What Zen Michalski’s Commitment Means for Ohio State’s 2021 Recruiting Class

By Zack Carpenter on October 3, 2020 at 7:25 pm
Zen Michalski

Greg Studrawa could not land five-star offensive tackle JC Latham, and it appears five-star Tristan Leigh will end up as a miss as well.

Studrawa, Ryan Day and offensive line assistant Kennedy Cook have landed an offensive tackle commitment they are very high on, though, in three-star offensive tackle Zen Michalski.

Following his announcement on Saturday night, we take a look at what the Floyd Central (Indiana) riser – ranked as the No. 625 overall player and No. 48 offensive tackle nationally and No. 10 player in Indiana's 2021 class – brings to the Buckeyes.

On the field

Just like Donovan Jackson and Ben Christman, Michalski possesses versatility in being able to play either guard or tackle. His athleticism is the No. 1 trait that jumps out on film and in person, and that should give him the ability to play either spot.

So should his familiarity with Ohio State's offense, as he says the Buckeyes run similar plays to what Floyd Central runs that get their offensive linemen out in space.

“They run a pretty similar offense to us,” Michalski told Eleven Warriors. “They utilize athletic offensive linemen a lot, and they do a lot of runs and screens like we do. So I think I’ll fit in really well there. We run spread and do a lot of heavy run. We’re a heavy zone-iso team. That’s mainly what we run. We throw the ball a lot too. What me and Coach Stud talk about a lot is we compare our schools a lot and compare our offenses. We talk about how I would fit a lot better there than in Louisville’s offense.”

Run blocking is one of Michalski's best attributes, but he does not necessarily classify himself as a power run blocker. 

“I feel like I’m definitely good with power running but also blocking out in space is something I’m good at and something I like to do,” Michalski said. “I know that I’m getting compared to Wisconsin’s offensive linemen. They obviously breed offensive linemen with straight power run teams.”

When it comes to pass blocking, Michalski admits he has a major need to develop that part of his game, which is what many high school offensive linemen need to improve the most heading into college.

“I’ve never really been taught pass pro, so I’m still learning that and figuring out how to play,” Michalski said. “We start in a three-point stance without our foot back. It’s kind of an awkward get-up and then start kick-stepping. That’s definitely where I need to get better at.”

Studrawa has compared Michalski to Nicholas Petit-Frere, the Buckeyes' likely starting right tackle in 2020, who was ranked the No. 1 offensive tackle and No. 7 overall player in America's 2018 recruiting class. We will find out this season how well Studrawa and Co. have done in developing Petit-Frere for his third season, but if it goes well, that will give Michalski an example of what he believes Studrawa can do for his own game once he gets into the program.

“I think just developing my technique and helping me understand the position more,” Michalski said of how Studrawa can develop him. “Obviously, I need to put on more weight and get a lot stronger. But I think, technique-wise, he’s gonna develop me in ways that a lot of other coaches couldn’t.

“I know they have their pick of anybody, and I’m definitely extremely grateful that they love me so much for their program. I think what they like the most is my athleticism for my size and that I’m relatively new to the offensive line. I don’t have a lot of bad habits, and they think I’m at a place where they’re confident they can teach me.”

Off the field

Michalski has a very brief history of playing offensive line and a brief history playing the sport altogether. He only began playing football in eighth grade, and he played defensive line up until a year ago.

Seeing him in action on Friday night, it was clear to see there is a learning curve he will have work around. He's still learning new things about the position every week, so he's certainly a developmental prospect who likely won't be a contributor before his third or fourth year.

“I’m just now, this week, starting to get some better pass set moves and getting better hand placement and learning better ways to hand fight and hand swipe and stuff,” Michalski said. “It’s still new to me. For me, I was pretty new to football still. I started in eighth grade, so I didn’t really have many football instincts, so when they put me on offense, I just got to do exactly what I’m told and it works out.”

The original reason he moved from one side of the trenches to the other is pretty simple – he grew up.

As a freshman, he was about 5-foot-11, 200 pounds and played defensive tackle. Between his freshman and sophomore year, he grew to about 6-foot-4 but dropped to 185 pounds. As a sophomore, he admits he was gangly and out of sorts. For a comparison, he makes a reference to “Family Guy.”

“So they played me at defensive end, and if I had to relate it to something I was like the Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubeman,” Michalski said. “I looked so weird out there. I couldn’t control myself. I was like a baby giraffe. The next offseason, I grew some more to 6-6. I put on roughly 55 pounds, something like that. I was at about 240, and they told me they wanted to switch me to the other side of the ball.

“I was more than willing to. I sucked at defensive end. I bulked up a lot, and throughout the season I lost weight. Our regional game, I was playing at about 217. After that, I started eating a lot and I got up to 288. I’ve been a lot better with weight this year, just keeping it on.”

“I know they have their pick of anybody, and I’m definitely extremely grateful that they love me so much for their program. I think what they like the most is my athleticism for my size and that I’m relatively new to the offensive line.” – Zen Michalski

Michalski is playing at 280 pounds now, but the Buckeyes want him to add about 35-40 pounds when he's in Columbus. Once he's in Ohio State's strength and nutrition program, he will have more resources dedicated to keeping that weight on.

Of course, with that comparison to Petit-Frere, who had trouble adding weight early in his career, there may be some extra sense of caution from Buckeye fans. But I think Michalski should be able to put that type of weight on without losing the athleticism that has him valued by Ohio State's staff.

In the class

As stated, Michalski is commitment No. 3 for the Buckeyes' 2021 offensive line haul. He's the lowest-rated of the three, though he is likely to shoot into the top-500 now that he's getting a second season at offensive tackle under his belt and that he's received more attention from Power 5 programs. 

As his rating stands right now, it's only enough for the Buckeyes to jump a couple points in their team composite rating. They now stand at 304.09 points, which trails Alabama (304.17 points) by a tiny margin for the nation's No. 1 class as the two programs keep battling for the recruiting crown.

It would not surprise me whatsoever if Ohio State's offensive line recruiting has now come to a close in this class, and that's the message that was delivered to Michalski – that he's the final offensive lineman the Buckeyes will be adding. Tristan Leigh is a take-no-matter-what player, but he is still trending away as LSU looks closer to locking him up.

Keep an eye on Massillon Washington three-star offensive tackle Terrence Rankl, a Pitt commit, as another in-state option who the Buckeyes are interested in. But they appear to be set on their 2021 offensive line class, with the exception of Leigh if he wants in.

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