As a true freshman last season, Ohio State defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie saw action in just two games while dealing with injuries and a loaded depth chart.
He was the lone defensive tackle signed by the Buckeyes in the 2019 class, and didn’t even commit until the early December signing day.
As a late add to the 2019 class, McKenzie also held offers from in-state North Carolina, as well as Clemson, Tennessee, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and others.
With upwards of seven other defensive tackles ahead of him on the roster, playing time was going to be sparse for any true freshman. Which is why most of his rookie year was spent simply learning from all of the veterans ahead of him.
“It’s been really fun, just the whole ride,” McKenzie said. “Our training staff really did a great job helping me get better. It’s been great working with the veterans and learning from them. Those guys have been here a while. They have a lot of experience, so I think just having conversations with them on the regular helps me develop. They’re great guys and great leaders.”
McKenzie enrolled last summer, so he has yet to experience a spring camp at Ohio State. While this will be a new experience for him, it will also be a very important time in his career. Gone are three fifth-year senior defensive tackles in DaVon Hamilton, Robert Landers, and Jashon Cornell, which means the depth chart is wide open right now.
“I can’t wait. I can’t wait,” McKenzie said. “Spring’s going to be a big factor in my college career. So I’m doing everything I can to prepare for that moment.”
Given the unknowns with the current Buckeye depth chart, McKenzie may not yet have a true position. Is he a three tech defensive tackle, or does the team need him at nose tackle? Those things may still be a mystery, but what isn’t a mystery according to McKenzie is what the Buckeyes will get from him on the field.
“A hard worker. A relentless worker,” he said. “I think that’s what I strive to be. Just a hard worker in general. I think I’m a good run stopper. I’m still working on my pass rush, but with Coach [Larry] Johnson, it’s bound to get there.”
Of course, working with Larry Johnson is one of the benefits of being an Ohio State defensive lineman, and each year is a positive learning experience.
“He’s a legend,” McKenzie said. “He’s something serious and he’s by far the greatest defensive line coach I’ve encountered. I know personally I’m going to do great things under him.”
How quickly those great things take place will begin to find an answer next month when spring ball opens up. That will be just the start of McKenzie’s path, which he’s hoping takes him somewhere into the rotation this season.
“I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working. Keep my head down, keep working and see what happens.”