Even though he arrived at Ohio State as a five-star recruit and as the No. 7 overall prospect from the class of 2018, Nicholas Petit-Frere played in only three games as a true freshman.
After seeing playing time as the backup right tackle in the second half of the Buckeyes’ September wins against Oregon State, Rutgers and Tulane, Petit-Frere did not play in another game for the rest of the year – in part because the Buckeyes never took their starting offensive line off the field in another game the rest of the season, and in part to preserve Petit-Frere’s redshirt.
The highest-rated offensive line recruit that Ohio State has signed since 247Sports launched its composite rankings in 2000, Petit-Frere has the athleticism, length and skill to eventually be a star offensive tackle for the Buckeyes. But he came to Ohio State with a lot to learn, and still has a long way to go in his development.
When Petit-Frere arrived at Ohio State last summer, the 6-foot-6 tackle was listed at just 272 pounds. By the end of the season, Petit-Frere was listed at 288 pounds. Starting offensive linemen at Ohio State, though, are typically north of 300 pounds – so the biggest thing Petit-Frere has had to work on, and still has to work on, is bulking up.
“That’s what I’ve been hearing from a lot of the coaches,” Petit-Frere said in the locker room after the Rose Bowl. “I’m still a little bit light right now. So they say that if I do that, they really do think I have a chance for me to compete here, because they think that technique-wise and like understanding the game and effort-wise, I’m just really showing that on the field. It’s just that my weight is the one thing that they want me to get up.”
As a summer enrollee, Petit-Frere didn’t have the benefit of going through a full offseason conditioning program and spring practice at Ohio State last year, so there were many learning experiences this past fall.
“There was a lot of ‘Welcome to Ohio State’ moments,” Petit-Frere said. “From the first team run, that was a welcome to Ohio State. First workout, first Team Up North workout, first practice. Just everything that I just haven’t been a part of yet, that was new here, was just ‘Welcome to Ohio State.’”
He enjoyed his first season as a Buckeye, though, as he began to build close bonds with his teammates – in particular, his fellow offensive linemen and his roommates, fellow freshmen Jeremy Ruckert, Jaelen Gill and Alex Williams – and was along for the ride as Ohio State went 11-1 in the regular season and won a Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl.
“Being here is just awesome,” Petit-Frere said. “Knowing that we have awesome guys, and being able to get a chance to compete at the Rose Bowl is an amazing experience. So I’m very excited to be a part of this.”
While Petit-Frere still has to get bigger and stronger – and winter conditioning, which started for the Buckeyes last week, is a big opportunity for him to do that – he said his first seven months of working with Mickey Marotti and the rest of Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff have already made a big difference.
“I’ve gotten so strong in the weight room with Coach Mick. And coach Mick’s noticed it too,” Petit-Frere said. “Around the middle or near the end of the regular season, he was telling me, ‘You still need to add weight but you’ve gotten so strong.’ Because I remember I think back during our bye week, he told me and he told my mom, I’ve gotten like two pounds stronger and like two reps better on something I did. So I could tell that there was big improvements coming.”
“There was a lot of ‘Welcome to Ohio State’ moments.” – Nicholas Petit-Frere on his first season as a Buckeye
Looking ahead to this spring, Petit-Frere should get his first opportunity to compete for a starting spot on Ohio State’s offensive line. With Isaiah Prince off to the NFL, there’s an opening in the lineup at right tackle, and Petit-Frere is expected to compete for that spot with Joshua Alabi (and potentially Branden Bowen, depending on whether Bowen moves back to guard).
Alabi, a fifth-year senior who started at left tackle for the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, will probably enter spring as the frontrunner to start at right tackle because of his experience. Petit-Frere has sky-high upside, though, and could prove to be the best man for the job if he performs well in spring practices and fall camp.
Either way, Petit-Frere’s shot to earn a starting job should come sooner than later, given that Alabi and Bowen are both entering their final year of eligibility and Thayer Munford is already a junior.
Petit-Frere knows this offseason is crucial toward putting himself in position to make that happen.
“This offseason is very huge,” Petit-Frere said. “All the coaches made it a big fact that this offseason is going to be very big for me. So it’s a big time for me to learn the plays, get more adjusted to the program.”
In addition to starting to master the Buckeyes’ offense and developing physically, Petit-Frere is also looking to improve upon his technique.
“Just use my body better. Play a little bit lower. And try to have more of a base,” Petit-Frere said. “That’s the big thing I want to do. So especially with me adding weight on, I think that will be easier for me, but that’s the big thing I want to do.”
At this point, Petit-Fere is still a work in progress, and almost entirely unproven at the collegiate level. Once he’s had a little more time to develop, though, his teammates from this past season are confident that he will be able to take advantage of his star potential.
“He's a great kid,” Prince said before the Rose Bowl. “I think he has a really good chance to be a good football player at Ohio State. He's just young, and he has a lot to learn.”