COLUMBUS — Ohio State captain Josh Myers stopped himself for just a moment.
He wanted to carefully measure the words he was about to use about Buckeyes freshman Paris Johnson very carefully.
Then the Rimington Trophy finalist and starting center proceeded, full-speed ahead with what he was thinking. In doing so, he cut the breaks on the hype train that has been kept under wraps all season and is also now barreling down the tracks.
“Paris is an extremely talented football player and offensive lineman,” Myers said during Thursday’s Media Day availability. “He has the right skill set. He has what God has given him, and God has given him a lot. And he also has the mindset.
“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 before he leaves here then he’s screwed something up, because he should be by the time he leaves. In my opinion, he’s that talented.”
Only four Buckeyes have ever won the Outland Trophy. All four have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, two — Orlando Pace and Jim Parker — are in the NFL Hall of Fame as well. Those expectations have crushed plenty of former college players, including a number of guys who’ve walked through Ohio State’s hallways. That doesn’t bother Johnson, it motivates him.
“He’s become obsessed with the desire to be great,” former Cincinnati Bengals great and current NFL Hall of Fame snub Willie Anderson told Lettermen Row. “He understands the expectation and he loves the expectations. He loves when people doubt him, and he loves to prove the people who’ve supported him right.”
Anderson has seen Johnson’s development first-hand, working closely with him since the end of the Cincinnati native’s freshman season at St. Xavier High School. The Buckeyes freshman spent a week that summer in Atlanta, unsure of where his football career was going to take him. He was not anything like the prospect he became a year later.
“He was a goofy ninth-grader, he couldn’t walk and chew gum,” the three-time NFL All-Pro said. “In a week when he stayed at my house, he tried to get everything he could have gotten out of me. But I told him, ‘The movies may make it look like everything Mr. Miyagi taught the Karate Kid everything in a few days, but that’s not real life.’
“He had a lot to learn and I told people before, the reason Paris became the No. 1 lineman? He may give credit to me but that credit goes to P.J. He just became obsessed with becoming a really good player.”
Johnson always had the physical tools to be a really good player. He’s been in the 6-foot-7 range since he was 15-years-old, but that’s never enough to make it at a place like Ohio State. Even coming out of high school ranked where Johnson was nationally, the adjustment to college life is something that takes time to get used to. That’s where Myers, Wyatt Davis, Nick Petit-Frere and Harry Miller — all 5-star prospects during their prep careers — come in.
Playing big-time, Big Ten football requires patience. And it requires a commitment to the craft in a way even beyond what Paris Johnson tapped into high school.
“Paris would be a starting offensive tackle at 99 percent of the universities in the country this season,” Myers said. “I think part of our role, and the reason why I said I’m not sure I should say [the Outland Trophy stuff] or not, is because he is a young guy and he has things he needs to improve on.
“I think me, Thayer and Wyatt have just tried to keep his head in it, which he’s done a great job of doing. It was a great year for him to just continue to get better, and he has just all year. He’s gone hard, and he’s been committed to getting better.”
The desire to keep getting better has continued to fuel Paris Johnson. In conversations with his mentor following his surprise insertion at guard against Clemson, the focus wasn’t about anything but what’s next. If that’s more time in the national title game against Alabama because of injury concerns for Davis, Miller and Matthew Jones, so be it. If it’s the offseason that begins when that game ends? Bring it on.
“He’s excited about this game against Alabama,” Anderson said Wednesday. “But he’s also wondering when we can get work in after the season. Most freshman don’t think that way.”
For Ohio State, the goal has been simple for its talented freshman. Get him acclimated, let him learn the ropes and be ready to set him loose when the time comes. The Buckeyes got a glimpse of that against Clemson, but the best — Outland Trophy or not — is definitely yet to come.
“He can process so much, so fast,” Anderson said. “It’s a great trait to process, to be able regurgitate it back up. That’s the biggest and most underrated thing about him. And training, of course, is good. But it’s all about reps and knowing that practice, when you’re in the first group at a place like Ohio State and the lineage that comes with being in it? Taking those reps are needed.
“Once you get past this, let him go through spring and off-season, where he’s in the left tackle stance — I played guard my freshman year and nothing I did there carried over at tackle — you’ll see the growth and development jump even faster.”
It won’t be a long ride in Columbus for Paris Johnson, but the track is set for it to be a really good one.