Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Zach Boren has been training for this upcoming football season since he was a kid.
Since he was 4 years old to be exact.
The Ohio State senior fullback comes from a family of athletes. His parents, Mike and Hope Boren, played football and ran track, respectively, at Michigan in the early 1980s. His older brother, Justin, is an offensive guard for the Baltimore Ravens – as well as a former Buckeye – and his younger brother, Jacoby Boren, is a freshman offensive lineman at OSU.
Everything the Pickerington, Ohio, native, and his brothers did growing up was a competition.
So, when OSU coach Urban Meyer came to Zach Boren last winter and explained to the fullback what he wanted from him in terms of intensity and leadership, he was ready.
“The way my parents raised me, it was kind of easy,” Zach Boren said of his transition from being a three-year veteran to becoming a senior leader.
That competitive drive – the one Meyer said helps make Zach Boren “the best fullback in the country” – has been instilled in the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder from the first time he began playing football.
Zach Boren started tackle football at 4 years old, the same year Justin Boren, who was 7, started. Every practice after stretching, the two would take a lap around a nearby baseball field to get warmed up. And any time Zach Boren tried to beat his older brother back to the field, he hit the ground.
“Every time I would try to pass him, he would just throw me down in the dirt,” Zach Boren said. “When I was four and he was seven, we were competing on who would become first in a lap around the field before practice.”
Zach Boren said his parents emphasized to him the importance of leadership throughout his childhood. The example he set for his teammates this offseason resulted in him being voted a captain of the 2012 Buckeyes. He’s had some help leading along the way, most of which came from his fellow captains: senior defensive lineman John Simon, redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino, senior nose tackle Garrett Goebel and senior running back Jordan Hall.
“We want to be those leaders,” Zach Boren said of himself and his fellow captains. “We want to set an example for the rest of the guys out there. It’s something that, ever since coach Meyer was here, he kind of told us what he expects.”
Not only has Zach Boren fulfilled Meyer’s request, he has gone a step further.
“We just took it and ran, and said, ‘All right, if you expect this, we’re going to do this and more, and bring other guys with us.'”
Boren did bring other guys with him. Literally.
Starting shortly after the Buckeyes season ended in January in a Gator Bowl loss to Florida, Zach Boren and Simon began taking younger players with them to their lifting sessions. Zach Boren usually brought sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, redshirt sophomore running back Rod Smith and junior running back Carlos Hyde.
They did it because Meyer told them they were not allowed to be in the weight room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center unless they were with a younger player, but more so, Boren said, to motivate the players that will be taking their spots as leaders on the team in future years.
Spending time with younger players meant Zach Boren and Simon were around each other less than they had been their previous three years at OSU. For the two seniors, who are likely as close as any two Buckeyes, it was a bit of an adjustment.
“It’s weird. We always used to lift together and stuff from years past. But now, we kind of don’t lift with each other any more,” Zach Boren said.
Their relationship, which, outside of football, consists mainly of poker nights, video games and joking around, hasn’t seemed to suffer, though.
At Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Simon and Zach Boren were each sitting at a roundtable, surrounded by a sea of reporters and photographers. Simon, glancing at Zach Boren, told a member of the media to go ask the fullback who is stronger. Zach Boren responded to the question, “I am,” with a smile. Simon had anticipated his friend’s answer, and told the reporter, jokingly, “go ask him again.” Boren laughed and said, “Tell him I have bigger arms than him.”
The two often tease each other, but Meyer praises no one on the Ohio State roster more than Zach Boren and Simon. Meyer said of the two, “That’s why I got back into coaching.”
As Boren’s role off the field has been praised and expanded, his responsibility on it is likely to increase, too. During his first three seasons at OSU, Boren had just one carry for two yards. He was a blocker, paving way for others to gain yards.
That is likely to change this season.
Since January, Zach Boren has lost 25 pounds, going from a 265-pound bruiser to a 240-pound playmaker. He’s lighter, faster and, Meyer said, will see action in a variety of ways.
“He’s an athlete, but I didn’t know that. I wanted to evaluate him during the spring, and I did. He’s a guy that will touch the ball,” Meyer said.
Zach Boren said he is excited to see what his role really is once the season starts this Saturday against Miami (Ohio).
“I think I’m going to be used in a lot of different ways this year – like a hybrid, doing a lot of things,” Zach Boren said. “I don’t think my role will truly come out until Sept. 1 against Miami (Ohio) when we see what I’m doing on a regular basis.”
Zach Boren said he might even see time in a wildcat formation, receiving snaps in the shotgun close to the goal line.
“Maybe I’ll meet up with Tim Tebow one day and get some pointers from him. I’ve never met the guy, so I’m looking forward to meeting him whenever I do and get some pointers,” Zach Boren said of the former Florida and current New York Jets quarterback and jump-pass extraordinaire.
In the same competitive mindset Zach Boren has had since he was 4 years old, when he tried to beat his older brother in a lap around a baseball field before pee-wee practices, the fullback said he is not going to settle for mediocrity in his final season as a Buckeye. Not even when it comes to the naming of his special formation.
“Maybe you guys (reporters) can think of something, like wild tiger or something. Something that’s manly,” Boren said.
OSU is set to open its season Saturday against Miami (Ohio) at noon at Ohio Stadium.