COLUMBUS — A pair of Ohio State veterans lingered as the last two players in the crimson confetti shower in South Florida on Monday night.
Jonathon Cooper simply didn’t want to take his uniform off with the Buckeyes for the final time, so he sat alone on the Buckeyes bench while Alabama celebrated. Eventually he was embraced by Thayer Munford, another senior who might have reasonably expected to have wrapped up his career with the program.
But shortly after they walked with arms thrown over each other’s shoulders back to the locker room, the first public hint that one of those seniors would actually be returning for another title shot as Cooper described his emotional conversation with the star left tackle.
“Didn’t say much, just how bad to hurt to see all that,” Cooper said. “But I think I was just telling him: Get there next year. You know, keep working hard, keep going. I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for him.
“That was basically the conversation. Just talking about how much we care and love each other.”
Cooper’s love for the program has always been clear, which is why he was picked to wear the first Block O jersey this season. And with Munford now electing to stick around to graduate and chase another championship, he immediately becomes a short-list option to inherit that role as the embodiment of what Ohio State stands for on and off the field.
What Thayer Munford means to Ohio State
There once was a time where Ohio State had concerns that Thayer Munford could leave the program early after he earned a starting job as a sophomore and was building momentum to become one of the best tackles in the country. Injuries slowed down that progress, and while the way he battled through a back issue left no doubt about his toughness, Munford clearly wasn’t himself as a junior. That wound up giving him more motivation last season, and he responded by becoming a rock up front and one of the program’s most consistent performers.
Protecting the blind side is critical no matter who is at quarterback, and Munford almost never lost individual matchups or allowed pressure from his spot. And once he got fully healthy, his physicality was again clear as a run blocker as Ohio State won another Big Ten title and dominated Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Throw in his leadership, selflessness and work ethic and the Buckeyes received a huge bonus with Munford returning.
How Buckeyes offensive line might look now
Ohio State has one starting tackle now confirmed back in the mix, and it will likely have the other as well once Nicholas Petit-Frere reveals his decision. Those are two massive building blocks for the Buckeyes, especially since there will be a shakeup inside with Josh Myers already gone and Wyatt Davis a lock to do the same. But having two proven veterans on the edge is the ideal way to head into spring camp as position coach Greg Studrawa evaluates his options and figures out the right way to utilize the impressive depth and versatility the Buckeyes have recruited.
Paris Johnson didn’t get as much experience as a true freshman as he would have wanted, but clearly he was making a move late in the year as Ohio State turned to him off the bench at guard. With Munford and Petit-Frere back, Johnson will likely be spending a year on the interior as the Buckeyes make sure the future star is on the field. Harry Miller is projected to slide to center, though Ohio State could have a fascinating competition there with Matthew Jones and Luke Wypler both in the mix for more work. Dawand Jones might not claim a starting spot coming out of camp, but he could play either guard or tackle and would figure to be an invaluable safety net in reserve.
Evaluating impact of Thayer Munford returning
Considering how much Thayer Munford has already given to the program, nobody would have blamed him for moving on to the next level. Ohio State surely had plans already in place for that eventual outcome, especially since Munford accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl last month.
That will make his decision to stick around even sweeter for the Buckeyes, who now won’t have to face the challenge of replacing a third starter up front this offseason. Munford is one of the best offensive tackles in the nation, and his return certainly boosts the chances that Ohio State can get back to the title game again next year — and finish the deal.
Bottom line: Thayer Munford coming back for Ohio State is a huge bonus, and it sets the foundation for what should be one of the best offensive lines in the nation.