A week ago Tuesday, the Ohio State senior came out to the practice fields at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center likely expecting a typical practice. Boren would work with the fullbacks and tight ends and help the Buckeyes as they prepared to take on Indiana.
Instead, head coach Urban Meyer strolled up to Boren as he stretched before practice and made a change of plans. With several linebackers sidelined with injuries, Meyer asked Boren if he would move from offense to defense.
Unsurprisingly, Boren made the switch without hesitation. It did not take him long to make an impact, either.
"He changed the entire dynamic of practice," Meyer said.
His teammates got a boost from Boren's switch.
"When we saw him go over there and saw him starting playing linebacker, we all had big smiles on our faces just because we know he's going to do everything he can to play great on defense just because the hard-nosed player he is," junior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "That's his mentality."
Boren spent the rest of the week leading up to OSU's game in Bloomington trying to absorb as much of the defensive playbook as he could. He then split time with senior Storm Klein at middle linebacker and led the Buckeyes with eight tackles in a 52-49 win.
"It's been a long 72 hours," Boren said after the game. "The coaches have been great in staying at the Woody until 9 o'clock at night or coming in early for practice so I could learn the whole defense. It's been a long week, and I made some major mistakes out there."
There were times Boren looked like someone playing his first game on defense in several years. He bit on a juke move by IU running back Stephen Houston on the final touchdown of the game, but overall, there was probably more good than bad.
OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who also leads the linebackers, said Boren has been wanting to test his skills at LB for some time.
"He wanted to be a linebacker for three years here," Fickell said. "He's been asking, ‘Hey, can I come over? Can I come over? Can I come over?' "
Now that Boren has made the switch, he will likely remain there for the foreseeable future. When asked about the Boren's linebacker status, Meyer called it "temporarily permanent." Fifth-year senior linebacker Etienne Sabino is out for at least two more weeks because of a broken leg, meaning Meyer needs more leadership at the position.
It isn't the first time Meyer has moved a key player midseason, either. Meyer, after crediting the play of tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett for making it possible to move Boren, recalled a similar situation involving former Florida standout and current Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey.
"Right in the middle of the practice I moved him to defensive tackle because we were banged and bruised and didn't have the leadership, didn't have the toughness at that point," Meyer said. "I moved him for period four, and it changed the whole practice. His energy, his leadership, his toughness, and we kept him over there for several games just until guys got back.
"It's very unusual though."
Boren's teammates heaped plenty of praise on the senior when they met with the media on Monday.
"That shows you his kind of leadership when he's able to go on the other side of the ball and pick it up so quick and spend extra time studying what our game plan is and everything like that," senior co-captain John Simon said. "Then to go out and be able to perform a high level, it shows what kind of leader he is, what kind of person he is and what kind of teammate he is."
Added Mewhort: "That's the ultimate sacrifice. He's the best fullback in the country and he's going to go over there and play linebacker and give up three years of playing fullback and maybe being All-Big Ten playing fullback. He's doing everything he can for the team to play defense. We love him for that, and that's just the guy that he is."
Linebacker Ryan Shazier shared the field with Boren on Saturday, and the sophomore said Boren could be a good linebacker if he stays at the spot.
"He already knows how to stay low. He's always in a good football position and he knows how to get the football, so I think Zach could be really good at the position if he stays there," Shazier said.