio State track coach. He was close. This seemed like a logical exit strategy.
One day in Columbus he met his father for dinner and the two discussed a switch.
Make this change, Jim Linsley told his son, and you’re running away from a problem.
“You’re better than that,” he told his son. “That’s like saying, ‘Well, that didn’t work out. Now, I’m going to go this route.’ That’s not how you handle life. That’s not how you handle problems. You handle them head on.”
So Linsley stuck with football, Urban Meyer took over the team and Linsley matured into a team captain and first-team all-Big Ten selection. In Green Bay, the 6-foot-2, 299-pound Linsley has a chance to start. The three-way competition among Linsley, JC Tretter and Garth Gerhart should be a must-see, 12-round brawl this summer.
No way would Linsley even be in this position if he hadn’t made major structural changes to his life.
His story is nearly identical to Evan Dietrich-Smith and T.J. Lang before him. Linsley partied too much. Didn’t take football seriously. He was suspended for two games in 2011 for a “violation of team rules.” And when he nearly lost it all, when he was ready to retreat to track, he got his act together.
One day after the Packers took him in the fifth round (161st overall), the sound of airport announcements blared in the background at his Detroit connection. Next stop, Austin Straubel International Airport.
Linsley realized he wouldn’t be sitting there without reprioritizing his life.
“I was in a place,” Linsley said, “where I wasn’t putting myself in a position to progress in any area of my life. I was in the stereotypical college lifestyle. I’d have fun. I wasn’t really buckled down at all. Coach Meyer and all the coaches there really forced me to buckle down and say, ‘These are the opportunities you have. You have to do it yourself.”‘
Neither the team nor Linsley ever publicized the reason for the suspension. But Linsley is the first to admit he was lazy, out of shape and, well, enjoying Columbus like any red-blooded college student would.
Football players carry celebrity status on campus. Go to a party and your rules are different.
“Especially at Ohio State, football players are put on a pedestal,” Linsley said. “Not saying I ever was, but you can get away with a lot more stuff as a football player. So that doesn’t help if you’re trying to become a better person.
“I just was never putting the effort toward football. I was never putting the effort toward academics. It was never bad stuff. It was the lack of effort.”
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes were in NCAA-sanctioned disarray.
The turning point, Linsley said, was one of Meyer’s initial team meetings in January 2012.
Meyer’s Florida teams were no choir boys. Arrests were common in Gainesville. Still, when he told the team here in Columbus that one day their kids would view them as either good fathers or bad fathers, Linsley listened.
“I said, ‘Man, that’s real. That’s 100 percent true,’ ” Linsley said. “He tells it like it is. There’s no sugarcoating because that’s how life is. There’s no sugarcoating in life. It clicked in my mind. So I told him I’d dedicate myself to the football team.”
He cut “all the crap” out of his life, “all the lazy stuff, all the partying.” Instead of playing an hour of video games, he spent an extra hour in weight room. His strength reached new highs across the board. Linsley credits his girlfriend for helping him refocus his life, too.
Instead of staying up to 2 a.m. drinking, he stayed home and played euchre. He might enjoy the occasional Maker’s Mark, but if he goes out it’s probably to continue his “Trivia Night” domination more than anything.
Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner wanted to give all players a clean slate. But, yes, he heard the grumblings about Linsley. The reports weren’t promising.
“He had underachieved, was immature and made some bad decisions about how to manage his life,” Warinner said. “He grew up … He had an epiphany, whatever you want to call it. He knew it was time to live up to his potential and fully commit.”
As Warinner said, this Buckeyes staff “saw the end result of it.” They only saw “the good parts; we didn’t see any of the bad.”
The good helped Ohio State roll to a 24-2 record in two seasons. Linsley was the point man. Warinner and Meyer entrusted him with all the protection calls, all communication. Responsibilities often given to quarterbacks, Warriner said, were given to Linsley.
Through the recommitment, Linsley added more and more strength. Back to high school, he could always lift a lot of weights. These last two years, Linsley’s regimen was different.
“The regimen was, you can take a horse up to a river but you can’t make it drink,” Linsley said. “Or you can shove the horse’s head into the water and I guarantee some water is going to get in there somehow. That’s the type of training we did at Ohio State.”
The culmination were those 36 reps at 225 pounds at the combine, which tied for second overall. Warinner believes Linsley is even stronger in his lower body, where he gains leverage on bigger nose tackles. The power translates.
Linsley engaged in daily battles with 320-pound nose tackle Johnathan “Big Hank” Hankins, now with the New York Giants.
The universal refocus was clear each morning. Warinner remembers Linsley being the first player in the building at 5:45 a.m. “every day.” He’d work out, get treatment, watch film from 7:30 to 8:30, take a shower, head to class and then be back for position meetings.
Said Warinner, “He was fully committed to doing more than you have to do every day . . . If he stays healthy, I truly believe he could play a decade in the league. We’ll see. He has all the components. There’s not anything missing.”
Adds his dad, “It became, ‘This is what I want to do. This is what I’m good at. I know I’m good at it. And I have to rededicate everything to it and just refocus in on it.’”
Shortly after being selected by Green Bay — amid several texts from Packers linemen — Linsley received a call from T.J. Lang.
Once these two meet, they’ll certainly be able to relate. Lang was lost his first two years in Green Bay himself — drinking, partying, coasting — before winning the starting guard job one year, inking a five-year, $22 million deal the next and emerging as a team leader.
Linsley hopes he stays on track.
“My strength is my attitude,” he said. “It’ll fit the Packer organization. I’ll have to study and watch film, but I know that with a cerebral guy like Aaron Rodgers back there, one of the best ever . . . . look at their roster, especially the O-line. A bunch of smart, intelligent, tough dudes.
“I think I’ll fit in well there.”