Often overlooked, tackles Munford and Petit-Frere vital to Buckeyes' success
The attention and acclaim have mostly been lavished elsewhere, which is fine with Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford.
Offensive linemen learn early that headlines usually are reserved for others on the football team. When the camera does find them, it’s often for a mistake.
On Ohio State’s star-studded offense, Munford and fellow tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere frequently are overlooked. Munford agrees, but the senior is not obsessed with it.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he said this week as Ohio State prepared for its College Football Playoff championship game against Alabama on Monday. “We do our talking on the field. Recognition from all the media and everybody in the United States would be great and all, but that’s not what we’re looking for.
Ohio State football:Tackles Thayer Munford, Nicholas Petit-Frere took different journeys to success
“Me and Nick talk all the time like, ‘Yeah, we wish we can get it,’ but it also motivates us a lot more. ‘All right, y’all don't respect us? Then watch this game. You're going to respect us and we’ll keep proving you wrong.' ”
They of course have gotten at least some recognition. Munford earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and coaches voted Petit-Frere to the second team. But neither was named to an All-American team like right guard Wyatt Davis (unanimously) or center Josh Myers (The Sporting News second-teamer.)
But those who study closely know how well they have played. One Ohio State assistant coach said he believed the tackles have played the best of any of the Buckeyes linemen.
According to Pro Football Focus, which uses analytics to grade performance, Petit-Frere and Munford were the two best Power Five conference tackles in pass protection this season. Petit-Frere, a junior, allowed pressure on only 0.5% of OSU's pass attempts. Munford yielded pressure only 0.9% of dropbacks.
Against Clemson in a Sugar Bowl semifinal, they didn’t allow quarterback Justin Fields to be pressured once, according to PFF.
“Their pass protection was incredible all night, and they've been doing it all season,” Myers said.
They also have been effective as run-blockers, helping spring Trey Sermon for 331 yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game and 193 against Clemson.
“It's a weird thing when tackles get slightly overlooked among members of the offensive line, but somehow it's managed to happen this year,” Myers said. “Those two guys are so valuable to our team and what we do every week. I think they don't get enough recognition for what they do.”
Both players have had to answer major challenges this year. Petit-Frere, a five-star prospect, is a first-time starter after spending most of his first two years trying to bulk up. Munford is a three-year starter who gutted through 2019 despite a serious back injury that required surgery.
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“He played a whole season with a messed-up back and didn't complain once,” Davis said. “That was a guy that was at practice every day that season practicing with his back issue. A lot of guys in his situation could have quit.”
Munford has been a battler his whole life. He had to raise his grades and lose 50 pounds just to get a scholarship offer from Ohio State.
“All the obstacles he had to go through in life, and he never once quit. I think says a lot about his character and the type of person he is,” Davis said. “That's one guy that if he has a goal set, he's going to get it done.”
Munford isn’t satisfied with his play — he believes he can always get better. But he is proud of what he has accomplished.
“All the adversity that I've been through as a kid, (in) college with injuries and life lessons, that pushed me to be a better person and also be a better player because I had to fight through stuff. You’ve got to fight through everything, and nothing comes easy,” he said.
“Last year was kind of hard because I wasn't the best that I could be. But I know for darn well, I am going to leave everything on the field, no matter what.”
Though he’s a senior, Munford has not closed the door to a possible return next season. Because of COVID-19, the NCAA is not counting this season as a year of eligibility.
Ohio State football:Nicholas Petit-Frere grows into larger role on Ohio State offensive line
“I don’t know yet,” he said about his decision, saying he will do what is best for him and his family. “Everybody keeps saying, ‘The NFL, NFL, NFL.’ But after the NFL, where are you going to go next? I’ve got to get my degree first.”
He said he’s “very close” to that.
That’s for later. For now, he is concentrating only on Alabama.
“We know we have to win,” Munford said. “It’s all going to come down to the trenches.”