Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Forty-five games into his collegiate career, Zach Boren finally debuted at linebacker, the position he was originally recruited to Ohio State to play.
Boren came to Ohio State in January 2009 as the No. 45 overall middle linebacker prospect in the nation according to the recruiting site Scout.com, but, until Saturday’s 52-49 win against Indiana, Boren was used as a fullback.
Against the Hoosiers, Boren finished the game with a team-high eight tackles and the position switch is a move his OSU teammates said is for the good of the team.
“That’s the ultimate sacrifice. He’s the best fullback in the country, and he’s going to go over and play linebacker and give up three years of playing fullback and maybe be an All-Big Ten playing fullback, to go over there and do everything he can for the team playing defense,” redshirt junior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We love him for that and that’s just the guy that he is.”
The change might have been less of a sacrifice in Boren’s own mind, because defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said he has wanted to play defense for years.
“He wanted to be a linebacker for three years here. He’s been asking, ‘Hey, can I come over? Can I come over? Can I come over?'” Fickell said. “Tuesday afternoon in practice … (head coach Urban Meyer) brought him over, because we had talked about it, and … he naturally gave us a spark.”
Boren was given an opportunity at linebacker because redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino broke his fibula. Meyer said Sabino was “kind of our guy” and called Boren’s switch “temporarily permanent.”
Against Indiana on Saturday, Boren played linebacker for the first time since high school, and in his first start, he led the Buckeye defense with eight total tackles.
“I think someone said he led the team in tackles, which is hard to believe, but he did,” Meyer said.
This was not the first time Meyer has dealt with a depth issue by switching over an offensive player to defense. Meyer said strength coach Mickey Marotti reminded him that while at the University of Florida, Meyer moved current Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey from offensive line to defensive line.
“Right in the middle of the practice I moved (Pouncey) to defensive tackle because we were banged and bruised and didn’t have the leadership, didn’t have the toughness at that point. His energy, his leadership, his toughness, and we kept him over there for several games just until guys got back,” Meyer said.
Meyer said Boren’s switch would not have happened if it were not for the play of sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman. He is fourth on the team in reception yards, and is one of five players with a touchdown reception.
“That move could not have been made if you didn’t have Heuerman and (redshirt freshman tight end Nick) Vannett. Heuerman has been coming on,” Meyer said.
“He’s been playing 10 to 15 plays a game, and now he played 50,” Meyer said.
When faced with the challenge of learning an entire defense, Boren had help from some of his teammates, including sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier..
“We try to help Zach a lot,” Shazier said. “Zach pretty much knows everything because he came in a little bit at (linebacker) and it wasn’t that difficult because he knows what he is doing.”