The Hurry-Up: How Ohio State's Staff Discovered Zen Michalski, a Developmental Prospect Who Could Help Buckeyes Down the Line

By Zack Carpenter on January 5, 2021 at 6:30 pm
Zen Michalski

The Hurry-Up is your nightly dose of updates from the Ohio State football recruiting trail, keeping tabs on the latest from commits and targets from around the country.

Discovering Michalski

When we pieced together the recruiting rankings comparison between Ohio State and Clemson, probably the item that stood out the most was the disparity along the offensive lines for both teams. The Buckeyes had a massive advantage talent-wise/rankings-wise heading into that important football contest with four of the five starters ranked in the top 55 overall and in the top two of their position.

However, there was one outlier that Greg Studrawa's group had, and that came in the form of starting left tackle Thayer Munford, who came to Columbus as the No. 285 overall player and No. 28 offensive tackle in the 2017 class.

Many who have been following recruiting closely know the story of Munford's recruitment to Ohio State. Once he lost 40 pounds in the offseason between his junior and senior seasons in high school – and after missing eight games of his final season due to transfer rules – Munford finally earned an Ohio State offer in the 11th hour and signed in February 2017.

Eventually, Munford worked his way up and has been a three-year starter, and he is coming off his sixth time being named a champion for Ohio State after its win over Clemson.

Munford wasn't a completely developmental prospect (he did, after all, earn a starting job in just his second year on campus). But there could be a prospect in the 2021 class who follows a similar path to the field for the Buckeyes throughout his career (and give them a starter along the offensive line years down the line who becomes that outlier, rankings-wise, in a similar vein as Munford).

Zen Michalski is one of the Buckeyes' lowest-ranked signees in the class, coming in at No. 318 overall and No. 23 at offensive tackle. 

In direct opposition to Munford's weight loss story, the 6-foot-6, 295-pound Michalski had to pack on a bunch of weight (about 70 pounds or so) over the past year to finally get a look from the Buckeyes.

“A big thing was a lot of people didn’t think I would gain any weight or be able to put any weight on my frame because I wasn’t very wide or anything,” Michalski told Eleven Warriors in a December interview. “Just growing, I got a lot wider, and I’m 295 right now and feel really good at 295.”

Had he not gained that weight and proved that he could keep the weight on and still have his athleticism at 295 pounds, the Buckeyes likely never would have come calling. In fact, the story of how Mark Pantoni and Co. discovered him was one of the more interesting facts to come out of the December early signing period.

“This summer, since we had so much free time with no camps and no visits, I gave my staff a project and said, hey, let’s go through and each guy gets a conference, let’s have each guy go through their commit list and find some guys who may be good to track,” Pantoni said in December. “(Ohio State player personnel assistant) Zane Stevens was actually the one who had the ACC. We had a list of guys, and Zen was one of them. So congrats to Zane, he discovered him. We did our homework and found out he lost all this weight and then the first few games we started watching the senior film and saw what we wanted to see. That’s when we took him to Coach Stud and really got to know Zen. Everything checked out, and we’re really glad we got him here.”

Why Michalski picked OSU

Why Michalski ultimately decided to come to Ohio State was a fair question to ask him. He had been a commit to Louisville – a school less than 30 minutes away from his Floyd Central (Indiana) High School – since April before flipping to Ohio State in November. He had the opportunity to go to the Cardinals and potentially see the field as early as his freshman or sophomore season, possibly even becoming a starter in his second season.

So why pick Ohio State? Why pick a place where you realistically won't see the field until at least year three but quite possibly year four?

“At Louisville, the coaches were telling me – and I don’t know how much of this is true – I could’ve been on the field as a freshman or been a backup and start as a sophomore because they were in dire need of linemen,” Michalski said. “But I’d still much, much rather have quality over quantity in years playing and be the best I could possibly be for one or two years instead of being mediocre and not develop and not really be ready to be on the field for four years. I really want to get a shot at going to the league after college. Obviously, the best place to get developed and get ready for that is at Ohio State.”

And here's another similarity between Michalski and Munford:

Munford came in as the third-lowest ranked prospect in the 2017 class just as Michalski is in the 2021 cycle (with the exception of punter Jesse Mirco, who does not have a composite ranking). Munford joined two players in his class seen as likely interior offensive line prospects in Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers who were ranked much higher. It's the same type of situation Michalski is in by joining Donovan Jackson and Ben Christman in signing with Ohio State, and he's relishing the opportunity to get into the program alongside those two. 

“Those guys are awesome,” Michalski said. “Me and Ben talk, me and Donovan talk. We were in a lot of Zoom call. We had one with me, him, Coach (Kennedy) Cook and Ben just last (month) where we were talking and just hanging out and seeing how everyone was doing. I think we’re gonna fit in really well together. I can definitely see them being lifelong friends that you play and work on the field with.”

Rice's top three

Michalski provides some depth and development opportunity for the Buckeyes, but because they missed out on some big-time offensive tackles in the 2021 class, it makes the position the No. 1 area of importance for the 2022 class.

One of the highest-priority targets is five-star offensive tackle Zach Rice, the No. 21 overall player and No. 1 offensive tackle in America who provided a recruiting update on Monday night.

The Virginia soon-to-be senior is down to four schools in Ohio State, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Florida. Of course, him putting "top 3" is a bit confusing considering there's four schools listed there, but the Buckeyes are almost certainly one of the final schools being considered.

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