Thayer Munford’s decision to use his extra year of eligibility and stay at Ohio State for a fifth year wasn’t driven by football.
Having already been the starting left tackle for the Buckeyes for the last three seasons, Munford had already done enough to ensure he’d be selected in the 2021 NFL draft. From that perspective, Munford didn’t need to play another year of college football.
Munford, however, made a promise to his mother during his senior year of high school that he would become the first member of his family to graduate from college. So the opportunity to complete his degree while playing one more season for the Buckeyes was one he felt he could not pass up.
“I really didn’t feel that comfortable yet for me leaving, because I knew I needed to get my degree before I had to move on. Because that’s what I promised my mom, and anybody that was around me throughout my whole senior year of high school,” Munford said last week. “I’m the first generation in my family just to graduate college or go to college, for real. And I’m honored to actually be that first generation, so I can tell it to my kids and my grandkids, so they can tell it to their kids. I’m grateful to be in this position that I am right now.”
Nate Moore, who became Munford’s legal guardian along with his wife Becca in 2016, believes Munford made the right decision.
“My advice was to come back to Ohio State,” said Moore, the head football coach at Massillon Washington. “At the end of the day, that’s his decision. He’s a grown man. But my advice to him certainly was come back to Ohio State. A: Get your degree. B: You didn’t accomplish every goal that you wanted to accomplish last year. And for whatever reason with the COVID stuff, maybe this was the silver lining for you personally that you get another shot to do some of those things.
“That degree from Ohio State, it’s gonna change his life, it’s gonna change his kids’ lives, it’s gonna change his grandkids’ lives … I’m happy to have been a part of the journey. And I know his mom MeLisa’s super proud of him. I know my wife Becca’s super proud of him. And it’s gonna be tears of joy watching him walk across that stage.”
While Ohio State encourages all of its players to take their academics seriously and graduate from the university, doing so is especially important for Munford because of his background. Raised by a single mother, MeLisa Thompson, in Cincinnati before he moved in with the Moores, Munford wants to set an example for others that they can succeed regardless of their circumstances – and he believes that starts with his diploma.
Munford – who chose to began wearing Munford Jr. on the back of his Ohio State jersey last season even though he does not have a close relationship with his father – eventually wants to work with young people directly and follow in Moore’s footsteps by becoming an athletic director and football coach.
“There’s more people like myself in worse situations than I was in, and I want to help them out, so they won’t be a statistic. And that’s my main goal for everybody,” said Munford, who is on track to graduate in August with a degree in sport industry. “If the kid that wants to come to me to actually go to college or be better at football, I want to help them out as best I can.”
Moore believes Munford would excel in either of those roles and/or as a teacher in a classroom.
“I think he’d make a great teacher,” Moore told Eleven Warriors. “One of the things that happened during the quarantine period (when Ohio State players were sent home last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic) was he had to come here, and he was able to work with our other sons, Terrence Rankl and Eli Moore. And did a phenomenal job helping them develop while we were all stuck under one roof for the quarantine. So I think he’s got a real talent for it.
“And then being an athletic director, when you’re a college football player at the Division I level, especially somewhere like Ohio State, you have to be very organized. Your time management skills have to be on point. So between that and his experience in the thick of it, playing college football and understanding the things that go on behind the scenes, I think it’d be a great career for him. I think the sky’s the limit there.”
If all goes according to plan, though, Munford won’t be pursuing that career until after a lengthy career in the NFL. And while his choice to play one more year at Ohio State was driven by academics, he believes another season with the Buckeyes can make him more prepared to play football at the next level, too.
Asked specifically what he can improve upon this offseason, Munford answered broadly: “Everything.”
“It’s not just one thing, it’s everything that I need to work on. I gotta improve from last season,” Munford said. “I’m not the person to be like, ‘Oh, I’m complacent where I’m at.’ That’s not me. That’s nobody on this team. Everybody wants to get better. And I just don’t see myself at that level yet.”
“I knew I needed to get my degree before I had to move on. Because that’s what I promised my mom, and anybody that was around me throughout my whole senior year of high school.”– Thayer Munford on his decision to return
Even if Munford is just as good as he was last year, his return will provide a major boost to Ohio State’s 2021 offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Munford had the highest grade last season of any returning tackle in college football, and his return along with right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere gives the Buckeyes a pair of experienced bookends who were already excellent in 2020.
That said, Ryan Day has already seen improvement from Munford this offseason. Specifically, Day said “his leadership has really stepped up in the last few months.”
“He understands, being from the state of Ohio, what the Buckeyes mean in this state, what the brotherhood’s all about here, and he’s kind of the elder statesman now in that O-line room,” Day said of Munford. “And I think he likes that role. I think he appreciates the guys that have come before, and he wants to uphold that standard. Been very, very impressed with him over the last few months.”
When Ohio State signed Munford in 2017, it looked like the Buckeyes were taking a chance on a project. The No. 28 offensive tackle in his recruiting class, Munford received a late offer from Ohio State, for which he had to both improve his grades and decrease his weight during his senior year of high school. Yet Munford became one of the first members of his recruiting class to play a major role for the Buckeyes, earning the starting left tackle job as a sophomore, and is now poised to become Ohio State’s first four-year starter at left tackle since Tyson Walter (1997-2001).
Moore credits Munford’s success at Ohio State to “a very high degree of self-motivation.”
“That’s probably one of the biggest things that I’ve seen with Thayer growing from a freshman in high school to where he is now is how he takes ownership of everything that he has to do to prepare himself for the Big Ten season, to accomplish his goals of being the best offensive tackle in college football and all those things,” Moore said. “That’s a quality that a lot of people lack, surprisingly. And to see him take that on, I would say I started really noticing that probably right around his sophomore year at Ohio State was that he was taking ownership. It wasn’t the coaches telling him he had to do this, or me having to get all on him, he was doing it. So that’s a big one, and I’m really proud of him for that.”