Saints LB James Laurinaitis learned work ethic from pro-wrestling dad 'Animal'

James Laurinaitis didn't exactly follow his father's footsteps -- which would have led him between the ropes and into the world of professional wrestling.

But the New Orleans Saints' new linebacker said he learned his work ethic and toughness from his famous dad, Joe Laurinaitis. Otherwise known as "Animal" from the pro wrestling tag teams Road Warriors and Legion of Doom.

"He was my little league ball coach all of the way up until high school," said Laurinaitis, who grew up in Minnesota. "Really, what my dad showed me the most ... was just about work ethic. I saw how hard my dad worked in the weight room. I saw toughness. I saw him work out and perform in his industry through injuries and stuff. Unless something really couldn't be worked around, he'd be out there wrestling and doing everything that he would have to do.

"So that's what he really taught me -- on days that you don't feel good, you gotta go work out, you gotta get after it."

Click here for a photo of the two decked out in each other's gear from an old Sporting News photo shoot.

Laurinaitis, who spoke to the New Orleans media in a conference call last week, said his father's mentality was that "if he ever took a day off or was slacking ... then somebody else is gonna be working that day and really try to come and take my spot or my job."

"I've had that same mentality ever since I was in high school," Laurinaitis said. "Heck, no one wanted to do 'leg day' in high school. So if I wanted to skip leg day, then maybe some kid in Minnesota was gonna be doing legs that day and he'd take my scholarship away or something. So I've always had that mentality. I'm thankful to have seen that firsthand."

Not many NFL players have taken fewer days off than Laurinaitis.

He never missed a game in seven seasons with the St. Louis Rams -- 112 consecutive starts and counting, even though he suffered a nasty elbow injury last year.

Laurinaitis' 7,187 snaps since 2009 rank first in the NFL among defensive players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I can remember all those snaps I missed too, and I'm mad about them," Laurinaitis said. "One of them was in Denver, I got poked in the eye, that's why I wear a visor now. And the other one I cut my ear, believe it or not and had to get stitches in my ear.

"I'm still mad about those. I don't like to miss any snaps."

Laurinaitis, 29, said he considers his health "a blessing" and doesn't really know why he's been fortunate enough to avoid the injuries that hit so many others around the league.

"I do take great care of my body. I'm big on flexibility. I'm big on training super hard in the offseason. I'm really big on hot tubs, cold tubs, dry needling or acupuncture and massage. Anything that can really help to accomplish full recovery and keeping everything loose and good, I'm all about it," Laurinaitis said. "But like I said, quite frankly I've seen a lot of guys do a lot of that stuff too and still get hurt."

Laurinaitis said his elbow is fine now after he hyperextended it and tore his UCL ligament last October. He said it was "awful" and he hated wearing a "big ugly brace" on his arm for the rest of the year -- insisting that he "wasn't trying to look like J.J. Watt."

"If I was a major league pitcher, I would've had to get Tommy John [surgery]. But luckily it just scars over if you don't have to throw with it," Laurinaitis said. "Gosh, I hated it. It didn't allow me to use my hands as well as I wanted to. I really had to go in and shoulder block because I couldn't lock out. But it's healed now.

"We did the whole physical and everything looks good and clean. And I've been working out fully since mid-February. So I'm excited to be healthy and get that out of the way."