Family competition shaped toughness in Ohio State center Josh Myers
Before Josh Myers tangled with bruising defensive tackles across the Big Ten, some of his toughest bouts came in the basement of his family’s home in Miamisburg.
They involved his older brothers.
As the youngest of three boys, Myers joined them for games of football, basketball and baseball. Any sport sufficed.
The battles laid a foundation for a rugged offensive lineman who became an all-conference center at Ohio State and a critical component of a College Football Playoff push. The Buckeyes hope to be as close to full health as possible at Michigan State on Saturday after an unspecified number of coronavirus cases prompted them to cancel last weekend's game at Illinois.
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“It was really competitive and a lot of fun,” Myers said of his childhood. “I attribute any toughness I have to those two.”
They are close to the same age, as Myers is five years younger than his oldest brother, Zach, and three years younger than his middle brother, Brett, but the gap is large enough that he was often overpowered during their childhood games.
“He took some lumps, I’ll tell you that,” said his father, Brad. “His brothers didn't take it easy on him. No chance.”
Once, when they were playing football in the basement, Zach tackled Josh hard enough that it caused his head to crash into a pillar, requiring a half-dozen stitches. His mother, Julie, an internal medicine doctor, sewed him right afterward in their living room with sterilization equipment that she stored nearby.
“There's still battle wounds down there in the basement from when they were kids,” Brad Myers said. “It's unbelievable.”
While presenting formidable competition at a young age, the brothers were also some of Josh Myers’ earliest role models.
When he began playing organized football in the third grade, he gravitated toward the offensive line. It was about the only position that he could play after surpassing his league’s weight limit for ball carries by about 30 pounds, and it was where Zach also lined up on the field, just like their dad. Brad was a starting center and guard over four seasons at Kentucky.
“At that age, there was nothing I wanted more than to be like them,” Josh Myers said, “so I was all about playing offensive line right from the jump.”
As he watched Zach star at Miamisburg High School before going on to Kentucky, he studied him up close.
Myers was a ball boy for the Vikings, viewing games from the field where he observed some of the toughness the offensive line demanded.
He saw his brother's helmet slashed from collisions with defensive linemen and also witnessed his firm resolve, as Zach played games with a broken hand or stitches underneath his eye. No matter, he kept charging on.
“I could just see it in the way that he played, finishing blocks, hitting people as hard as he could, and just playing really, really hard,” Myers said. “That was something that I could see really easily from the sidelines. It was a good blueprint for how the position should be played.”
Myers looked to emulate the approach in the trenches, but as he developed into a blue-chip recruit in high school and later as the Buckeyes’ starting center, he seemed to have natural traits.
That includes a combination of size and athleticism. By the time he had reached the eighth grade, he stood 6 feet 3, weighed 235 pounds and could dunk a basketball, making him a candidate to join the high school’s varsity football team as a freshman.
His parents provided the genetics. Brad is 6-3, and Julie is 5-10, a former basketball player at Dayton, where she is in the school’s athletics hall of fame.
“He was so big, but he would fit in with faster, more athletic-looking kids,” said Bryan Myers, his uncle who was also his offensive line coach at Miamisburg. “Obviously, it's hard to tell when a kid is 6 or 7 years old, but you could tell when he was 9 or 10 years old that, boy, he's gonna be a big kid.
“He wasn't like a running back or anything, but for that size, he really, really moved well, and always did. But he was gigantic as a kid. It was so funny because his hands and his feet were so big. It was crazy.”
Ohio State took notice of Myers following his freshman season in high school, joining other top-ranked programs in offering him a scholarship.
Myers fit in well as a guard in Miamisburg’s wing-T offense, a run-heavy scheme that relies on intricate blocking from its offensive linemen. Guards are asked to pull around the end of the line in order to block for running backs, requiring nimble feet in addition to strength as they pave a path downfield.
The system took advantage of Myers’ athleticism and put it on display in his earliest highlight reels for recruiters.
Myers also believes it instilled toughness, preparing him for a role at Ohio State that has had him open pathways for J.K. Dobbins, the program’s first-ever 2,000-yard rusher, last fall, as well as Master Teague III this year. The Buckeyes are on pace to lead the Big Ten in rushing offense for the second straight season.
“We didn't pass the football ever,” said Myers, recalling his high school career in the wing-T offense. “And I can tell you with 100% certainty that the run game is a lot more aggressive, mean and nastier than the pass game in any offense. All we did was run the football.”
The experience did pose challenges when he arrived at Ohio State as a freshman in 2016.
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He had limited experience in the kind of pass protection that is needed in the Buckeyes’ spread offense. While spending his first two seasons as a backup, he also switched positions to center, which also came with a bit of a learning curve.
Along with snapping the ball, the role at center required him to become comfortable in making pre-snap adjustments and helping set up pass protection. It’s a cerebral role Myers has embraced, and he called it a fun challenge. He likes that he can better understand the broader picture of the offensive line.
But he admits he’ll always think of himself as more of a mauler. It was the way he was raised as a lineman.