In this series, we’re talking some of our favorite Ohio State families, rolling on with a set of THREE siblings on the football team.
What happens when sibling rivalry is secondary to even greater rivalry? Moreover, what is the result when one brother chooses a new side in the rivalry?
Well, you actually end up with a rather beautiful story of a family leaning in to support one another. And that’s where we find the Boren brothers.
Having two siblings play together is a cool story, as we saw with Andre and Kaleb Wesson. Having three, especially three who overlap, is much less common, though, spoiler, it had happened at Ohio State before Justin, Zach and Jacoby arrived on campus.
It was an unlikely story already. But throw in the fact that the brothers’ parents were intercollegiate athletes who raised the trio to bleed maize and blue, and things get wild.
The brothers’ father, Mike, played linebacker up north under Bo Schembechler in the 1980s. To this day, Mike remains the sixth-leading tackler in Michigan program history. Their mother, Hope, ran track for the Wolverines. While Mike grew up in Columbus, and eventually returned after college, he and Hope fostered a fandom for Michigan in their household.
So how would this Michigan family end up producing three Ohio State football players? Well, the story of the Borens at Ohio State began in dramatic fashion. Justin, who was a four-star recruit in the 2006 class out of Pickerington Central, was a two-year starter at guard for Michigan.
Then, however, came Lloyd Carr’s retirement, and the hiring of his replacement, Rich Rodriguez. The eldest Boren brother opted to transfer to, of all schools, Ohio State in 2008 after a few short months under Rodriguez. Justin didn’t mince words when he described the rapid erosion of Michigan’s familial culture in the early months under Rodriguez, citing that decay as a cause for his move to Jim Tressel’s Buckeyes.
As an aside, it was the first time a Michigan starter transferred to Ohio State in the length of the rivalry.
The transfer actually made a lot of sense beyond all the drama. Obviously, Justin’s family remained in Columbus, and his brother, Zach, would announce his commitment to Ohio State just a week later. While we can put a lot of weight on Justin’s announcement influencing Zach’s decision, the middle brother had likely made up (most) of his mind well before he signed with Tressel’s Buckeyes, which surely influenced Justin’s decision — not the other way around.
Zach, meanwhile, was a three-star recruit at fullback when he committed to Ohio State out of Pickerington Central in the 2009 recruiting class.
Both Justin and Zach would start in 2009 for Ohio State, with Justin at left guard, having sat out the 2008 season as a redshirt, and Zach at fullback. Though the offensive line struggled early in the season, it eventually gelled together, with Justin ultimately earning recognition as an all-conference selection. That team won the Big Ten (including beating Michigan) and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Things seemed to be going well again during the 2010 season — the last Justin was on the team before graduating. Another all-Big Ten selection for Justin, another win over Michigan and a Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas. The drama that would ensue, with Tressel ultimately losing his job and the program vacating its 12 wins, would not sway Zach or his younger brother, Jacoby the way Michigan’s coaching change had for Justin.
Jacoby, obviously, was the latecomer to Ohio State...but that’s how it goes when you’re the youngest of three and your two big brothers already made their respective decisions. A three-star recruit in the class of 2012, the youngest brother (and 30th-ranked guard in the nation) committed to the Buckeyes all the way back in December 2010 while playing at, you guessed it, Pickerington Central.
The 2011 season would prove to be rough on a lot of levels for Ohio State...probably because there was only one Boren on the field that year.
The good news is that, by 2012, with Urban Meyer at the helm, Zach made the switch over to linebacker, and, at the end of the season, gave Ohio State fans one of their most iconic rivalry moments when he stood over Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner following a HUGE sack. Boren finished The Game as the Buckeyes’ leading tackler and fan-favorite.
Jacoby eventually cracked the starting lineup at Ohio State in 2014, becoming the starting center for Ohio State’s national championship team and paving the way for running back Ezekiel Elliott’s rushing antics (including for nearly 300 yards against Alabama).
Jacoby would continue his antics in 2015, still clearing the road for Elliott, who would become a first-round pick. He would finish his Ohio State career as part of one of the winningest senior classes in Buckeye history.
But after 2015, the story of the Borens began to fade. None of the brothers would be drafted in the NFL. Zach and Justin would both sign contracts as free agents, but their careers would peter out. They would return to Columbus and work together in a snow and ice management company.
However, their legacy should remain. The Boren brothers brought a new side to a classic rivalry. Once Justin moved over to Ohio State, the whole family was there to back him up — including sending two more brothers there.
The Borens are also unique in that, while a coaching change led to the whole family changing their loyalties to the Ohio State program, the three brothers also spanned two (technically three) coaching eras in Columbus between Jim Tressel, Luke Fickell and Urban Meyer. Their commitment to their new program — especially given the circumstances of Justin’s departure from Michigan — speaks volumes to the culture and continuity of Ohio State’s program.