COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Marcus Freeman doesn't mind staying in the background while All-American James Laurinaitis gets all the attention.
He's also more than happy to stay in the shadows when two teammates are trading pranks.
``I'm not a huge fan of people pranking me back, so I just like to watch and get a good laugh,'' Freeman said of the almost constant give and take between Laurinaitis and his Ohio State backup at linebacker, Austin Spitler.
Quietly and effectively, Freeman has established himself as one of the best linebackers around. He was a second-team all-conference choice by the Big Ten coaches last year and is expected to be even better heading into his fifth season.
Yet few know him.
In the Buckeyes' solar system, everything seems to revolve around Laurinaitis, winner of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, a two-time All-American and last season's Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Freeman and the third starting linebacker, Ross Homan, along with Spitler, might be stars at another Top 25 program. But at Ohio State, they're just considered bit players to the megastar who wears No. 33.
Laurinaitis recognizes the problem he creates.
``Marcus is a terrific player,'' Laurinaitis said. ``His physical abilities are unbelievable. He has great leadership, he obviously is explosive, he's fast, he's unbelievably strong.
``He just does his job silently.''
Meanwhile, almost everything Laurinaitis does is trumpeted by media, fans, coaches and national pundits.
And that seems to be OK with everybody.
``James is a great football player,'' said Homan, a sophomore in his first year as a starter. ``We look at it as an opportunity to get better, to learn from James.''
Homan, who has blond, close-cropped hair and is about the same size as Laurinaitis, did let it get to him one time when he went to a charity event that Laurinaitis couldn't attend.
``He calls me afterward and he was mad,'' Laurinaitis said, relishing the retelling. ``He said, 'I swear, if one more little kid comes up to me and says, 'James, can I get your autograph?' I'm going to flip out.'''
Freeman, who struck up a friendship with Laurinaitis three years ago, has no desire to face the media scrutiny or to be singled out when the defense doesn't play well. Laurinaitis fills those roles.
``When you have such a great linebacker like James, it's tough to be in that spotlight. But at the same time, you get an opportunity that a lot of people want to see him play and you're able to showcase your talent,'' he said. ``There's a lot of pros, but I don't see too many cons. If you're eager for that spotlight, then maybe you're not happy. But the good thing about us linebackers, we're not selfish guys.''
Especially when it comes to giving each other a hard time. Laurinaitis and Spitler have been playing practical jokes on each other for as long as anyone can remember. They would not reveal them, since many are not exactly PG-rated.
``Austin doesn't forget, that's the thing. It might take him a couple of days, a couple of weeks. You'll hear him complaining, but something is going to happen,'' Freeman said with a wide grin.
Spitler recently settled into his room at the hotel where the team stays during fall camp and discovered that someone had dumped a gallon or so of water on his bed.
``Anything bad that happens to him, he thinks it's me,'' Laurinaitis said while laughing. ``Maybe some times I get him, but that was not one of my pranks.''
Laurinaitis acknowledges he may have had a role in putting an ``indent'' in Spitler's hotel bed by jumping up and down on the springs repeatedly. But he'll go no further.
Both Laurinaitis and Freeman elected to pass on going to the NFL early to come back for their final year of college eligibility.
Laurinaitis has played almost every down the past two years with Spitler watching from the sideline. Spitler conceded when he heard Laurinaitis was coming back that the first words that popped into his head were: ``Oh crap!''
Even though he's not a household name (or face), Spitler says he's enjoying himself and believes that he'll someday get the playing time and attention he has never received in college.
``If you're a hard worker and you do the right things, I think it's bound to happen sometime,'' he said.
Besides, he's biding his time to get back at Laurinaitis for that water incident.
``There's been a few things done,'' he said darkly, ``and there's a lot more to come.''

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