[This is the first in our annual series where The-Ozone looks back on each member of the previous season’s freshman class and the impact they had as rookies, as well as the impact they could have during the upcoming season. Up first is defensive end Zach Harrison.]
Zach Harrison came to Ohio State from nearby Lewis Center, Ohio where he was a 5-star prospect and the No. 4 defensive end in the nation. Ranked the No. 12 prospect in the 2019 class overall, Harrison signed with Ohio State over offers from Michigan, Penn State, Alabama, and every other school in the nation with scholarship capabilities.
Zach Harrison, a 6-foot-6 and 255-pound defensive end, was the second member of the 2019 recruiting class to lose his black stripe, behind receiver Garrett Wilson. Early enrollees, Harrison and Wilson both lived in rarefied air by having their black stripes removed during the spring of their respective freshman seasons.
“Zach Harrison is, number one, great character. That’s the first thing,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said last winter. “Number two, he’s an unbelievable athlete. To be that big and that strong and everything like that. And then watching, like we had mat drills today and just watching him in the weight room. He’s everything you thought when you recruited him. I mean, he’s a special athlete.”
Seen as a raw prospect when he signed, Harrison excelled and grew every step of the way during his freshman year. And even with a fairly deep group of defensive ends, Harrison found himself on the field plenty. He was part of the defensive end rotation from the outset, and even got his first career start against Maryland.
For the season, Harrison played in every game and finished with 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks.
So Now What For Zach Harrison?
There has been a long line of dominating pass rushers at Ohio State over the last decade. John Simon was replaced by Joey Bosa, who was replaced by Tyquan Lewis (among others), who was replaced by Nick Bosa, who was replaced Chase Young. And now with Chase Young gone, Zach Harrison is expected to be the next in line.
Harrison certainly has the recruiting ranking that fits in well with Young and the Bosas. His freshman season compares favorably to Young and Nick Bosa. Young finished with 19 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2017. Nick Bosa as a freshman posted 29 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks.
As he did with Young, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson wanted to ease Harrison into the action as a freshman.
“I want to keep it low key,” Johnson said prior to the 2019 season. “I want to make sure we grow him the right way. That’s the biggest thing. I want to slow it down. We don’t need him to play 90 plays. We really don’t. We’re going to find a place for him where he can fit and be comfortable and get a chance to be successful. That’s the biggest thing.”
With 2020 being Harrison’s sophomore season, much more will be expected of him. He will also be much more equipped to deliver upon those expectations.
“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,” Young said last month.
The Buckeyes may lose Chase Young, but they return five other defensive ends who started at least one game in 2019. Jonathon Cooper, Tyler Friday, Tyreke Smith, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, and Zach Harrison all earned starts last season, and it was Harrison who saw the most snaps of any defensive end not named Chase Young.
The experience he gained this past season — as well as his incredible athleticism — should catapult him into one of the Big Ten’s best defensive ends in 2020.