COLUMBUS — In the rush, celebration and jubilation in the locker room after Ohio State’s come-from-behind win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, Nicholas Petit-Frere stood near his locker, still wearing his game-worn undershirt and the commemorative championship hat.
After a night that was set to be ordinary for Petit-Frere — warm up, stand on the sideline for the entire game — but wasn’t, he was still gathering his belongings and thinking about his new experience of playing in a conference-clinching win.
Of course, the former five-star offensive tackle from Tampa can point to game experience from the past and smile about it. But this was different. When Wyatt Davis went down with injury, Branden Bowen had to slide to right guard. Petit-Frere was on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in a huge spot for the Buckeyes.
“We were all prepared for it,” Petit-Frere told Lettermen Row. “We’ve been practicing the whole week, if somebody went down, what would happen. We did that for Team Up North week, just switched the rotations. … But it’s the Big Ten championship, so it’s a big game with big moments.
“It was kind of crazy.”
All throughout training camp, Petit-Frere’s name was buzzing around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Lettermen Row even projected him as the starting right tackle in July. Ohio State coach Ryan Day went as far as calling that position battle between he and Bowen ‘neck-and-neck’ during a media session on Aug. 10. But Petit-Frere lost that job to Bowen, a former starter who came back from injury to beat Petit-Frere in one of the best battles of camp.
Petit-Frere used that as learning moment.
“It prepared me a lot because I learned a lot,” he said. “There was such a big gap between freshman year and sophomore year, in terms of the stuff I learned and technique, stuff like that. Even when I lost the job, me, Bowen, Thayer [Munford] and Josh [Alabi], we all learn from each other about different techniques and how to become better players no matter what. So whatever happened, it was just a way for me to get better and learn to prepare.”
Playing time isn’t new to Petit-Frere. That happened already this season when Munford was a game-time decision against Northwestern. Munford, the starting left tackle, couldn’t go. Petit-Frere, who had practiced solely at right tackle this season after that training camp battle, had to flip his entire routine from right to left.
That marked Petit-Frere’s first start at Ohio Sate after earning first-team reps through that week of practice. That was a great moment for him in the 52-3 rout of Northwestern on the road.
“I would say it’s huge, but every rep is meaningful in the end, because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to get better,” he said after the win over Northwestern on Oct. 18. “We’re all trying to improve, find a way to get better. Whether you’re with the ones or the twos, or you get reps at the beginning of the game or the end of the game, I’m still trying to improve. ”
As the season has gone on, Petit-Frere feels like more progress has been made. Maybe that’s why for those few plays without Davis, Ohio State leaned on Petit-Frere to protect hobbled quarterback Justin Fields’ blind side instead of the senior Alabi, who has more experience than the younger Petit-Frere.
Now, the only chance Petiti-Frere has of playing time in the College Football Playoff game against No. 3 Clemson will be if somebody gets hurt. That isn’t what anybody wants at Ohio State, and Petit-Frere certainly isn’t hoping that’s the reason for his presence.
But if he happens to get called into the game for whatever reason, he now has the ability to rely on big-game experience because he earned that against Wisconsin.
“It’s something that I’ve dreamed about, that I have wanted to do,” he said. “That’s the reason why I came here, for me to get a chance to play in the College Football Playoff.”
The beginning milestone moments and learning moments are over for Nicholas Petit-Frere. As Ohio State prepares for the Fiesta Bowl and Petit-Frere builds momentum for a potential starting job next season, moments like his appearance in the Big Ten title game will likely become normal.
There are only big moments remaining.