Josh Fryar didn’t know until 20 minutes before kickoff that he would be Ohio State’s starting right tackle against Indiana on Saturday.
Dawand Jones was listed as a game-time decision and went through pregame warmups with the first-team offensive line, making it appear as though he would play against the Hoosiers. Ultimately, however, the decision was made for Jones not to play due to an undisclosed injury, giving fellow Indiana native Fryar the opportunity to make his first start as a Buckeye against his home-state school.
“Coach Day, Coach Frye came up to me in the locker room and goes we’re rolling with you,” Fryar recalled. “And I was pumped, because I knew it was the hometown team and the game plan was all good.”
While Fryar felt both excited and nervous when he initially received the news, he said his nerves calmed quickly once the game started. Fryar told himself that he didn’t need to do anything differently in the game than he does every day in practice, and that mindset proved to be a successful one for the third-year Buckeye.
“You get on the field, you're like, ‘Alright, this is just like practice, just do your stuff and go,’” Fryar said Wednesday. “That's all I was telling myself in my mind, and don't try to do anything extraordinary, just do your job.”
Fryar did his job well enough that he was graded as a champion by Ohio State’s coaching staff. He helped lead the Buckeyes to their most productive game running the ball of the season to date as they racked up 340 yards on a season-high 7.9 yards per carry.
While Fryar has mixed in for playing time with the first-team offense all season in what the Buckeyes call their “Bison” package, in which Fryar enters the game as a sixth offensive lineman, Saturday gave Fryar to show what he could do while playing every snap with the first-team offense, and he made a strong first impression.
“Josh graded out a champion, played well. When you play a full game, you get a real good feel for where you're at,’ Day said. “A lot of plays he's gotta get better at, but I thought we took a step in the right direction on Saturday with the offensive line.”
Even though he didn’t know until Saturday morning that he would be starting, Fryar felt prepared to start because of how he has been coached by Frye in Frye’s first year as Ohio State’s offensive line coach.
Because Jones had been dealing with an injury, Fryar knew there was at least a possibility that he would be called upon to step in at right tackle against Indiana, and he said Jones helped him with his preparation throughout the week as well as with giving him tips during the game.
“We were talking all week, he was iffy but he pushed through practice and we didn't know if he was gonna play or not. And then me getting out there, going the first drive and then coming back and he would talk to me on the sideline. ‘Hey, you need to do this. You need to do that better,’” Fryar said. ‘And I think it was a big confidence-booster for me.”
Fryar was a tough self-critic when he watched the film of Saturday’s game, however, finding plenty of mistakes he can fix.
‘It was cool to grade out a champion, but also, you have those plays where you're like, ‘Man, I could have done this better, man I could have done that better,’” Fryar said. “I just think going back and watching the film and getting coached up by Coach Frye, the best, I think that's the key.”
Fryar said he doesn’t feel satisfied just become he performed well in one game.
“I never want to bask in the glory,” Fryar said. “I want to keep working at it and keep getting better. Become the best.”
That said, Fryar said having a successful start under his belt is a boost for his confidence going forward.
“I think it's huge,” Fryar said. “Just to prove to myself and prove to my teammates that hey, I can play and coming back next year, I can play.”
Having contributed to the Buckeyes’ 56-14 win over the Hoosiers, Fryar also enjoyed having the opportunity to talk smack to his dad, Jeff Fryar, who played for Indiana from 1984-88 – earning Indiana’s two most recent wins over Ohio State in his final two seasons as a Hoosier.
“Playing against my dad's alma mater is always pretty cool,” Fryar said. “He called me after the game, he said, ‘Good job.’ I said, ‘I got a one-up on you.’”
“I want to keep working at it and keep getting better. Become the best.”– Josh Fryar on improving after his first start
As long as Jones is able to return to action this week, Fryar’s start against Indiana is likely to be a one-off for this season. If Jones starts at right tackle against Maryland, Fryar will go back to his usual role as the sixth man up front – a role he enjoys playing when the Buckeyes put him in the game, which primarily occurs in short-yardage and red-zone running situations.
“The bison’s pretty fun too,” Fryar said. “Extra tight end in there, I see the starting five and then me in there, it's pretty fun.”
But while he does not expect to start this week, Fryar says he’ll be ready to return to the lineup if needed. And now that Fryar has already delivered one championship-level start, Ohio State will feel more confident putting him in the game if needed.
That’s important both to the Buckeyes’ depth on the offensive line for the remainder of this season and for the future of Ohio State’s offensive line after this season, as Jones and left tackle Paris Johnson Jr. could both enter the 2023 NFL draft. Should they depart, Fryar would be in the pole position to be one of the Buckeyes’ starting offensive tackles next year, and his performance against Indiana was a promising indicator of his potential as a future starter.