Orlando Pace’s Advice For Paris Johnson: Be Prepared For the Grind

There are several standard arguments that can be found in sports.

Arguments about the greatest players ever, or the greatest teams. Could players from 30 years ago handle the game today?

Another is the “who is the next _____ ?” trope.

Who is the next Michael Jordan? Who is the next Larry Bird? This guy is the next Brett Favre. This is the next Jerry Rice.

The comparisons to past greats are easy to make. It’s a simple way to reference a player while also offering up a similar player to draw upon for discussion.

But it can also be a tremendous burden for the player who is being compared to an all-time great.

Even before a player steps foot on campus, he has been given an impossible target to hit.

And some of those targets are more impossible than others.

One of those impossible comparisons is NFL Hall of Famer and former Buckeye great Orlando Pace.

When a great high school offensive tackle is produced by the state of Ohio, comparisons to Pace are made. He is the standard bearer, so it’s understandable, but that doesn’t make it fair.

Pace started every game of his Buckeye career at left tackle, leaving after his junior season to become the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick by the St. Louis Rams in 1997.

He was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1994, then a First-Team All-American as a sophomore and a junior. He was a Heisman finalist in 1996.

Pace was the prototype at left tackle. Big, athletic, physical, determined, and smart.

And in the 25 years since he played in Ohio Stadium, “the next Orlando Pace” has been thrown around a few times, albeit always cautiously.

There was Jefferson Kelley in 1996, but a shoulder injury ended his career before it ever began. Alex Boone in 2005 was a 5-star prospect who certainly had a successful career, but fell well short of any Orlando Pace comparisons.

In more recent times there was Fairfield’s Jackson Carman, a 5-star prospect who decided to get away from any and all comparisons by signing with Clemson.

Then there is the present day with Ohio State freshman offensive tackle Paris Johnson.

Johnson may be the highest-ranked Ohio offensive tackle since Pace himself, and so the expectations have understandably ramped up for the young lineman.

One way in which Johnson tried to set himself up for success was by enrolling early and taking part in winter conditioning and spring practice. Spring practice only lasted a week, however, which halted the pace of Johnson’s development.

Despite the lack of spring, Johnson is still expected to compete for the open right tackle job.

“Yes, it is a setback, but we’re all dealing with setbacks. So we can talk about it as being a setback or we can move forward,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said of Johnson missing out on spring ball.

“But this kid has a little bit of difference about him. His maturity level and the way he attacks things lead me to believe that he’s got that opportunity.”

Only one freshman offensive lineman has started a season opener for the Buckeyes since Orlando Pace did it in 1994. Michael Jordan accomplished the feat at left guard in 2016.

Can Johnson match them both? That will depend on how he handles fall camp.

“I’ve gotta be honest with you, when I had that opportunity to do it when I first stepped onto campus at Ohio State, it was difficult,” Pace told Buckeye Scoop’s Kirk Barton during Barton’s Scoop World Order podcast on Wednesday.

“Everything happened so fast. In high school, everything is kind of basic. You get it. You’re trying to get your body right, trying to get stronger, trying to understand the playbook.”

And while the world is flying by, a freshman simply has to keep his head down and hold on.

“And then the grind, that freshman camp in college is tough. It was tough for me just trying to pick up everything, learn everything,” Pace said. “Ultimately, you’ve got to be talented, right? At some point, your talent has to shine through. And you’ve got to be able to recover. I remember that first year, I had to recover from a lot of blocks just using my athletic ability.”

Another piece of advice for Johnson was to “cancel out the noise.” People will talk and they will have expectations for you, but you can’t be somebody else.

There is no “next Orlando Pace,” and there shouldn’t be. The only way for Paris Johnson to reach his potential is to be himself.

“You’ve just got to go out and be yourself. Play your game and be physical,” he said. “And realize that you may not dominate guys the way you did your senior year in high school.

“And you’ve got to learn technique and different things like that that’s going to help you in years to come. But just try to be consistent, know where to go, know where you’re going because you can always move faster if you know what you’re doing.”

Winning a job in camp is incredibly difficult because so much of what a freshman is doing, he’s doing for the very first time. It isn’t easy to stand out at anything the first time you try it, especially when it comes to pass blocking.

If the desire matches the talent, however, then you’ve got something, because there are no easy days.

“And just work on your game every single day because it is a grind. It’s really a grind,” Pace said. “It’s tough. Some people make it look easier than most. It is a grind. That’s the biggest thing I would tell any lineman going to OSU.”

Having spent a little bit of time with Johnson and seen enough of him to have formed an opinion, Pace believes the young Buckeye has a particular set of skills that will suit him just fine when camp begins for Ohio State.

“I will say this about the kid Paris, I think he has a nasty mean streak and I think that will go a long way when your technique might fail you a little bit,” he said. “As long as you’re aggressive and you’re nasty and you’re mean, that can pay dividends for him if they decide to put him in the game as a freshman.”

You can listen to the entire interview with Orlando Pace by checking out the latest episode of the Scoop World Order podcast when it drops later today here at The Scoop.

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