Ohio State will be searching for a handful of new starters when fall camp gets underway later this summer.
A new running back will need to be found, as will a couple new receivers. The offensive line will be replacing two starters, while the defensive line is looking for three new reliable options.
A starting linebacker will need to be found to join Pete Werner and Tuf Borland, but the options are plentiful. The secondary is also in a flux with Shaun Wade as the lone starter returning, and he’ll be playing a different position than he did a year ago.
In every instance, however, there are talented players waiting to step up.
This is Ohio State, after all. It’s kind of expected.
Many of the players vying for starting jobs have had to wait their turn, while others battled for starting spots last year and came up short.
And, more accurately, some came up light.
That was the case for Nicholas Petit-Frere last year as a redshirt freshman. He of the 8,000-calorie-a-day diet in order to gain weight and build strength, but it just didn’t happen to the point it needed to and he eventually lost the starting right tackle job to fifth-year senior Branden Bowen.
Another year in the program, however, and he’s finally where the coaches want him.
“I think this is Nick’s time,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said back in April. “I think he’s finally got his weight up to where it needs to be. He finally got his strength up to where it needs to be. And I think he finally learned inside and out what we’re doing on the offense. And so I really think it’s his time to shine.”
But it’s not like Petit-Frere came to Ohio State as some kind of project. In fact, he was a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class.
He had the height and length and the mobility coming out of high school, he was just too light. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds prior to signing day, he’s spent the last two years working to rectify his shortcomings.
Based on what Studrawa saw from Petit-Frere this spring – albeit in just three practices – everything appears to be falling into place.
“I was excited with what he did in those three days,” he said. “You know, like I said, we had to get his weight up consistently up to 305 and 310. And now he’s done that through the winter. That’s allowed him to do what he needs to physically. He was a little bit light last year at times and he struggled to keep that weight up. So getting that up was critical for him.”
Petit-Frere is now fully equipped to contend for the starting right tackle job, and he’ll need to be because there will be no shortage of contenders.
Also contending for the spot will be surprising sophomore Dawand Jones and talented true freshman Paris Johnson. Jones certainly has the size at 6-foot-8 and 359 pounds, and his athleticism is impressive. He was a last-minute addition in the 2019 class. A 3-star prospect, Jones was the lowest-ranked member of the 2019 Buckeye signing class. Most saw him as a surefire redshirt candidate, but he played in 10 games, seeing minutes on the offense four times last year.
Johnson, meanwhile, is the newer version of Petit-Frere. Johnson is a true freshman, but was a 5-star signee and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2020 class. Some have said he’s the best tackle prospect the state of Ohio has produced since Orlando Pace.
The advantage for Petit-Frere is that he’s played more than both, nearly tripling Jones’ snaps on offense last season while seeing action on the offensive line in 10 games.
“All the reps that he got last year. He started that game at Northwestern. Did a good job when Thayer went down,” Studrawa said. “Got a lot of snaps, played in games in the second half, and I think that’s what he needed. He is a rep guy. They say rep guys, you just got to do it and do it and do it. All that he got last year late in games.”
This is now Petit-Frere’s third year on campus, which means he is no longer an underclassman. The developmental period is over. He is now being tasked with leadership and bringing the younger guys along.
Interestingly, holding himself to that standard will also help him in his battle to win the job as the Buckeyes’ starting right tackle.
“I think he’s gotten the confidence now,” Studrawa said. “He walks around with a little bit different swagger. Talks with a little bit more confidence. So, I don’t think he’s behind at all. Actually, I think he’s caught up. And I think it might be his time to shine. That’s what I’m hoping for.”