Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson has brought in a string of five-star pass-rushers since arriving in Columbus in 2014.
Joey Bosa was already on campus when Johnson started with the Buckeyes, but Joey gave way to his younger brother Nick, who briefly shared the field with Chase Young.
Now, as Young gets closer to the end of his third season at the collegiate level, Zach Harrison is the next in line.
Harrison has come quite a long way in just his first 12 months as a Buckeye. He has already recorded 22 tackles, 5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks as a true freshman.
Those are impressive numbers, but even more remarkable when you consider that this time in 2018, he was still in high school, figuring out where he would even be playing in college. A year ago this week, he was deciding whether to be a Buckeye or a Michigan Wolverine.
“Really, I didn’t decide where I was going until the Saturday before signing day and it was on Wednesday. I didn’t know until three days before signing day,” Harrison said this week.
He arrived at Ohio State in January 2019 with an impressive resume, but a lot to learn. Harrison was the No. 12 overall player in the 2019 class, rated the 2nd-best defensive end, and best player in Ohio.
Landing him was a coup for Johnson, but Harrison was far from a finished product.
“I came in early, and spring ball helped me through camp. I didn’t know what the season was going to hold. I started off kind of slow and once the games started slowing down a little bit, I started making more plays,” Harrison said.
He recorded his first career sack against Indiana in the third week of the season, and had a couple tackles for loss against Nebraska.
But his growth was apparent late in the year, when he recorded season-highs with four tackles against both Penn State and in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
It’s patently unfair to try to compare a true freshman to a defensive end whose play was so dominant that he shattered the school’s single-season sack record and earned a spot as a Heisman finalist.
So we definitely won’t do that, except to point out that Harrison’s freshman year stats (remember, it’s 22 tackles, 5 TFL, and 3.5 sacks) sure do look similar to Young’s first season (18 tackles, 5 TFL, 3.5 sacks).
But stats don’t tell the whole story. Players are privy to lots of information that fans, and even reporters aren’t. So where does Young think Harrison is, compared to the end of his own freshman year?
“Zach, I think he’s ahead of me just because I think he’s developing a lot faster. He’s taking the coaching a lot faster than I did,” said Young earlier this month.
“Me and Chase talk about it at times,” Harrison said. “It’s good having him around. It’s something I can chase. So we always talk about his freshman year and I feel I’ve had a better freshman year than he had.”
Harrison is quick to tell you how much of an impact Johnson and everyone else in the defensive end room has had on his improvement.
“Just working with Coach J every day and all the all the older guys helping me out with my technique and little things that I really didn’t have coming in,” said Harrison.
Senior captain Jonathon Cooper said Harrison’s performance and growth makes sense if you understand who he is as a person.
“Not only is he an amazing athlete, he’s an amazing worker. He works really hard, he has a great work ethic, he has a great attitude,” Cooper said.
“He’s just a good kid. He takes coaching very well, too. He’s very coachable. I’m proud of him. Everybody else might have expected him to be the freshman and raw, but we expected him to make a big impact since he came in. He’s been doing it.”
Harrison knows that his freshman year is only the start.
“I still have a bunch of stuff to learn. I have a lot of steps to take before I’m a finished product. That’s the exciting part for me,” he said.
That attitude is one reason Young sees big things in Harrison’s future.
“Zach, I feel like, as big as he is, he’s going to be a great player. He’s fast. He’s long. If he continues to work on his technique, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”