Prized recruit Paris Johnson Jr. aiming high in first year at Ohio State
Paris Johnson Jr. knows how rare it is for a freshman offensive lineman to start at Ohio State.
But the highly regarded tackle from Cincinnati Princeton is determined to do everything in his power to win a spot.
Johnson also knows that to some degree it’s out of his control.
But he is determined to make the most of what he can control.
“I think it’s as realistic as I want it to be,” Johnson said recently when the Buckeyes’ early-enrollee freshmen met with reporters. “It’s up to everybody in the room to compete, so really the spot’s open for anybody.
“I feel like if I’m in the playbook enough and I am putting in the work in the weight room, in the field and trying to be in the front when we are running, then at that point it’s up to the coaches.”
In 2016, Michael Jordan became the first true freshman lineman to start for Ohio State since Orlando Pace in 1994.
“I talked to Michael Jordan a lot about that,” Johnson said. “He told me that I can be the next one to do it. I just have to go out there and just put in the work. I can’t come in with that ‘next year’ mindset, that I'm going to be a backup guy this year and next year is my time.”
Jordan was impressive four years ago, but he got the nod as much because coaches didn’t believe that veterans were up to the job. That’s unlikely to be the case next season.
Thayer Munford returns at left tackle, and third-year sophomore Nicholas Petit-Frere is the front-runner to succeed Branden Bowen at right tackle. Petit-Frere, like Johnson, was a five-star prospect. He lost a close competition with Bowen in training camp last year.
“I’ve got to come in here with the mindset that I want to take somebody’s job,” Johnson said. “Not try to work like a freshman, but work like an older guy.”
So far, so good. Strength coach Mickey Marotti is in charge of winter conditioning, and he described Johnson as “extremely focused and well-prepared,” as well as a “great dude.”
Johnson has the tools and the mindset to make a strong push. The 6-foot-6, 290-pounder combines size, strength and a nasty streak on the field. His goal in high school, he said, was to make defensive linemen lose their will to compete.
“I want them to go to their coach and be like, ‘It’s not worth it anymore,’” Johnson said. “It’s that mentality of finishing my opponents to the whistle. If this whistle’s not blown, I’m not going to stop just because somebody is down. I wouldn’t expect them to do that to me.”
How often did Johnson see opponents lose their will?
“All the time,” he said, “and it’s a great feeling.”
Johnson didn’t grow up dreaming about playing for Ohio State. Johnson’s father played at Miami University, and he has other relatives who played in Oxford. In fact, a RedHawks scholarship offer was the one he coveted most, and it frustrated him that it came late in the process.
“I had to visit like five times before I could get the offer,” he said.
Ohio State didn’t emerge as a top contender until Johnson visited Columbus during the Buckeyes’ bowl practice before the 2017 Cotton Bowl against Southern California. He hit it off with the players and coach Urban Meyer.
“That just changed everything for me,” he said.
He committed in June 2018 and stayed firm during the coaching change to Ryan Day. Now, Johnson wants to do everything he can to insert himself into the mix for a starting job right away.
“I know that’s his mindset right now,” Day said. “But you don’t know where that goes until we get into August. Right now, it’s learning the playbook, learning where to go to class, learning all that stuff, learning the calls.
“He’s very detail-oriented. He wants to do it right. He’s very determined. And we have high hopes for him.”