Determined to graduate, Ohio State tackle Thayer Munford returns for final season

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Tackle Thayer Munford's motivation to return to Ohio State for a fifth season had less to do with football than completing his academic journey.

Thayer Munford anticipated the question and pounced on it like he would an overmatched defensive end.

Munford is a three-year starter at left tackle for Ohio State. A senior last year, the expectation was that he would enter the NFL draft after a stellar 2020 season. According to Pro Football Focus, Munford had zero penalties or sacks in 512 snaps last season. Among all college players, he graded behind only Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in competition against ranked teams.

Yet here’s Munford, putting himself through the rigors of spring practice for a fifth season. Why?

“I love this question,” he said in recent conference call with reporters.

The reason is simple, he said. He wants to earn his degree in sport industry. He’s on track to graduate in August and he promised his mother that he would get his diploma.

“I can be the first person in my family to actually graduate college,” he said.

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It goes beyond that. He’s the first person in his immediate family even to attend college, said his mother, MeLisa Thompson.

“I think he made a great decision,” she said. “I really do. I always tell him education is power.”

That Munford is on the brink of earning his degree at Ohio State already defies the odds. He struggled academically in high school at Cincinnati La Salle. After the school’s coach, Nate Moore, took the Massillon Washington job, Thompson decided to have Munford live with the coach's family. Moore’s wife, Becca, is an educator, and she worked diligently with Munford to help him dig out of a substantial academic hole.

“If you were to put a number on it, there was maybe a 10% chance or 20% chance that he would be an NCAA qualifier,” Nate Moore said. “An offer to Ohio State? It was probably 1% or less, I would say, when he came to us.”

It was a tightrope, and Munford could have fallen off several times. Moore recalled a time when he, Becca and their two young children were vacationing in South Carolina while Munford stayed at his mom’s home in Cincinnati. Munford called to tell them he was missing something for an online test that needed to be finished earlier than he realized. The Moores abruptly packed and drove back to Ohio so Munford could finish the test on time.

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“We picked him up in Cincinnati and brought him back to our house in Massillon and he got online and took the test,” Moore said. “I want to say we got home at like 11 at night and the test was due at 11:59. He took the test and was able to hit ‘submit’ at like 11:58.”

Grades weren’t Munford’s only issue. Munford was overweight and lost 50 pounds before Ohio State would offer him a scholarship.

Thayer Munford (75) came to Ohio State as a low-rated recruit but by 2020 had blossomed into an NFL prospect, allowing no sacks and committing no penalties last season.

When he arrived at Ohio State, he was the third-lowest recruit in the Buckeyes’ 2017 class. But Munford earned the starting job as a sophomore, gutted through a back injury in 2019 and then had a banner season last year.

With the interior of the Buckeyes’ offensive line unsettled, the return of Munford and right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere can’t be overstated. Ohio State coach Ryan Day said that Munford is embracing his status as the unit’s elder statesman.

“His leadership has really stepped up in the last few months,” Day said. “He understands, being from the state of Ohio, what the Buckeyes mean in the state, what the brotherhood is all about here.

“I think he appreciates the guys that have come before, and he wants to uphold that standard. I’ve been very, very impressed with him well over the last few months.”

Munford believes he has plenty of room to grow as a player.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s everything that I need to work on,” he said. “I’ve got to improve from last season. I’m not a person who’s complacent with where I’m at. That’s not me. That’s nobody on this team. Everybody wants to get better. I just don’t see myself at that level yet.”

But football is not his main priority.

“My academics are a lot more important than football,” Munford said. “I'm honored to be that first generation (to graduate), so I can tell to tell it to my kids and my grandkids, so they can tell it to their kids. I’m grateful to be in this position that I am right now.”

Day is thankful to have Munford back — for his talent as well as the example he sets.

“He’s a mature young man who understands the value of the education and what that means for the rest of his life after football,” he said. “He certainly is going to have a lot of options and opportunity after he’s done at Ohio State in the NFL. He’s very, very talented. He can do a lot of different things.”

Thompson simply appreciates that Munford is on the brink of achieving all of his dreams.

“You know how it takes a village to raise a kid?” Thompson said. “Well, his village helped bring him to where he’s at. I am truly grateful.”

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