A cozy Zach Harrison is ‘playing his best football right now’ for Ohio State
Zach Harrison was an important prospect for Ohio State in the 2019 recruiting class. He was a local player, coming out of the Columbus suburb of Lewis Center, a five-star prospect and the No. 2 defensive end in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite.
On top of that, however, was the moment of Harrison’s recruitment. The 2019 class was the first full class under the new head coach Ryan Day after taking over for Urban Meyer. Landing a top prospect like Harrison would help keep the Buckeyes’ recruiting momentum going.
Like many Scarlet and Gray fans, however, Day wasn’t confident in landing Harrison.
Shortly after taking over as head coach of Ohio State, Day went with the defensive line coach larry johnson at Harrison’s house. They met with the player and his family, and then Day made what he thought was a major mistake: he gave Harrison a Buckeye.
“I said, ‘It’s a Buckeye, I want you to have it'” Day reminded of this meeting. “And he looks at me, looks at him, he goes, ‘You know, the Buckeyes are poisonous, Coach.’ I walked out, I said to Larry, “We won’t get Zach.”
Obviously, Day was wrong. Shortly after that encounter, Harrison called Johnson and got involved.
“It was very important for us because Zach was heavily recruited,” Day continued. “He was a local kid, Olentangy Orange, obviously hugely talented and cultured which suited us.”
As a five-star defensive end, Harrison was expected to follow in the footsteps of Joey and Nick Bosa and hunt young. Yet four years later, Harrison is not playing his rookie season in the NFL, but is instead back with the Scarlet and Grey.
Throughout his career at Ohio State, Harrison faced questions about comparisons to those three-star Buckeye defensive ends who had just come before him. He often said he didn’t care about comparisons, yet he was aware of expectations.
“Obviously coming in, seeing guys like Chase and DaVon (Hamilton) and doing what they did, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m doing this next year,'” Harrison said. “And then it doesn’t turn out the way you sometimes dream of. You just gotta keep working and keep grinding and putting one foot in front of the other and letting the shavings fall where they can.
What has been important for Harrison is realizing that he is on his own path. Although he said he doesn’t compare to other defensive linemen, he knows his potential and has his own expectations. But things don’t always go as planned.
“It’s part of maturing, realizing that everyone’s journey is different,” Harrison said. “Not everyone comes to college and it’s three years and comes out No. 2 overall. It’s not common.
This season, Harrison is one of the Buckeyes who poisons opposing attacks.
While Harrison’s potential erupted throughout his first three years with Scarlet and Grey, he fully looks the part through seven games as a senior. The defensive end has made key plays this year for Ohio State, lining us up as a rushing end but sometimes also as an inside defensive lineman to help stop the run.
The best example of Harrison’s game came last week against Iowa. In a dominant defensive performance by the Buckeyes, Harrison was recognized as a standout. Despite only playing 20 defensive snaps, Harrison had two tackles, both for a loss, a sack, a rushing quarterback and a forced fumble. He also tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage which resulted in an interception for safety Tanner McCalisterthe second time this year Harrison’s fingers resulted in the pick of a teammate.
Zach Harrison in Week 8 against Iowa:
?? 95.3 Rush Grade Pass
?? 5 QB Pressures
?? Pass Rush success rate of 44% pic.twitter.com/5wgkI7n9fY
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 24, 2022
“I think he was one of the few guys who played with that kind of energy,” Day said. “I think Zach is playing some of his best footballers right now… Zach has really evolved. He trained very well. I think his leadership has been good. And I think you’ll agree, he’s probably playing his best football right now.
Along with the maturity and comfort of being himself, Harrison has also come into his own physically. He is taller and weighs more than Brother Bosa or Young during their college careers. In fact, Harrison is one of the tallest players on the Scarlet and Gray roster and weighs more than any of his teammates who aren’t offensive linemen or defensive tackles.
He also has long arms, which means he plays differently than many defensive ends. This year Johnson has found ways to better maximize Harrison, including using him inside, but the player has also taken his game to the next level.
For the first-year defensive coordinator Jim KnowlesHarrison plays as well as anyone on the Ohio State defense.
“From the first time I was around Zach, I knew that in my mind he was an elite player,” Knowles said. “I mean, he has great speed, tremendous arm length and the ability to lock in blockers and his passing rush is really – he has distinct moves that he uses. So I didn’t watch much last year when I got here. I really just tried to get an idea of the guys as they were. And Zach performs weekly on tape. So it’s good to see him start making more plays and getting recognition. But I think he’s one of the elite.
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When it’s all said and done and Harrison looks back on his Buckeye career, he won’t have any regrets. No, his trip didn’t go the way people expected, but he found peace with it. He just wants to be the best player he can be, and he’s doing a good job.
He will also remember what he said to Day at the end of that home visit, something else he does not regret.
“Yet it is the truth. I didn’t think anything about it,” Harrison said. “To this day, it is the truth. If you eat a Buckeye, you will die.