The Fragels will never wave it more proudly than Saturday.
When Ohio State hosts Michigan, Fragel will play one last game in a role and a season he never could have envisioned.
The 6-foot-8, 310-pound senior switched to right tackle after spending his first three seasons at tight end — and the early returns of the experiment were not promising. Coach Urban Meyer admitted this week, “In my own mind, I made the decision he wouldn’t be playing right tackle for us.”
Meyer now wonders where the fourth-ranked Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) would be without him.
Fragel willed himself first to competence, then beyond as an entrenched cog with NFL prospects. “He’s done a great job,” Meyer said of Fragel, the grandson of former Rossford basketball coach Joe Stalma. “To think he’s played 11 games on an offense that’s ranked ninth in the country [in rushing], I would have said that won’t happen.”
Fragel’s story symbolizes the transformation of a front five that has evolved from a glaring question mark to a resounding exclamation point.
Meyer’s first impression of the line is well-documented. Four linemen missed his first team meeting and a couple were late for the next one, leading to a week of 5 a.m. workouts.
“The week when we had them out in 10-degree weather trying to make a decision either quit or stay, that was because of the offensive line,” Meyer said.
The linemen stayed, though Meyer was not optimistic. A unit that allowed 46 sacks last season — the most by a Big Ten team in four seasons — had lost three starters to the NFL and was so thin on depth that a tight end seemed the best option at right tackle. Meyer labeled the line “nonfunctional” during the spring.
But their work ethic told Meyer everything just might be all right.
Fragel, whose only experience on the offensive line was a brief stint at right tackle his senior year of high school, packed on 30 pounds and dedicated himself to learning the new position.
The player who grew up scrutinizing film of old college and pro games did the same with tape of himself.
Fragel improved his footwork and technique and narrowly won the starting job over freshman Taylor Decker. Then he pulled away, the potential of such a large player with the feet and agility of a tight end becoming more apparent by the week.
Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, now the executive director of the Senior Bowl, scouted Fragel in late September. “If he will understand and embrace the opportunity in front of him, the ceiling for him could be as a potential starter in the league,” Savage wrote in his report for the Senior Bowl.
Meyer said Fragel has only gotten better, and the group of left tackle Jack Mewhort, left guard Andrew Norwell, center Corey Linsley, right guard Marcus Hall, and Fragel are clearing the way for an offense averaging 245.5 rushing yards per game — fourth-most among BCS schools.
“I knew that if I pushed myself hard enough where I could be at,” Fragel said. “I’m almost there, I feel like. I feel comfortable at this position now more than ever.”
And so has Ohio State, for which all that remains in the way of perfection is a win over that school from Fragel’s home state.
“At this point, the record doesn’t mean anything," said Fragel, who moved from Perrysburg to Michigan in pre-school. "It all comes down to this."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.