TreVeyon Henderson was the more highly touted recruit, to be sure, but in many ways, he and Evan Pryor were thought of as a tandem upon entering the Buckeye program in January 2021.
Henderson committed to Ohio State just 11 days after Pryor in March 2020, and the pair were roommates right off the bat upon arriving on campus in Columbus. Once the pads came on in preseason camp last season, though, the separation came quickly.
While Henderson was off to the races, setting Ohio State freshman records and earning the starting job in Tony Alford’s running back room by the third game of his college career, Pryor was still stuck in neutral. The North Carolina native received just 21 carries and ended up redshirting a year ago while Henderson became a Freshman All-American and Doak Walker Award semifinalist.
“I think I've proven that I'm a weapon to use and I can hurt people. I can do different things, I can score points, so I definitely proved that, I believe.”– Evan Pryor
Pryor was happy to see the success of his close friend and teammate, but the feeling was a bittersweet one.
“I think it would have been harder if me and Trey weren't as close. Me and Trey developed a special relationship, that's like my brother to me,” Pryor said after Ohio State’s second preseason practice on Friday. “Seeing him win, seeing him do all that stuff, it made me happy. It motivated me to come have a better Tuesday, because I know he just ran for 270-something yards (in Henderson’s first start against Tulsa) on Saturday. So I'm coming back Tuesday trying to show the coaches I can do this too. So it's all competition. I'm happy for Trey and everything he's got coming his way and what he did.”
Going into his second season, Pryor’s ready to enjoy a little success of his own. Touches may still be hard to come by, with Henderson and Miyan Williams both likely to remain ahead of him on the depth chart, but Pryor’s skill set as a shifty pass-catcher stands out among the rest of the Buckeye running backs.
Pryor had to make strides over the offseason, physically, to prepare his body for the highest level of college football. But Alford said he’s done that, and his spring game performance was the first indication.
“Evan wasn't ready last year. I'm sure we could have put him in some situations and he might have had some success. But overall, the overall deal, he wasn't ready and I think he would echo that,” Alford said Friday after practice. “I think he is now. You need to get roughed up a little bit and (bulk) up with (Mickey Marotti) in that room, and he did. He's changed his body kind of like I talked about with those other guys. They don’t look like high school football players anymore. His mental approach to the game has also been amped up. So I'm very excited about the prospects for him and having a couple good weeks here and see where we go.”
In 13 touches in the spring game, Pryor racked up 106 total yards and a touchdown. That output included both a 22-yard run and a 35-yard reception. That performance was a testament to the work Pryor put in over the course of his first year, and it also opened up many sets of eyes to the possibility that he could contribute on offense in 2022.
Evan Pryor pic.twitter.com/fxJ2Z2pVuQ— Eleven Warriors (@11W) April 16, 2022
Given another several months of summer training and the “hard shit” he went through with Marotti and company in the weight room, Pryor could put himself into even better position before the start of the season. According to Alford, that’s exactly what he’s done in the opening two days of preseason practice.
“I think he's toughened up and he's hardened his body up and he's gained weight and strength. I think he can present some issues in that he can run and catch,” Alford said. “Just in the first couple days, he's made a couple plays down the field with the ball, making plays with the ball and things like that. So we got to find ways. We got playmakers, we got to find ways to get them on the field and make plays.”
Pryor knows he’s making progress, and he’s heard the same feedback from the Buckeye coaches. But he still isn’t anywhere near where he wants to go eventually, which is why he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself following a solid spring.
Still, Pryor said he’s beginning to earn a reputation as a home-run threat at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“They let me know that my spring went well, but didn't toot my horn too much to the point where my head got too big,” Pryor said. “Still, the message was ‘Put your head down, keep working.’ And you know, that's all I've been doing this summer. Just keep my head down working.
“I think I've proven that I'm a weapon to use and I can hurt people. I can do different things, I can score points, so I definitely proved that, I believe.”
Pryor said he feels as though he’s “still paying my dues” around the Buckeye program, and several of the older players still “try” him because of his youth and inexperience. Heading into his “actual” freshman season in 2022, though, Pryor has the chance to earn a bit more respect around the locker room.
He never quite got out of neutral in his first season with the Buckeyes, but Pryor plans to hit the ground running when given the opportunity this year.
“Seeing green grass anywhere I see it on the field (excites me),” Pryor said. “Any grass; fake grass, real grass, if I see it's open, I'm gonna run there and turn it on.”