When you are a 5-star prospect in college athletics, you have a certain level of expectations placed upon you.
And when you’re a 5-star defensive end who signs with Ohio State and follows in the footsteps of recent 5-star Buckeye pass rushers like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young, the expectations are lit up in neon and wrap around Ohio Stadium like a scoreboard ticker.
Such is life for Ohio State sophomore defensive end Zach Harrison, who was the No. 12 player in the 2019 class and the No. 2 strongside defensive end prospect in the nation.
It was a closely-watched recruiting process, as Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State all seemed to hold the edge at one time or another.
One of the coaches recruiting Harrison was OSU linebackers coach Al Washington, who was Michigan’s linebackers coach at the time.
According to Washington, Harrison was just as impressive off the field as he was on the field.
“My take on Zach was number one he’s highly intelligent. He’s very bright, very engaging. He had a passion for football,” Washington said. “You’d hear stories about him meeting with his high school head coach one on one, going over coverage concepts and the things that typical D-linemen wouldn’t ask. I was a defensive lineman and I wasn’t asking about coverage. I could care less in high school. And so I thought he was unique in that way.
“I saw him run track and I saw him running a 10.7 100 meters with sneakers on in the rain. So, I mean, for a kid that size, he can run. Always knew he had the physical attributes. And then his character, you know he’s a leader on his team. He cared about his team, those things, so I had a high opinion of Zach, as a person, and a player. I think what you saw this year was from game one to game whatever, you saw a guy fundamentally grow.”
Harrison became a Buckeye and immediately bore the responsibility of being “the next in line.” The weight of those expectations can be too much for some, but that has not yet been the case for Harrison, who had a freshman season on par with both Nick Bosa and Chase Young before him.
Harrison finished with 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks last year. As a freshman in 2017, Young produced 19 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. One year earlier, Nick Bosa posted 29 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, and 5.0 sacks as a true freshman.
If Harrison continues to mirror the production of those two as a sophomore, then that scoreboard ticker might start looking more like a pinball machine.
And nothing that Washington has seen from Harrison in his first year has him thinking that the expectations he arrived with are ever going to be too much for the young defensive end to handle. Especially as long as defensive line coach Larry Johnson is there to get the most out of him.
“You are right on the front of the guy, so if you have a bad step, you’re exposed. So, a guy like Zach, you saw him at the end of the year he started playing really good football. And the guys who know football notice his footwork, notice his hands,” Washington said. “Coach Johnson is the best on the planet at what he does. And so you saw him start to act out the things that he knows he should have done.
“So I think in time his role is going to blow fast because not only does he have the talent, he has the drive and he has passion. All those things that are important for any elite player, and I’m not gassing him up. I’m not pumping him up. I’m just stating the fact. That’s how important he is. That’s how important the game is to him and his teammates are to him. There’s not a better young kid that you would build a program around than Zach in my opinion.”