Welcome to an ongoing series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. The summer months are here and we anxiously await the beginning of preseason camp, when this year’s crop of Buckeyes will be back hard at work preparing for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, we are nearly finished introducing you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus has highlighted one of the newest Buckeyes, and has hopefully provided a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
There are just two players left on our list, including today’s freshman: Zen Michalski.
If there is one knock you can make on Ohio State’s recruiting these past few years, it is the inability to bring in the big national offensive tackle. Sure, they’ve secured the Paris Johnson Jr.’s of the world, but that is a guy you should be expected to land from your own backyard. Instead, they’ve had to look towards more of the second-tier guys and hope to find a diamond in the rough, and it appears they have been able to do just that with the addition of Zen Michalski — the No. 22 OT in the 2022 class and the fourth-best player out of Indiana.
The Floyds Knobs, Ind. native was originally committed to Louisville, but decided to decommit back in September among speculation that Ohio State was pushing hard for the 6-foot-9, 295-pound edge protector. Shortly thereafter, he dropped a new top four, and right there included in the mix were the Buckeyes alongside Florida State, Penn State and Louisville. At this point in was pretty clear what was going on, and less than a week after his decommitment, Michalski announced he was committing to Ohio State.
At the time of his commitment, Michalski was just a three-star recruit, but as is usually the case when the big boys start to get involved, he quickly saw a bump in his ratings and earned a fourth star after joining Ryan Day’s group. To his own credit, it wasn’t just the introduction of Ohio State to the picture that drastically increased his rankings. Michalski grew nearly seven inches and put on close to 100 pounds during his high school career. I mean, this kind of transformation is just silly (and incredibly impressive):
Both of us put in a tremendous amount of work but here is mine since you asked pic.twitter.com/pFDUvV86tA— Zenuae Michalski (@ZenuaeM) October 15, 2020
As a junior in 2019, Michalski helped lead Floyd Central to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the Indiana 5A regional championship game. He and the Highlanders put together a 7-3 campaign in his senior season, paving the way for an offense that averaged 37.2 points per game. Michalski was named one of the 50 best players in Indiana by the Indiana Football Coaches Association following the 2020 season, and was selected to the first team All-Hoosier Hills Conference. He can be seen absolutely dominating opposing edge rushers in his highlight tape:
Despite his standing as a lower-level recruit until the end of the process, Michalski still earned praise from the talent evaluators as early as April 2020. Drawing a comparison to Ezra Cleveland, a second round NFL Draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 2020, 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu pegs him as a Power-5 starter. Here is the full extent of his scouting report of Michalski:
“Tall with above-average arm length. Has filled in a lot and bulked up into a Power Five prospect after looking very thin and lean initially. A very good athlete who has quickness and coordination. Has good change of direction and bend. Fires out of his stance quickly and with good pad level. Has all the tools to be a great pass blocker, but needs reps against top-level competition and technical polishing there. Added 35 pounds after his junior season so we still need to see how he plays with the added weight and strength. Trajectory is headed upwards. Works very hard. Should develop into a starting left tackle and has the upside to potentially project as an NFL prospect.”
Ohio State has a tendency to take on project offensive linemen towards the end of each recruiting cycle to round out the class in hopes that one develops into something more, but Michalski seems to be much more than that. There is a lot to like about him as a prospect, and though he is definitely a bit raw coming into his first year on campus, the work ethic and desire to improve are clearly there. There is a reason that the Buckeyes worked so hard to pillage him from Louisville’s class, and his ceiling is much higher than his initial recruiting rankings would lead you to believe.
Offensive tackle is a crucial spot in the trenches, and luckily for Ohio State they seem to be in a pretty good spot at the position for the time being. This season, they return both starting tackles in Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere — both of whom dominated in their respective roles in 2020. The heir apparent on either side is former five-star prospect Paris Johnson Jr., who will line up at guard this year to get his skillset on the field, but his opposite is not yet set in stone. There are a few intriguing names on the roster for that job, like Dawand Jones and fellow freshman Ben Christman, but Michalski has a real shot to work his name onto the two-deep as early as next season.