Ohio State doesn’t often dip into the state of North Carolina for recruiting purposes. Or at least when they do, they’re not all that successful.
The Buckeyes have signed four players from North Carolina in the last 10 classes, with two of those players signing in the last two years.
In 2019, it was 3-star defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie out of Wake Forest who committed late in the process. This year, it was Charlotte defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan, who knew very early on that he wanted to be a Buckeye.
Cowan was offered about 24 months ago by Ohio State. That offer led to a couple of unofficial visits in 2018, including the Michigan game. He visited OSU officially last June and then took some time before committing to the Buckeyes in October.
Ranked the No. 17 defensive tackle in the nation, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Cowan will actually be starting his career on the outside.
“Defensive end. That’s what I’ve been getting reps at since I’ve been here,” Cowan said recently. “Coach [Ryan] Day considers me a defensive end, he recruited me as a D-end and that’s what I’ve been getting coached at the whole time.”
The recruiting services project Cowan as a defensive tackle because of his size, but he played defensive end in high school. It should also come as no surprise that a defensive end prospect would want to play defensive end at Ohio State.
Under defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s tutelage, the Buckeyes have had five defensive ends drafted in the last four years — with Joey Bosa and Nick Bosa going in the top three of their respective drafts. And beginning with Tyquan Lewis in the second round, he, Sam Hubbard, and Jalyn Holmes were selected in consecutive rounds of the 2018 draft.
Hubbard’s 14.5 sacks in his two seasons is the most of any 2018 draftee.
Those draft numbers will be growing by one this spring when Chase Young adds his name to the lineage of pass rushers who have called Larry Johnson a mentor.
Of course, none of those results are lost on Jacolbe Cowan.
“It definitely motivates me just being in some of the positions that they were in when they first came in, just knowing I have goals to chase and certain legacies that have been left before me to chase,” he said.
“I’m really just motivated by that, to come in and work hard every day. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and just chase their footsteps, but make my own path.”
The path won’t be easy, but the process has already begun. Every defensive lineman under Larry Johnson has a figurative tool box of skills and techniques and the more that gets put into that box, the better those players become.
Right now, the focus is simply on mobility.
“They work with all of us as far as speed, mobility and being able to move in tight situations,” Cowan said. “Quick twitch has been a big emphasis. Another thing is explosiveness and just that first-step explosion. I feel like once I get that, and I’m really starting to see some improvements this far even though I’ve been here only like a month now. So it’s been great.”
Once the explosion and quick twitch are amplified, more technique is added. Hand placement, the direction a foot is pointed, arm extension, all of it will eventually get added into the tool box.
All Johnson asks is that his players listen, apply, and give everything they have.
Which, when Cowan describes himself as a player, seems to suit him just fine.
“Honestly, I’m just a guy who works hard, gives his all throughout every drill, each rep,” he said. “A guy that pays attention and is really locked in and focused mentally at all times.”
And if you think about it, that’s really the best kind of legacy to leave.