COLUMBUS — Josh Alabi has embraced a role for Ohio State.
In the Buckeyes last two biggest games, last season’s Rose Bowl and the primetime road trip to Nebraska, Alabi has found himself inserted into the first-team offensive line.
Maybe it’s by chance that Alabi’s only two starts have come when most teams wouldn’t want to have a starting tackle sidelined by injury. But in both games, Alabi has delivered.
In the Rose Bowl, he started at left tackle for an injured Thayer Munford, and he performed well. Then there was Saturday against Nebraska, where Alabi was mauling defensive linemen and paving the way for Ohio State’s 368 rushing yards. Didn’t notice the change at right tackle? The coaches did, and Alabi played well enough to earn Offensive Player of the Game and possibly a larger role moving forward for the Buckeyes.
“Well, last year he proved that he could play at a high level and did a good job late in the season for us, and he did it again,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We talked about how we’ll play those guys as much as we can and try to play depth, and if that means on a rotating basis, we will.
“We’ll see how those guys feel this week, but he’ll play. He’ll continue to play.”
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Alabi at Ohio State. He came to Columbus as a defensive tackle and converted midway through his career.
During the transition, Alabi learned to play left tackle. Not right tackle. And this offseason when a competition sprouted for the right tackle spot, Alabi wasn’t even in the mix. That position was decided between Branden Bowen, who earned the starting role, and Nicholas Petit-Frere.
“We were all really happy for Josh, because he’s gone through a lot of ups and downs through this program,” Ohio State right guard Wyatt Davis said. “For him to stay in tune and not give up in practice even though things weren’t going his way initially during the season, just the fact that he can come out there and play how he did, it really tells you a lot about his character.
“He’s a guy that never stops going no matter what the circumstances are.”
That versatility didn’t come easy, and neither did staying the course. First, he had to stay patient and know his time would come to make an impact at Ohio State, whether that was in a starting role or coming on in relief. Alabi attributes his patience and work ethic to his faith, something that’s rooted in him based on his family values.
But sticking around was only half the battle. After the Rose Bowl performance at left tackle, Alabi figured to be the solid backup for Munford if anything happened this season.
Then starting right tackle Branden Bowen’s name showed up on last week’s availability report, and Alabi had to flip his entire view of the field from left to right. At least he had a week of practice to flip his stance, his feet and his hands.
“He can move back and forth from right to left, and that makes it — he’s much more versatile than maybe he was when he first came over from defense, and that’s a tribute to him, being able to move from the right to the left,” Day said. “He had mostly been practicing at left, and then he goes over to right and can play like he did.”
So he started at right tackle directly beside Davis on an offensive line that has been the catalyst for Ohio State’s success on the ground. And the Buckeyes ran behind Alabi and Davis. But that was to be expected, especially by Alabi. He doesn’t care about his role. He practices and prepares to start every week.
“My expectation is to always stay ready,” Alabi said. “No matter when my number is called. Whenever that is I tell myself: ‘Make sure you’re ready, because if you’re not ready, things can go bad.’
“That’s just my mindset right now. Just stay ready ”
As long as Alabi stays ready, Ohio State is in good hands along the offensive line, especially considering he has proven an ability to play both the left and the right side.
Ohio State never wants an injury from one of its tackles. But if attrition happens for the Buckeyes, they’re in good hands.
“It was a tribute to his attitude and what he’s done up to this point,” Day said. “In the world of people just wanting to go to another school or transfer and go into the portal and try to run to someplace else, this is a guy who stuck with it, kept a great attitude, and when the team called on him he stepped up and played really well.
“I thought we all felt he deserved to be player of the game.”
Now Josh Alabi will just wait and see when the next opportunity comes to step into that role.