Tyler Friday’s Leadership Amid ACL Injury, Resolve To Return Earned Him Captain Status For Ohio State

By Griffin Strom on August 18, 2022 at 8:35 am
Tyler Friday

Just three Ohio State defenders earned the distinction of team captain ahead of the 2022 season, and only one from its veteran-laden defensive line.

Given that premise ahead of time, one might have assumed returning defensive end Zach Harrison – a first-time captain last season – would hold that title again during his senior season. When Ohio State announced its captains after this past Saturday’s preseason scrimmage, though, that was not the case.

Buckeye players bestowed the honor upon a player who neither played a snap last year nor expected the status of captain in general. But in battling back from an ACL tear to return to the fold this season, fifth-year defensive end Tyler Friday earned the captain tag just as much for his leadership off the field as he did for his play on it.

“Oh, it's a big honor. It was something I wasn't even expecting myself, and to come off an injury last year to get that kind of title this year, it's a blessing,” Friday said during a post-practice interview Tuesday. “I couldn't even process it at the moment, I was thinking about practice. It kind of just happened right after the scrimmage. But now that everything's settled down, it's a great feeling.”

The announcement was just as surprising for Friday’s parents, who might have worried their son had suffered another preseason setback when he alerted them that he had something to tell them after practice. After all, it was nearly a year to the day Friday suffered a season-ending injury in 2021.

Upon receiving the news this weekend, the Fridays were moved to tears.

“It was a crazy reaction from my parents. They wasn't expecting that at all,” Friday said. “I just kind of just told them they was gonna be getting a call soon, so they didn't know what that meant – good news or bad news. So once they finally heard it, they was excited, very emotional. I wasn't with them, but my mom said they did cry after the phone call.”

"Friday's a guy that the older guys, the other leaders go to for advice and go to for when they got something on their mind."– Zach Harrison on Tyler Friday

As for why Friday was voted a team captain, the New Jersey native told media members “you gotta ask my teammates.” Unsurprisingly, they had plenty to say.

Among the linemen interviewed after practice Tuesday, sixth-year defensive tackle Jerron Cage has been in the Buckeye program the longest. Even though Cage has been in Columbus longer than Friday, he spoke about him with the type of reverence afforded to someone he looks up to.

“Oh, that's Mr. Captain. I mean, just everything. Just the man he is, the character he has,” Cage said. “You just got to know Tyler Friday to know the story has, and that's not my place to tell. But I admire him a lot. … Tyler Friday is a dog. So that's all I'm gonna say."

Sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau didn’t know Friday long before his injury. But everything he’s seen from the veteran since that point has only proven his leadership ability as Friday has taken several of Ohio State’s young linemen under his wing over the past year.

“Oh, man, that's the guy. You guys heard his story, he came in hurt and just came back grinding. You know, he came back like he never left,” Tuimoloau said. “A lot of these dudes missed him from last year and to see him out there is great. Just to see him out there, we missed him. But Tyler deserved it, he did everything to become a captain.”

Harrison has spent his entire college career with Friday by his side, and said he’s been consistently reliable throughout the past four years. Even as a former captain himself, Harrison said Friday has been a shoulder to lean on in times of uncertainty.

“Friday's been a leader since the day I walked in the building. Friday's a guy that the older guys, the other leaders go to for advice and go to for when they got something on their mind,” Harrison said. “I go to Friday when things aren't going right. And I know that Friday is gonna have my back and I got Friday's back. So having him as a captain and being one of the leaders on the team, it's like I expected it from day one that he was going to be one of those guys who put the team on his back and just led us to where we want to go.”

As unfortunate as it was, Friday’s injury – and the mental resolve he displayed while recovering from it – only strengthened his leadership ability. Rather than sulk amid a season lost, Friday remained an integral part of Ohio State’s defensive line room, whether those outside the program could see it or not.

“Yeah, it was definitely difficult. But I was able to learn a lot of lessons from it on the field and off the field,” Friday said. “And that also helped me become a better leader. … It was very difficult, but I got a great team here full of brothers. Instead of one brother, I got over 100 here at Ohio State. So during the tough times I just leaned on them and my family and kept my faith in God and I was able to get through it.”

“Being that I couldn't impact the game on the field, I had to find a way to impact the game off the field. And I was just using my voice, talking to the young guys, making sure everybody's just keeping themselves sane.”

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson said Friday was already becoming a standout leader for the program before his injury. He wasn’t surprised to see him earn the title of captain over the weekend.

“We thought Tyler had great leadership skills before he got hurt. I mean, he was really emerging as a leader. And I think he turned the table when he got hurt and how hard he worked in the rehab to get back to where he was,” Johnson said. “If you saw him every morning, every day grinding to get himself back. And that was impressive to a lot of kids. It really did, it set the bar for who he was as a young man. And I think that's why his teammates voted him as captain.”

On the field, Friday figures to have his work cut out for him if he expects to see consistent first-team snaps in 2022. Harrison’s been a consistent starter for the past two seasons, Sawyer and Tuimoloau appear poised to threaten for starting jobs and Javontae Jean-Baptiste doesn’t lack experience as another fifth-year pass rusher.

But Friday said he’s “better all-around” after returning from injury, having changed his body and gotten “a little faster, a little stronger” over the past year. In fact, Johnson said Friday could have a bigger role than some might expect in 2022.

Regardless of what he does on the field, Friday’s presence as a vocal leader and team captain will be just as important for a group making a national title push in the coming season.

“He could play a lot. You know, we missed Tyler last year,” Johnson said. “Tyler's a really strong guy at the point of attack. He plays hard, he's physical, he cares. We missed that last year. We missed that leadership a little bit too, because he was a strong leader in the room. 

“When you sit in the back of the room, you have a tendency to be quiet because you're not playing. And now he's a voice, and I think that's what we need.”

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