Ohio State tackles Thayer Munford, Nicholas Petit-Frere took different journeys to success
The “big brother” is actually the younger one.
The one who was the Ohio State football team’s top-ranked player in 2018 recruiting class didn’t start until this year.
The one who ranked third from the bottom among 2017 Buckeye recruits has been a starter at left tackle for three years.
One needed to lose weight to get a scholarship offer. The other needed to gain weight to fulfill his promise.
“Everyone has different journeys and different paths,” right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere said.
So it has been with him and Thayer Munford, Ohio State’s starting offensive tackles. Their roads to Ohio State and as Buckeyes are quite different. But they have converged this year as highly effective bookends on OSU’s offensive line.
Heading into Saturday's game at Illinois, Petit-Frere and Munford are the only OSU offensive linemen to have graded as champions in all four games.
“Their tackles are outstanding players,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said this week.
Both players came to Ohio State after unconventional recruitments. Munford, a Cincinnati native, transferred to Massillon Washington as a senior but the Ohio High School Athletic Associated ruled him ineligible for most of that year. He was a late offer in his recruiting class after needing to lose about 40 pounds and get his academics in order.
Though he ranked 19th among the Buckeyes’ 21 recruits, Munford developed quickly and earned a starting job in 2018. That was the year Petit-Frere signed as the top-ranked player in the class. The native of Tampa, Florida, was only seriously pursued after fellow five-star tackle Jackson Carman bolted Ohio to sign with Clemson.
The 6-foot-5 Petit-Frere weighed only 265 pounds when he enrolled — about 100 fewer than Munford at his highest weight — and needed to bulk up. OSU put him on an 8,000-calorie diet to do so.
From the start, Munford and Petit-Frere were close.
“Thayer was one of the first people that I met here through Ohio State,” Petit-Frere said. “He's been like a big brother to me, just teaching me everything. It’s funny that he's actually two or three days younger than me.”
That's fitting because Petit-Frere's name actually means "little brother" in French.
Munford was an effective starter at left tackle as a sophomore in 2018, but his season ended because of a back injury that forced him to miss the Rose Bowl. Unable to lift weights and condition like normal during the offseason, he mainly gutted through the 2019 season.
This past offseason, Munford was able to train fully — or at least as much as the pandemic would allow — and his performance reflects it.
“Compared to last year, like 20 times better,” Munford said recently of his play. “(I’m) a lot quicker, a little more physical. I just feel more confident in my body as a whole. And, personally, I'm not even there yet. I'm not at my peak.”
Petit-Frere played behind senior Branden Bowen last year as he continued to get bigger and stronger. This offseason, he fended off a strong challenge by freshman Paris Johnson Jr.
“I feel powerful, especially with the (added) weight behind me,” Petit-Frere said. “But I also just feel confident, as well. That comes from the amount of film and study that you do and also the way you take care of your body, from nutrition, sleep and recovery and things like that.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day said recently that Petit-Frere “would be in the conversation” for most improved player on the team.
“The improvement he's made from last year to this year is crazy,” said defensive end Tyler Friday, who battles Petit-Frere in practice. “Especially if you watch from freshmen year to where he is now, he's an extremely different player with his strength and his knowledge of the game. His understanding of how to pass-set has improved significantly.”
Some might have expected Petit-Frere to have forced his way into the starting lineup before this season, but offensive linemen tend to develop at their own pace. Petit-Frere maintained patience.
“Some guys are the big, highly touted guys and they take awhile to get their start, and then other people that you've never even heard of come in freshman year and they're ready and rocking and rolling,” he said. “I didn't really look too much in terms of, ‘Oh, I'm that highly touted guy or I'm not that highly touted guy.’ We never look at it like that, especially at a place like Ohio State. Everyone has a different story in how they progress and how they develop.”
No. 3 Ohio State at Illinois
When: noon Saturday
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)