COLUMBUS – Paris Johnson Jr. made Ohio State work hard to sign him, so maybe it should be no surprise one of the first things he wants people to know about him is that he’s a hard worker.
The 6-foot, 7-inch, 295-pound freshman offensive tackle is one of three 5-star recruits in OSU’s incoming freshman class. He is rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2020 recruiting class and the No. 9 player overall in the country.
“I want to be known as one of the hardest working people,” Johnson said during a recent interview.
“Coming out of high school a lot of people said I was the toughest tackle in the country. But I want to come in here and be seen as one of the hardest workers because a lot of times people with a lot of talent aren’t.”
Johnson originally committed to Ohio State in the summer of 2018, but when Urban Meyer announced his retirement in December 2018, he had some second thoughts and visited Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky.
In the end, he chose OSU over LSU. He did change schools, but it was at the high school level not the college level, when he transferred to Cincinnati Princeton from Cincinnati St. Xavier before his senior year to be able to graduate early and start classes at Ohio State in January.
Johnson’s goals for his freshman season are as high as his recruiting ranking. He wants to be a starter and play at a level that reminds people of Orlando Pace, the gold standard of Ohio State offensive linemen since the mid-1990s.
Johnson has watched films of Pace’s three years at Ohio State and his 13 seasons in the NFL.
“Best college offensive lineman in the country, hands down, ever,” he said. “His NFL film was pretty much the same.
“I feel like a lot of people will say in high school I was looking like Orlando Pace was in college. I want to be able to do what Orlando Pace did in college. He was throwing people around like he was at Princeton High School, you know what I mean? That’s everybody’s goal. I would like to be able to do that here.”
Michael Jordan in 2016 is the only freshman offensive lineman to start at Ohio State since Pace did it in 1994. Johnson wants to add his name to that short list.
Left tackle Thayer Munford is returning but right tackle Branden Bowen used up his eligibility last season. Nicholas Petit-Frere, who was a 5-star recruit and was rated the top offensive tackle nationally in the 2018 recruiting class, was Bowen’s back-up last season.
Johnson thinks he can challenge Petit-Frere for the starting job. “Really the spot’s open for anybody,” he said. “It is like who is going to go in there and take the job.
“I feel like if I’m in the playbook enough and I am putting in the work in the weight room and on the field and trying to be in the front when we are running, then at that point it’s up to the coaches. I can make that goal as realistic as I want it to be.”
OSU coach Ryan Day is understandably a little more cautious than Johnson.
“I know that’s his mindset right now, he’s going to have to do that,” Day said. “But you don’t know where that goes or anything like that until we get into August. Right now it’s learning the playbook, learning where to go to class, learning all that stuff, learning the calls.
“He’s very detail oriented. He wants to do it right. He’s very determined. And we have high hopes for him.”
Making Ohio State wait after Meyer retired wasn’t the only unusual twist in Johnson’s recruiting process.
Johnson’s father, Paris Johnson, played at Miami of Ohio in the 1990s before a one-year NFL career as a defensive back. A cousin played with Ben Roethlisberger when he was at Miami.
So, at one point his top three choices were an SEC school, a Big Ten school and a MAC school.
“I was like, it’s either between Alabama, Michigan State or Miami University. It would have been a strange top three, but in my mind that’s what it was,” Johnson said.
“That was my personal top three until I visited here for a bowl practice before they went to go play USC. I got to meet the players, hung out with Michael Jordan and I was with coach Meyer. That just changed everything for me and changed up the top three.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau