COLUMBUS, Ohio — For reasons on and off the field, Thayer Munford almost didn’t make it to Ohio State.
One year later, his importance to the Buckeyes can’t be understated.
Munford survived an incredibly tough childhood, overcoming the odds to even graduate from high school. But even with his academics in line, he wasn’t a sure thing to end up at Ohio State. He was one of the lowest-rated members of the Buckeyes’ Class of 2017, and his scholarship offer didn’t come until the final week of the recruiting cycle.
Despite being the lowest-ranked 4-star recruit in Ohio State’s class — and someone who almost wasn’t offered at all — Munford has blossomed faster than almost all of his peers. He saw the field in a reserve role as a freshman, a sign of big things to come since most first-year offensive linemen at Ohio State redshirt. And when right tackle Isaiah Prince briefly missed time with an injury during the Michigan game, Munford was called upon to take over.
“Thayer Munford is going to be special,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said in December. “He’s an awesome player already as a true freshman. He’s going to play very soon and play for a long time. I’ve been impressed with him since camp. He’s a talented player and a great kid. All the hype he’s getting in bowl season, I’m wondering why it took so long.”
Getting early production from a lesser-heralded player is reason enough to celebrate, but even more important is the fact that Munford is doing so at the Buckeyes’ thinnest position. With Jamarco Jones out of eligibility, tackle became a big question mark for Ohio State.
The current group of scholarship tackles includes Prince, who will move to left tackle, Munford, Josh Alabi, Max Wray and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Alabi is a converted defensive tackle, Wray is a freshman early enrollee and Petit-Frere is a freshman who will arrive in June. The group could potentially include Branden Bowen, but he can’t practice, and switching him from right guard would take him from the spot he started at in 2017 before breaking his leg.
With such thin depth and so little experience, the margin for error at tackle for Ohio State is virtually non-existent. The Buckeyes will already be pairing Prince — who never has played left tackle — with someone who’s never made a start at tackle. The non-Munford options are someone who only last year switched from defensive tackle, two freshmen and a player who started at right guard in 2017. The shallow depth isn’t just a problem this season, either. With Prince in his last season, Ohio State needs this group to learn quickly.
All of which is to say Munford has given Ohio State an unexpected security blanket in an important position group. There’s still almost no room for injuries, but Munford’s emergence means the Buckeyes won’t have to play a freshman at tackle, and it also allows Ohio State to keep Bowen at guard if that’s where he best fits.
“He’s going to be a very good player here,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Munford. “He’s very consistent, one of our more consistent offensive linemen.”