Being a top-tier program in college football, Ohio State under coach Urban Meyer has championed the recruiting trail, making it easier to reload rather than rebuild. The Buckeyes’ offensive line returned just two starters this season, yet has been the force in front of the nation’s ninth-best rushing attack.
At this time last year, it was clear to many that Meyer would lose a few of the would-be NFL talents on his roster. However, Meyer received a somewhat surprising pledge from then-redshirt junior offensive lineman Pat Elflein to return to the program for his final season.
Elflein has been the soulful, experienced voice of OSU this season that has led the Buckeyes (11-1) to their second playoff appearance in three seasons. On his right shoulder on every snap of the ball is redshirt junior guard Billy Price, who has a similar decision at season’s end.
But Price’s return to the program wouldn’t symbolize stability on an inexperienced group, rather it could continue OSU’s mark a dominant force up front in 2017.
Price was named a second-team All-American by five different organizations and a first-team All American by the American Football Coaches’ Association. He joined Elflein as the second Buckeye offensive lineman this season to receive first-team honors. Price said if he had it his way, his place in Buckeye Grove, which sits south of Ohio Stadium, would be right next to Elflein.
“Buckeye Grove will be blessed to have those two names on it,” Meyer said. “When I’m an old guy, I’ll come back and see my two guys because I love them, and they are great. They are the backbone of who we are and what we do. Zero probability that Ohio State’s where we are without them. On top of that, they’re as good of people as you’ll ever find. Great students, great people, and exceptional leaders.”
Elflein’s presence on a young offensive line has undisputedly been the most impactful, but has certainly overshadowed what Price means to the unit. After all, Price was there in 2014, like Elflein, as a first-year starter playing in the national championship game. He was there in 2015 suffering a crippling defeat against Michigan State.
Price said Elflein is a gifted athlete and deserves every accolade he receives, including the possibility of another national championship to his record. The same argument could be made for Price.
“I was here when we won the national championship a couple years ago and (Price and Elflein) have the experience of actually playing in that game, what it’s like and what it takes to get there,” said junior left tackle Jamarco Jones. “I was a freshman. I was still getting my feet wet and didn’t know what was going on as much. Those guys actually did it so having them on the line is just a tremendous help.”
For now, Price isn’t answering questions about whether he will forgo his final season of eligibility. Elflein said he has had talks with Price about his situation and its similarity to his predicament following the 2015-16 season, including the possibility of switching to center.
If Price comes back and switches positions, he would be one of four returning starters on the offensive line, including Jones, who has steadily become one of the best left tackles in the country. Redshirt freshman Branden Bowen, redshirt sophomore Brady Taylor and freshman Tyler Gerald have been talked about highly as replacements waiting in the wings. Redshirt junior Malcolm Pridgeon, who redshirted this season due to a knee injury, will also return vying for a starting position.
Oh, and that’s not to mention five-star incoming-freshman offensive linemen Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis joining the Scarlet and Gray in 2017.
Price is already comfortable with the leadership role. He said he deleted Twitter off redshirt freshman tackle Isaiah Prince’s phone following the loss to Penn State where Prince was at fault for a large part of OSU’s 11 tackles for loss and six sacks allowed.
Price said he still carries lessons from his redshirt freshman year when he struggled his redshirt and the offensive line leaders, Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren, taught him how to go about business and ignore distractions. If Price returns for his last season in Columbus and mirrors Elflein’s consistently dominant production, the Buckeye offensive line has all-star potential, which starts with Price’s leadership.
“You’ve never been told you suck because you’re in high school and you’re around your hometown and people love you,” he said. “But once you come here, the truth comes out. You got beat, you lost. Just get better. That’s what it comes down to.”