GREEN BAY - It was the perfect nickname, born out of older-brother manipulation, younger-brother naivety, and a family that can laugh off a broken jaw.
How tall the sledding hill was is hard to say all these years later. “It was really, really high,” Brett Myers, the older brother, remembers. At the bottom awaited a 3-, maybe 4-foot ramp. Packed with ice. Built by kids.
Which made it more of a 3-, maybe 4-foot wall.
The perfect snow day in Miamisburg, Ohio, a town of 20,000 residents located between Cincinnati and Dayton, was not complete without “getting some air” at the hill. Brett brought his little brother, Josh, and a neighborhood friend, intent on turning their sleds into flying saucers. But Brett was no fool. He needed visual proof this ramp would work. A crash dummy. Naturally, he turned to his little brother.
“It’s just the classic me being the older brother,” Brett says, “making the younger brother do the stupid stuff first.”
A young Josh Myers never backed down from a challenge. That moxie has carried the Green Bay Packers' second-round pick a long way in football. In sledding, it led to only pain.
It took Josh no time to scoot onto the sled, rocketing down that icy slope. Everything was fine, albeit at breakneck speed, until just before Josh reached the ramp. That’s when his sled spun backward. Josh, a middle schooler, was flying blind.
The spectacular crash ended with Josh’s face smacking the ramp. It was wince inducing, but Brett and his friend weren’t done sledding. “I actually remember getting mad at him,” Brett says. “Like, ‘You’re being dramatic. Mom and Dad are going to be mad. Suck it up.’” At Brett’s behest, Josh stayed at the hill. He walked home, about a half mile down the road, only after everyone finished.
By that time, Josh’s mouth was oozing blood. His jaw was broken. His bottom teeth were cracked. “I felt so bad,” Brett says now. Josh received an apology from his brother, but also the nickname.
For a while, Josh Myers was known as Jack-o’-lantern.
A mother’s ‘nervous wreck’
Looking back, it’s no coincidence Josh Myers became a center. Nothing says “future NFL offensive lineman” like having a mom who kept stitches in the house just in case. Julie Myers, a physician and pediatrician, knew her toughest patient waited at home.
At 4 years old, Josh Myers would strip out of his clothes, realizing his bare legs and stomach stuck better to the 10-foot columns in his family’s living room. He hung from the ceiling like a monkey, daring the cracked skull that awaited on the ceramic flooring below.
“I’m trying to keep my child alive,” Julie says, “because he is so adventurous and so fearless, and I was a nervous wreck. Because I thought my house was safety proof, and, no, Josh would figure out something else to do. He was definitely one of those guys who loved life, and no challenge was too big for him.”
At 6, Josh was doing flips off the high dive at the local, community pool. His parents joked they should keep him on a leash. Once, Brad Myers lost his son inside a Macy’s department store. As the initial fear descended into panic, he found Josh in the middle of a clothing rack. “I wanted to tear him up so bad,” Brad says, laughing, “and he was just sitting in the middle of that rack, just looking up at me, just grinning, like, ‘Yeah, I got ya.’” Football was a necessary outlet, allowing Josh Myers to channel all that energy.
It was also something of the family business. Brad Myers had been a center at Kentucky. Zach Myers, the oldest of three Myers boys, also was a center at Kentucky. The Myers family bonded over sports. Julie, unanimously considered the family’s best athlete, is in the Dayton athletic hall of fame because of her basketball career. She kept playing basketball with her sons, each broad, towering men, until dislocating her shoulder attempting to wrestle away a rebound. The pickup games abruptly ended.
Competition among the Myers boys could break out any time, from anywhere. The family’s home took the brunt of their abuse. “Typical boys,” Julie says, “they never used things for what they were supposed to be used for.” Down in the basement, a trampoline wedged against the wall. The game included a quarterback, defensive back and one Myers boy jumping off the trampoline, attempting a diving catch. Over the years, the trampoline cut a “massive hole” into the drywall.
“Mom and Dad were obviously very upset about (that),” Zach says.
One day, Josh had too many catches off the trampoline. “I could not make him drop it,” Zach remembers. Big brother finally had enough. After waiting for Josh to get up, Zach gave “a pretty healthy shove” into the wall. Josh stumbled back, splitting his head open on a sharp corner.
After walking back upstairs, Josh laid himself down on the couch. Mom had the stitches ready.
She sewed six into her son’s scalp.
‘OK, Josh is going to be pretty good’
Brett remembers everything about the play. They were near the 35-yard line on Miamisburg’s practice field. Josh, a freshman guard, was trying to crack into varsity. Brett, a senior linebacker, was determined to make his little brother earn it.
