Evan Pryor never expected to redshirt his true freshman year.
The 5-foot-10 running back from North Carolina fully admitted as much after Ohio State’s second spring football practice. Last fall, Pryor appeared in four games for OSU, the maximum the NCAA allows for a player while still allowing them to redshirt. Pryor totaled 98 rushing yards on 21 carries and one rushing touchdown in 2021 while looking up at TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, Master Teague and before his injury, Marcus Crowley on the depth chart.
“It is what it is,” Pryor said of redshirting his 2021 season. “The team needed me to do what I had to do, which was stay another year, get ready. So that's what I did.”
Midway through last year, Pryor learned the hard way something had to change. The former four-star, top-100 recruit had just had his most productive game of the season on Oct. 23, a 54-7 road victory over Indiana. Pryor actually led the team in carries that evening, gaining 48 yards on a season-high 11 carries.
The next morning, Pryor said he was “sore, tore up and everything hurt.” He was pulled aside by OSU’s staff and told “that’s why you need to put on weight. This is why this offseason is big for you.”
Pryor took those words to heart and dedicated himself to gaining strength. At the start of spring practice, Pryor said he is up to 202 pounds as a result from his workouts, a gain of 10 pounds from where he started in the fall of 2021.
“Last season talking to coach (Tony) Alford, being able to run it between the tackles, you've got to be able to take (a hit),” Pryor said. “So, it's probably tough to take one at 192 pounds, especially playing Big Ten football, so that was something we came in and made an emphasis this offseason. Even toward the end of last season, putting on weight. Just making sure when it came down to it, running between the tackles, it wasn't a problem if I had to get hit or whatever the case may be.”
Besides countless hours in the weight room, Pryor made adjustments to his diet. Pryor sacrificed meals from one of his favorite fast food restaurants, Cane’s. He also changed his Chick-Fil-A order from fried nuggets to grilled nuggets, ordered with water instead of soda.
“Man,” an exasperated Pryor said after detailing his diet changes. “I know it will all be worth it, though.”
Pryor hopes to factor into a backfield that is clearly going to feature Henderson as the feature back after he ran for 1,255 yards last season. Williams is likely to be the first off the bench when Henderson needs a breather, as he opened 2021 as OSU’s starter. That also doesn’t factor in Crowley, who is still recovering from a knee injury and will not participate in spring practices, or incoming four-star freshman Dallan Hayden.
But so far, both Ryan Day and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson are optimistic Pryor can play a role in the Buckeyes’ offense in 2022.
“Evan Pryor, he had a really good offseason,” Day said on the first day of spring practice. “So we’re looking forward to seeing him (this spring).”
Wilson said Pryor’s physical tools had already been on display since he set foot on campus, but performing well in practice day after day will be the key to taking that next step.
“I'd say consistency,” Kevin Wilson said earlier this spring when asked what more he needs to see out of Pryor. “Just keep doing what you're doing. Don't even need it any better. Just keep stacking up a day. Take those workout days, now do an inside drill. Play with that confidence. So, let's just see him play. He had a tremendous offseason. If he just stays healthy, stays consistent, he's got a chance to have a nice big role with the offense this year.”
Although Ohio State has only practiced twice so far this spring, both times without pads, before taking a week off for spring break, Pryor said he’s already noticing a difference in practice after his improved conditioning.
“In just these two practices, I can just tell what I did with my body helped me sustain being in practice,” Pryor said. “Last season, practice made me get tired after like period eight or 10, I was gassed. I just don't feel the same this year. This year I feel I can go all 17 or 19 periods, whatever we have, at full speed.”
Pryor is ready to show off his new and improved physicality, both in pass protection and team drills, when Ohio State puts the pads on this week.
“I think my pass blocking has taken a big step this offseason. It's something me and coach Alford really just keyed in on, so it'll be interesting to see what happens we get the pads on.
“I feel like I'm more of a physical runner. I can't wait to show that. ... I feel like I'm more of a physical runner, not afraid to get my hands dirty. But can also get it done on the edge as well. Things that I'm known for doing.”
The North Carolina native credited both Williams and Henderson for helping him develop, and said observing their seasons helped prepare him for 2022. Williams said Pryor’s improvement is noticeable.
“He’s playing with more confidence,” Miyan Williams said of what he’s noticed from Pryor from last year. “Like, past two practices this spring, he's just been playing with more confidence.”