Tegra Tshabola isn’t blowing any smoke about his first offseason at offensive tackle.
After playing on the interior of the Ohio State offensive line as a true freshman, the four-star recruit has transitioned to the outside, where he and third-year lineman Zen Michalski are battling to fill the Dawand Jones-sized hole on the right side this spring. That process hasn’t always been easy, but it hasn’t deterred the second-year Buckeye from trudging forward, either.
“It's been a harder transition than I thought,” Tshabola said during an interview session at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last week. “But I mean, I'm working with coaches and stuff, working with Coach (Justin) Frye every day to try to improve and get better.”
Both Frye and Ohio State head coach Ryan Day have high hopes for Tshabola. That much was made clear by their decision to slide him out to tackle, a position he hadn’t yet played at Ohio State, to compete for a starting job before he’s even completed a full year in the program.
It was also evident when Day addressed the position battle after Ohio State’s first spring practice, when the Buckeye coach glowed about the possible future he believes the West Chester, Ohio, native could have in Columbus – and one that may not be all that far off.
“Tegra will be into year two, Tegra got a lot of two reps for us last year, we see a lot of potential in Tegra,” Day said. “And I think every rep you get in Tegra is going to pay off in the long run. I think it's a really good investment. Hoping that he can make a push.”
Tshabola knows it too. Upon entering the program last summer, Tshabola said he didn’t think all that much would be expected of him as a true freshman. He quickly found out otherwise. And now receiving some first-team practice reps at right tackle, those expectations have been bolstered even further.
“Coach Day and them, they brought me out here, it wasn't a coincidence. Or I don't think it was a coincidence. I think they chose me because they saw the potential that I had, the potential that I didn't even see at the time,” Tshabola said. “So I mean, I feel like I got a duty to this team, to this unit, to the quarterback, to anybody behind me that I gotta go make that play. … I started to see it earlier when I got here. Because when you get here, you think, 'Oh, I'm a freshman, I'm this, this and this.' But no, they expected me to come here and get the job done. Because I mean, that's what they saw. They saw the potential to do that. They saw the potential and they motivated me, they pushed me to do those things.”
But just because the coaching staff wants to expedite Tshabola’s development doesn’t necessarily guarantee he’ll make massive strides overnight. Tshabola said adjusting to the increase in space on the outside at tackle has been challenging, and that learning to stay calm on the field – something Paris Johnson Jr. has helped him with over the past year – is key to the improvement he hopes to make.
“I'm starting to get more used to how this game is played. But I mean, I got a long way to go.”– Tegra Tshabola
“This is the highest level it gets. So I mean, being in space, being calm in space, being able to use your hands in space, feet, body position, all of that. … In high school, I used to just want to grab them, kill somebody and just take them out,” Tshabola said. “But I mean, here, there's a lot of guys, a lot of these players are really good football players. So you have to stay calm in that aggression, stay directed. … A long time ago, when I first got here it hit me. I mean, you go out there, you try to bulldoze somebody with your head down, and they move out the way. You're on the ground on your stomach and coach is getting on you. So I mean I immediately knew there was something I had to change. I've been working on it since then all the way to now.”
Frye, who enters his second season with the program right alongside Tshabola, has a far more difficult task in front of him this offseason than he did in 2022. The Buckeye OL coach must replace two potential first-round NFL draft picks in Johnson and Jones at tackle, another surefire draft pick at center (Luke Wypler), and potentially without the help of any Power Five transfer portal addition.
Frye has seen good and bad things from Tshabola thus far, but also knows that’s part of the maturation process for a young Buckeye who is still learning the ropes at a new position.
“Tegra was an elite-level player in high school. He was an All-American, all-star games, he does all this stuff. Then he shows up here and he's Tegra the freshman. So yeah, for him to see that, good,” Frye said. “Now how do you get back to playing to your level? You work through those base fundamentals. Ryan talked about it today. We have to have great effort and technique. That's what we were focusing on today. So if you're a high-level player and you have great effort and great technique, then you'll produce (at a) high level. Younger guys on top of that, they'll have, 'Well, do I go right or left? Do I have this guy or that guy? Do I have this?' So there's some more stuff that's spinning in their head. So the more you can dive into that and slow that down, then they're able to play faster again.
“So I'm really happy with what he's doing and really unhappy with two or three plays that he did today, because he didn't block the right guy. But his attitude is great. He's so passionate about being his best version of himself. He's so passionate about being a great football player and we're just trying to stack those days on top of each other right now.”
Despite Tshabola’s occasional shortcomings, he said Frye has given him motivation following mistakes on the field. In particular, Tshabola described a recent situation where Frye reminded him how far he’s already come in such a short period of time in the program.
Moments like that have helped Tshabola cultivate a positive mindset about the inevitable ups and downs he’ll face this spring and beyond.
“He came up to me one time and I was hard on myself. I was down and all of that,” Tshabola said. “He's like, 'How long have you been here?' And I told him a year, and he said, 'Wrong. You haven't even been here a full year yet, and look at the big jump you've made since you got here.' … There's two ways to look at things. I mean, you can look at it as, 'Aw man, I messed up, I'm a bad football player.' Or you can look at it like, 'Oh, I can improve on this.' I messed up doing this, so I'm gonna go do that next time. I'm gonna stay calm next time. I'm gonna stay directed next time.”
Beyond the tutelage he’s received from Johnson, Tshabola said he often picks the mind of Buckeye defensive ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer to find out what they think he needs to do to sharpen his pass-blocking skills. Tshabola also pointed to returning first-team guard Donovan Jackson as a leader he’s leaned on while transitioning to a bigger role on the offensive line.
Jackson praised Tshabola for the improvements he’s made so far, and said he’s excited to see how far Tshabola can push himself by the end of the offseason.
“I feel like Tegra's made great strides. He's changed his body for the better. He's light on his feet,” Jackson said. “He's better with his hands, way better with his hands. So that was a good point of emphasis for him coming into this year, is working with his hands better. I feel like he's improved leaps and bounds. So I'm excited to see what he does throughout the rest of the spring and into the fall. … I feel like he would excel anywhere we put him. It just so happens right now he's at tackle and he's doing a great job.”
Tshabola split first-team reps at right tackle with Zen Michalski during Saturday’s first spring scrimmage. And if Tshabola needed further validation that he’s trending in the right direction, he had his black stripe removed last week.
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) March 24, 2023
newest member of the OLine, @tshabola_tegra#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/x3eeAyZr8d
But even after that confidence booster, Tshabola knows he still has a long road ahead of him in pursuit of a starting job.
“It's definitely a big help. But I mean, I'm gonna keep doing the same thing I've been doing every day; working with coaches, working with other players, staying after, getting better and improving,” Tshabola said. “… I feel like I've made a better jump. Like I'm starting to get more used to how this game is played. But I mean, I got a long way to go. There's a long time to improve, too.”