“We ran a wing-T offense,” Brett says, “so the guards pulled a lot. So I knew Josh was going to be pulling. I was going to set the edge on him at some point.”
That point was finally here. At long last, after sledding-hill crashes and basement brawls, Brett Myers was about to meet his younger brother on the football field. The one place violence was encouraged.
Yes, Brett Myers fully intended to send a welcome-to-varsity message.
Then his 250-pound freshman brother came sprinting for him.
“My eyes lit up,” Brett says. “I was like, ‘All right, here we go.’ And then he absolutely smoked me. Like, the first thing that hit was the back of my head on the ground. I’m a 25-year-old man now, and that is still one of the most humbling experiences in my life. To this day, I vividly remember that.
“I was like, ‘OK, Josh is going to be pretty good.’”
Pretty good was an understatement.
Josh was a revelation on Miamisburg’s varsity football team, an instant starter. The college scouts noticed immediately. His first offer came from Indiana that freshman season. Michigan soon followed. Then Ohio State. Josh was only a sophomore when he committed to the Buckeyes. By then, he was on his way to becoming a unanimous four-star prospect, the top player in Ohio.
But this hulking prodigy was also a project. That wing-T offense Miamisburg ran helped Josh Myers dominate Ohio high school football. He merely dug both knuckles in the ground, shot out of his four-point stance and blew up defensive linemen. There was no finesse, just brute force.
At Ohio State, Myers had to learn how to play offensive line.
“He didn’t know what a pass set was from the man on the moon,” Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa says.
It took Myers two years to master the skill set required to be a Big Ten offensive lineman. He redshirted his first season, then backed up All-American center Michael Jordan a year later. Meanwhile, Studrawa and Ohio State head coach Ryan Day stayed creative.
Myers, who grew to 6-5, 310 pounds, had always played guard. Studrawa has a long history of converting large guards to center. He did it with Jordan, who at 6-6, 310 pounds started at guard before moving to center for his final college season. Jordan was a fourth-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, who have lined him up at left guard the past two years.
Before Jordan, Billy Price started his college career at guard before moving to center, where he won the Rimington Trophy as a senior. Price, who stands 6-4, was a first-round pick to the Bengals. Before Price, Pat Elflein started his Ohio State career at guard before moving to center, where he became an All-American as a senior. Elflein, a more moderate 6-3, was a third-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings and now plays left guard for the Carolina Panthers.
Over and over, Studrawa plucked his most cerebral lineman and inserted him at the position responsible for leading the rest of his offensive line.
“The center position, in my opinion,” Studrawa says, “is the hardest position to find a quality guy. The teams that struggle at center, they really struggle.”
Myers was Studrawa’s next project. He approached the redshirt sophomore before spring practices with an idea that must’ve sounded nuts. Myers has the size for tackle, not center. “I was initially very surprised,” Myers says. But he knew it was best for the team after Jordan left the vacancy. Studrawa reassured him, saying the experiment could be temporary. If the fit wasn’t right, if he couldn’t adjust, Myers would move back to guard.
Here was another challenge Josh Myers quickly embraced. It took Studrawa two days to know Myers was a natural center.
“I ended up falling in love with the position,” Myers says. “Everything about it. I love the physicality of it. I love the fact you kind of have to be a leader, you have to make calls. Just all those things that come with it, I fell in love with.”
Myers started 21 of his final 22 games over the past two seasons. He was first-team All-Big Ten in 2020. A Rimington Trophy semifinalist. Teammates named him a 2020 captain, an honor his family says meant most to him. Myers became indispensable in the center of Ohio State’s offensive line, snapping the football to eventual Chicago Bears first-round draft pick Justin Fields.
He knew what his value to the team required. Josh Myers could not leave the field. No matter how painful it was to play.
Love hurts … ‘really, really badly’
He was never missing the college football playoffs. Josh Myers chose Ohio State, breaking the family’s Kentucky tradition, precisely to compete for a national title. All that stood between him and that chance was Clemson.
The sprained big toe on his left foot was merely a nuisance.
Myers sprained his toe on one of the last plays of the Big Ten championship game, a 22-10 win against Northwestern. The Sugar Bowl against Clemson came 13 days later. He wasn’t missing it. Even more, Ohio State needed him not to miss it. The Buckeyes’ backup center was unavailable after testing positive for COVID-19.
