COLUMBUS -- Joe Stalma knows something about the on-the-fly change his grandson is making at Ohio State this offseason.
Before he became a legendary basketball coach at Rossford, Stalma was a mainstay at center for the Duquesne University football team -- heralded by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette among the school's top prospects "since pre-World War II days." The 6-foot-5, 215-pound native of Bridgeville, Pa., started for the Dukes' freshman team in 1949 and made first-string on the varsity the next season.
Then, with little warning, Duquesne dropped football. Stalma transferred to play his final two years at Toledo, where coaches liked his size and athleticism but not at center. He switched sides of the line to defensive end.
"I didn't switch," Stalma clarified with a laugh. "They switched me. I liked playing center."
But he embraced the move and played the position hard and tough, which is just the advice he gives to his grandson Reid Fragel.
A tight end for his first three seasons at Ohio State, a new coach and system means the 6-foot-8, 298-pound Fragel is playing his final one at right tackle. He is virtually even with freshman Taylor Decker in perhaps the most unsettled position battle of Urban Meyer's first camp.
Fragel is an experienced run-blocker and is the rare offensive lineman with a six-pack. The 6-foot-7 Decker, a former Notre Dame commit, is just as long and a natural tackle. Both are still raw in their technique.
"It's a battle, and it's not a battle of all-Big Tens yet," Meyer said. "It's guys that are still learning."
One would be uninformed, however, to doubt Fragel. Not a player who counts among his heroes a man who served two years in the Army, battled cancer, and won 288 games in nearly two decades as the basketball coach at Rossford, where games are now played on Joe Stalma Court.
Per usual, Fragel recently stopped to visit Stalma in Rossford on the way from his Detroit-area home to Ohio State.
His 81-year-old grandfather's advice?
"Stay tough and hunker down," Fragel recalled.
"I personally respond well to pressure, if that's what you want to call it," Fragel said. "Taylor's a great player, great athlete, great kid. I respect him. It's a battle. Every day I'm trying to get better and better to make that less of a battle. But at the end of the day, the better man will win."
It is not a scenario Fragel envisioned. He saw himself as a tight end coming out of high school. On one campus visit, Stalma said, a coach told Fragel, "Don't ever let anybody change your position. You're a tight end."
Used mostly as a blocker, Fragel caught 14 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown over his first three seasons at OSU. But the switch from a more traditional offense to the spread of Meyer necessitated a change. Fragel said he approached the new coaching staff about switching positions.
"I knew when coach Meyer came in, his offensive philosophy was different," Fragel said. "Being a pro-style tight end, I couldn't fit in as more of a spread tight end. I also knew I had some blocking ability and size to work with. So moving to tackle, I figured would be the best for me because I didn't want to leave the school."
Fragel said the biggest adjustments are learning an offense where the tackle must know the playbook as well as the quarterback and mastering the footwork required for blocking edge-rushers like All-Big Ten defensive end John Simon, who humbled the new lineman more than once during spring practice.
"Right now, it's all mental," Fragel said. "I have no doubt in my mind physically I can block anybody."
He also knows he has a worthy rival in Decker, a blue-chipper from Vandalia, Ohio, who looks up to Fragel but has no intention to bide his time. Though Fragel is still listed atop the depth chart, both are taking snaps with the starters in practice.
"If that dream could come true for me, I would be ecstatic," Decker said of starting as a freshman. "But I still have a long way to go. I haven't solidified myself a spot. I hope that I can."
For now, Meyer's eyes will remain locked on the right side of the line. The rest of the Buckeyes' front appears settled, with converted guard Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, at left tackle, junior Corey Linsley at center, and juniors Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell at guards. The other spot remains a work in progress.
"They're trying hard, they're talented, they're great people," Meyer said. "But our production at right tackle is not where it needs to be right now."
Not yet, at least. Fragel and Decker both believe they're the ones to change that.
"It's like everything else in athletics," Stalma said. "You're competing."
Contact David Briggs at: DBriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.