With expectations high, Paris Johnson settles in at guard for Ohio State
Paris Johnson Jr. was a five-star recruit, so it wasn’t as if the offensive lineman was below the radar when he arrived at Ohio State from Cincinnati last year.
But the ante was raised three months ago by Josh Myers. Before Ohio State’s College Football Playoff title game, the Buckeyes’ center was asked about Johnson’s potential.
“I don't know if I should say this or not because it's pretty early on in Paris' career, but in my personal opinion, if Paris isn't an Outland Trophy winner by the time he leaves here, then he's screwed something up. He’s that talented. I think he could step in pretty much anywhere on our offensive line and be just fine.”
Johnson is now in the process of starting to prove Myers correct, specifically about his versatility. Johnson is a natural tackle, and the expectation when he got to Ohio State was that he would take over there following senior left tackle Thayer Munford’s departure.
But Munford decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s decision to grant players a free year of eligibility. With Nicholas Petit-Frere set at right tackle, coaches have moved Johnson to right guard as Wyatt Davis’ replacement. Johnson filled in for Davis during the CFP against Clemson and Alabama when Davis’s knee issues flared up.
Johnson has embraced his new position, even if he remains a tackle long term. He said Munford talked with him before finalizing his decision, and Johnson supported it.
“He said he felt peaceful coming back,” Johnson said. “I told him you shouldn't go against that feeling so I was all for it.”
Johnson knows that showing versatility will be appealing to NFL teams down the road. He is happy to play wherever the Buckeyes need him now.
“I feel that speaks to the brotherhood that goes on here,” Johnson said.
Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said Johnson’s work ethic has made the transition go smoothly.
“Paris is such a student of the game,” he said. “He's in my office. Sometimes I’ve got to kick him out because I'm sick and tired of seeing him, because he's in there every day wanting to know this and wanting to know that. ‘How do I get an edge on this?’ His attention to detail and his toughness and his ‘I want to play, coach,’ is why he's made the transitions so smooth so far.”
At 6 feet 6 and 315 pounds, Johnson has ideal size, and he plays with an edge.
“I think he's just a great athlete,” said redshirt freshman Luke Wypler, who’s battling for the center job. “He understands football, and he's just a violent player, honestly. Every play, he’s trying to bring violence to the field. I feel when you have that mindset, you can play any position.”
Still, playing guard is an adjustment, Johnson acknowledged. A tackle is more on an island in terms of having one-on-one battles. Guards must be in sync with both the tackle and center next to him.
“You can’t have a tackle mindset at guard,” he said. “But I’ve learned to take the abilities that I’ve learned at tackle as far as being able to read linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks and utilize that at guard. So I’m able to see the bigger picture.”
Seeing a larger picture is a big part of Johnson. Munford described Johnson’s maturity as “tremendous.”
He has also branched out off the field. He was in the National Honor Society in high school and was active as a volunteer. At Ohio State, he has written for the Lantern student newspaper.
Whatever journalistic aspirations Johnson has, it’s likely that if Myers' and others' predictions prove true he’ll be the subject of more stories than he writes.
“One day,” Myers said in January, “he’s going to be a whole lot better than probably anyone else on our starting line right now.”
Saunders hopes comeback road leads to NFL.