Myers made it through the first half on that gimpy big toe. Early in the third quarter, he felt a pop. Myers later learned he broke the sesamoid bone. He played the rest of the game, and all of the national championship game, with the bone rolled under the ball of his foot.
With Ohio State up big late, Studrawa pleaded with his center to leave the game.
“There was a timeout,” Studrawa says, “and I saw it in his eyes. He must’ve gotten it hit or stepped on or something, and, wow. I could see it in his eyes. I was like, ‘Hey, we’re up here. How about a series?’ And he looked at me like, ‘Wait, what? What did you just say?’
“I was like, ‘Well, I’m just. Never mind. Never mind.’”
Ohio State played Alabama in the national title game 10 days later. All week, the Buckeyes medical staff requested Myers get an MRI and X-ray on his toe. Myers refused. “His response to that,” Brad Myers says, “was, ‘Well, if I get it checked out, I already know what the end result is going to be.” Josh Myers wasn’t letting anyone else decide whether he could play for the national championship.
Looking back, Brad Myers says, his son had to know toe surgery was inevitable. His pre-draft preparation was practically over. Josh missed the Senior Bowl. He was limited at Ohio State’s pro day. He’s only now starting to go through offensive line drills, though he isn’t quite running full speed.
Josh called his mother worried before the national championship game. His toe had swollen to five times its normal size, Julie says.
When his parents tried to persuade him to miss the game, Josh won the argument with a simple question.
“He asked Julie and I, ‘What would you guys do if you had an opportunity to play in the national championship game?’” Brad says. “I mean, we had to be honest. When he asked us if we would play, I was like, ‘Well, yeah. That’s a no-brainer. I mean, absolutely. There’s no doubt.’ He said, ‘Well, then you have your answer.’”
Studrawa tried to limit Myers in practice before playing Alabama. Myers wasn’t having it. “Coach,” he told Studrawa, “there’s no chance in hell that I’m not playing this football game.” So he took the practice reps, readied himself for the Crimson Tide.
Ohio State lost 52-24. It trailed 35-17 at halftime. Josh Myers never left the field, even in the second half of a blowout.
“It was extremely painful,” he says, “to play through it. As an offensive lineman, pushing through that toe, you just do it so often. So playing through those games hurt really, really badly. But really the decision came down to I just felt like I owed it to myself and my teammates, everyone at Ohio State, to kind of gut it up and play through it, give ourselves a shot at the national championship.
“To be honest, I knew there was a chance it could hurt me going into the NFL draft, but it was one of those things that I felt like I needed to do it whether it hurt me or not, because it was what was best for the team.”
Myers knew he’d need surgery after the title game. Coincidentally, one of the nation’s foremost foot surgeons has an office near Lambeau Field.
‘A guy that plays 10 years’
Four days after the Packers lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game, Josh Myers and his parents woke up inside Lodge Kohler in Green Bay.
Because of COVID-19 protocols, only one parent could accompany Myers to surgery. Julie, the physician, was the obvious choice. As she drove her son to the hospital, Brad found himself with a few hours to fill. He’d already walked around Titletown District the night before. “When I turned on Lombardi Avenue,” Brad says, “I looked at my wife, and I told her I was covered in goosebumps.” It wasn’t just the 5-degree temperature, he says.
Now he wandered across South Ridge Road, inside Lambeau Field. He tried to “sneak outside” to see the field, but a side door was locked.
“I couldn’t even wrap my mind around the fact I was at Lambeau Field,” Brad says.
Later that night, after surgery that put Josh on track to fully recover by the end of this month, father and son discussed how neat it would be to play for the Packers. Any of the NFL’s 32 teams would do, but this place was perfect. There was thick football history, but also what awaited outside the NFL’s most storied stadium. Josh, an avid outdoorsman, already told his family he envisions buying a boat for the open water. He hunts morel mushrooms around Miamisburg with his dad, a tradition they’ll continue in Green Bay.
“This is a kid,” Julie says, “who when he finishes with whatever he’s doing, he wants to go on the Bass Pro Tour.”
Those dreams can wait. First, Josh Myers has work to do. Greg Studrawa’s latest project, the oversized guard who became a center, the Jack-o’-lantern kid who could take a hit, is already diving headfirst into his NFL career. “I think,” Studrawa says, “he’s going to be a guy that plays 10 years.” Shortly after the draft, Studrawa got a call. His center asked if he’d be around.
Myers wanted help memorizing Matt LaFleur’s playbook before meeting his new coaches.
“That’s why,” Studrawa says. “That’s the reason he’ll be successful.”