If you play on the offensive line at Ohio State, there’s a good chance you have what it takes to play in the NFL. Since 2000, Ohio State has seen 19 offensive linemen taken in the NFL Draft, with numerous others latching on to teams as undrafted free agents. The list of Buckeye offensive linemen drafted will only grow in the near future, as guys like Wyatt Davis, Thayer Munford, and Josh Myers are among the best in the country.
Recently at LGHL, we have been asking our readers which former Buckeye they’d bring back to start the first game of this season. Tia started off the fun by breaking down what running back she’d most like to see return, and it’s hard to go wrong with the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. We have continued the exercise for quarterback and wide receiver.
Now we have made our way to the offensive line. There are plenty of tremendous offensive linemen who have donned the scarlet and gray throughout the year. From Bill Willis, Jim Parker, and John Hicks of years gone by, to more recent trench warriors like Nick Mangold, LeCharles Bentley, and Taylor Decker.
Ohio State has been producing quality offensive linemen for nearly 80 years. Bill Willis was a two-time All-American in 1943 and 1944, while Jim Parker was the first Buckeye to win the Outland Trophy in 1955. John Hicks won the Outland and Lombardi in 1973 and was a two-time All-American. Jim Lachey played in Columbus in the early 1980s and went on to an illustrious NFL career.
More recently, Korey Stringer was a three-year starter and a first round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings before his life ended tragically at training camp in 2001. LeCharles Bentley won the Rimington Award, which is an award that Pat Elflein and Billy Price also earned. We also can’t forget about Nick Mangold if we are going to talk about great Buckeye centers.
As incredible as some of those options are, the answer to which Ohio State offensive linemen I’d bring back to play in 2020 is an easy one. Orlando Pace is the greatest offensive lineman to ever suit up for Ohio State, and was one of the best to ever play in the NFL, as evidenced by his induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Pace was so good when he arrived in Columbus that he became just the second true freshman to start on opening day for the Buckeyes.
How good was Pace? He became known as “The Pancake Man” because of the frequency in which he dished out pancake blocks. While the term “pancake block” had been used by some teams prior to Pace’s arrival in college football, the term became widely used because of Pace. The Sandusky native was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1994, but that was only beginning of hardware that Pace would earn.
1995 was a true breakout season for Pace, as he not only was named an All-American, but he also earned the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation’s best college football player regardless of position. Prior to Pace, previous winners of the award from Ohio State were Jim Stillwagon, John Hicks, and Chris Spielman.
As good as 1995 was for Pace, 1996 was even better. Not only did Pace become the first player to win back-to-back Lombardi Awards, but he was also the winner of the Outland Trophy, which is given to the best interior lineman in college football. Parker, Stillwagon, and Hicks all had won the award prior to Pace taking home the honor in 1996.
Do you know how many offensive linemen have finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting since Orlando Pace finished fourth in 1996? Zero. Zilch. None. That should tell you just how respected Pace was. It’s rare to even see a defensive lineman in the running for the Heisman. An offensive lineman finishing that high is unheard of.
Another testament to Pace’s greatness was being voted the Big Ten’s most valuable player and offensive player of the year in 1996. Ohio State went 11-1 and won the Rose Bowl that season, but without Pace it’s possible the Buckeyes could have been handed two or three more losses that season. It’s incredible just how much Pace changed the game when he was on the field. Pepe Pearson rushed for 1,484 yards in 1996, but just 869 in 1997 after Pace left Columbus.
Just imagine the sense of calm that Justin Fields would have with Orlando Pace protecting him, especially since Pace didn’t allow a sack in his final two seasons in Columbus. Running backs Trey Sermon and Master Teague would feel a lot less pressure in trying to replace J.K. Dobbins if they could have Pace clearing the way for them. As unstoppable as Ohio State looks right now, they’d be even more feared with Orlando Pace on the offensive line.
What do you think? Are you going against the grain and opting for one of the other phenomenal offensive linemen mentioned earlier, or do you have a favorite that was omitted?