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Published: Friday, 8/24/2012

OSU's Boren excited for new role

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Zach Boren Zach Boren
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COLUMBUS -- Zach Boren first noticed the advantage of his new lean frame this spring not on the football field but when the elevators on campus no longer seemed so tempting.

"I'd walk up three flights of stairs to class and think, 'Wow, that was a lot easier than it was at 265 pounds,'" Boren said.

Turns out, a lot is easier now for Ohio State's 245-pound senior fullback, who hopes less heft means more touches in the spread offense of first-year coach Urban Meyer.

For three years, Boren was a classic up-the-gut bruiser as the Buckeyes' starting lead blocker. His bone-clattering hits helped produce glory for others but got no ink in the box score. He had one career carry for 2 yards.

But along with the I formation, Boren's archetype became a casualty of the more open style. He needed to be just as comfortable taking a handoff or pulling outside to block on a jet sweep as he was knocking heads inside.

"I don't need to be leading [isolation plays] 40 times and taking out a dude and cracking my helmet and facemask," he said. "Our offense isn't in that era anymore. We don't need me being at that weight."

A player who initially didn't strike Meyer as an ideal hybrid fit at fullback spent the offseason willing himself into one. Boren shed the excess weight and rediscovered the speed and acceleration from his days as a high school running back in Pickerington.

Boren will still hit but also run (and catch), assuming an expanded role for which Meyer believes he is ready.

"[He] wasn't when he was 260 pounds and doesn't move real well," Meyer said. "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."

For Boren, one of five senior captains, it is the latest transformation in his career.

Boren came to college as a linebacker like his father, Mike, a Columbus native who became the sixth all-time leading tackler at Michigan. But OSU coaches ask him to switch to fullback the summer before his freshman year. He told them that was "perfectly fine." As a player who lived to hit and possessed the vision of a tailback, the position suited him.

"I kind of brought the linebacker attitude to fullback," Boren said. "I was just going to go out and hit someone. I knew who I was hitting and I kind of treated it as a running back.

"I think that's why I've been successful at fullback. I can see the open holes, see the cutback lanes. I prided myself on leading the running back to the right area."

In 27 starts, Boren caught 20 passes for 151 yards and had a solitary carry against Michigan in 2010. But he developed into one of the team's most respected leaders. He was named the Buckeyes' most outstanding back last season, and last week, he and senior defensive end John Simon were co-leaders in the player vote for team captains.

Now, Boren is eager for the chance to run over opponents … with the ball. Although his role remains unclear, he spent much of the summer working with the running backs, a deep but unproven group led by senior Jordan Hall and junior Carlos Hyde.

"It's been a long time since I carried the ball," Boren said. "I'm excited about it."

HALL NEARS RETURN: Hall is aiming for an early-season comeback as he continues to recover from a torn foot tendon he suffered in June after stepping on broken glass outside his Columbus home.

Hall, the Buckeyes' projected starting tailback, shed his walking boot on Wednesday and hopes to return for the Buckeyes' Sept. 8 game against Central Florida. OSU hosts California on Sept. 15.

"I'm hoping I can start running and jogging and get back as soon as possible," he said. "I want to play in the second game so I can get going for Cal and the start of the Big Ten."

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.



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