Ohio State’s offensive line is going to look a whole lot different than it did last season.
Four starters depart for the Buckeyes, leaving offensive line coach Greg Studrawa to find a new starting right tackle, two new starting guards, and a new starting center.
Fortunately for Studrawa, there are a number of possibilities to replace the departed starters, which is half the battle.
Left tackle Thayer Munford is the lone returning starter on the offensive line, and there are currently four candidates to be his bookend partner at right tackle.
Fifth-year senior Joshua Alabi was the third tackle this past season and fifth-year senior Branden Bowen has been the team’s “sixth man” when healthy. Those two provide the experience, but redshirt freshmen Nicholas Petit-Frere and Max Wray are also going to have a say in how this competition ends up.
Based on the recruiting rankings, Petit-Frere has the most upside. A former 5-star prospect and top 10 overall player in the 2018 class, he played in three games last season. He found out just how big the jump from high school to college really is.
“It’s huge,” he said recently. “It doesn’t matter what you were ranked in high school. The guys that we have here that we recruited, all of the defensive ends that are freshmen here, they are so good. They are some of the best competition that I’ve ever faced. It’s a day-to-day process.
“Sometimes I’m more worried about getting ready for the next day of practice because I know I’ve got to go against Jashon [Cornell] and Chase [Young] and Tyreke Smith and Tyler [Friday] and Javontae [Jean-Baptiste] and Alex Williams. All of those great defensive ends, they’re all very talented. Coach [Larry] Johnson is a great coach. It’s an every-day process.”
Each of those days were put to good use and each day was an experience in itself.
Once a recruit becomes a player, reality begins. For Petit-Frere, the struggles came one after the other, but so did the instruction on how to overcome each of them.
“Everything was hard at one point,” he said. “I can’t really say which was the hardest because at one point something would just change out of nowhere. At first it was just working out and the weight lifting and how crazy it is doing that. Then it came to the speed of the game because during the first practice I could tell that this game was completely different. Then it came to technique and trying to learn the plays and everything. But as the season went on, it just got a whole lot easier thanks to Coach Stud and the coaching staff.”
With his freshman season under his belt and still having four years of eligibility remaining, Petit-Frere’s eligibility clock has now begun to tick.
He knows that with an open job to be won, there is no reason he can’t be the one to win it. His focus now is on making that happen.
“This offseason will be very huge,” he said. “This offseason is going to be very big for me. I’m going to get more adjusted to the program and try to do something here. Try to be something more.”
In order to set himself apart from the other candidates, doing “something more” might be one way to accomplish that.
But what exactly does that entail?
“Doing a lot more film work,” he explained. “I’m going to do a lot of film work this offseason. I’m going to watch a lot of the film that we have of these games and games from the past few years just to understand the game better. I want to understand the game to a level that is really high and really, really competent. Like everything about football. And although Coach Stud said I could even take just a piece at a time and not to take the whole thing at a time, I’m really excited for the offseason.”
Given his potential and desire to get better, it would be easy to project Nicholas Petit-Frere into Ohio State’s starting lineup in 2019.
He is mature enough and has seen enough, however, to know that nothing gets handed out.
“I think I’ll be ready to compete,” he said. “You can never say whether you’ll be a starter or not. But I think I’ll be ready to compete for that starting spot. That’s what I’ve heard from Coach Stud and the other coaches. ‘We’re expecting you next spring and next summer to compete for that spot, because that’s what’s going to happen next year.’ So I’ve just got to work hard during the offseason and then I’ll get to that point.”