The Boren Sacrifice
Senior Fullback Switches Positions Midweek for Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — With his team in need, Zach Boren never thought twice about his decision.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Forget the fact he spent the first three and a half years of his career as the starting fullback at Ohio State, when he was approached by Urban Meyer this week about the idea of playing on the other side of the ball, Boren didn’t hesitate.
“Zach’s a guy where I was jogging out to practice and I looked at him, I had that horrible gut feeling that we had to get some experience and a veteran guy over there,” Meyer said following Ohio State’s 52-49 win over Indiana Saturday night.
“He jumped right at it and really changed practice on Tuesday.”
This wasn’t the first time the idea of Boren, a touch-as-nails, team-first senior out of Pickerington, had considered playing the linebacker position at Ohio State. It was two years ago, when Ross Homan went down with an injury late in the year, that Boren tried to get the OSU coaches to put him in on defense.
Even last year, when Andrew Sweat was being held out by a concussion, the idea of Boren playing linebacker was whispered about around Columbus, but never by people with decision-making ability.
That was until Meyer took a look at his decimated linebacker position on Tuesday and realized he didn’t have many options.
“Tuesday’s practice, (Ryan) Shazier was out, (Etienne) Sabino was out, Cam Williams was out, Josh Perry was out,” Meyer said shaking his head.
“I’m not a math major, but you’re starting to get real thin.”
That left senior Storm Klein, a guy who wasn’t even on the team when the Buckeyes began the season back in September and sophomore Curtis Grant, a kid who has quickly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, as the only two non-freshmen scholarship linebackers at practice.
Boren agreed to hop over and help out wherever the team needed him.
“We have a lot of playmakers over there (on offense) so he came to me and asked me if I would switch and I had no problem with it,” Boren said after the Indiana game.
“Whatever it takes to get this team to win.”
The Buckeyes did win Saturday night, barely. The defense nearly gave away a 45-27 lead in the fourth quarter and allowed two Hoosier touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game before the offense could kneel on the ball to preserve a 52-49 victory on the road.
Boren didn’t start the game at linebacker – and he didn’t play any fullback for the offense – but he did lead the team in tackles with eight, while splitting time with Klein at the linebacker spot opposite Shazier in the nickel (which Ohio State played nearly the entire game).
“We just wanted to make sure he knew everything he was doing and make sure he was in the right spots,” said cornerback Bradley Roby.
“It was cool to see one of our leaders out there doing everything for the team.”
Boren was an all-state linebacker and Ohio's defensive player of the year as a senior for coach Jay Sharett's 13-1 Pickerington Central team back in 2008, but that was the last time he played on the defensive side of the ball.
In order to get him ready for Saturday’s game at Indiana, the Buckeyes had to put their senior captain through a crash course in Luke Fickell’s defense, which obviously hasn’t lived up to expectations in his first season as defensive coordinator.
“It's been a long 72 hours,” said Boren, whose dad, Mike, was an excellent linebacker at Michigan in the early 80s.
“Coach Fickell has been great. Him and I have been staying at the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center) until 9:00 at night just trying to learn the whole defense. It's been a long week. I made some mistakes out there tonight.”
So do everybody on the defense.
The Buckeyes allowed 481 yards of total offense to the Hoosiers, including over 350 yards through the air. They gave up 91 yards and a pair of scores to tailback Stephen Houston and nobody could tackle diminutive Glenville product Shane Wynn in the open field.
That didn’t take away from the significance of what Boren did for his team in a time of need.
“Our coach told us at the beginning of the week that Zach’s giving up his potential to be all-Big Ten, and we didn’t even know if he was going to start,” center Corey Linsley said.
“He’s making a lot of sacrifices to go on the defensive side of the ball, but you actually saw an increase in energy from Zach and an increase in passion. He’s ripping his chest open and he’s giving it all for our team.”
Not a lot of guys on this defense could say that after allowing 49 points to Indiana Saturday, which is why Meyer doesn’t seen Boren’s switch as a short-term band aide.
“I don’t think it is. We gotta find out who’s healthy,” said Meyer, who knows he’ll be without Sabino for at least two more weeks.
“We’re ripped to shreds in certain areas. So I don’t know. I’ll let you know next week. I was not trying to keep it from anybody about Zach Boren, but I just wasn’t sure what we were going to do until after Wednesday’s practice.
“We’re so thin at linebacker, I think he might stay over there for a while.”
Considering the opponent, and the lack of preparation time Boren had between the Nebraska game and Saturday night in Bloomington, that should be about the worst they will see of him at linebacker.
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