Entering his junior year at Cretin-Durham Hall High School in Minnesota, Jashon Cornell was ESPN’s No. 1 overall football prospect for the class of 2015.
Atop that same list in preceding years were the names of Jadeveon Clowney, Leonard Fournette and Robert Nkemdiche –– all of whom left college after three years to become first round NFL Draft selections.
It’s now Cornell’s fifth season at Ohio State, and while he may not be generating top-tier NFL buzz, he showed flashes of dominant play in what defensive line coach Larry Johnson called Cornell’s best collegiate game Saturday.
“I think it was, I think he did some things that really showed his ability,” Johnson said.
The abilities Cornell showcased against Florida Atlantic resulted in four tackles, two tackles for loss and a strip sack — each of which were career highs in a game for Cornell, and with a sack in the season opener, he has already matched his 2018 output.
Cornell may have been a coveted recruit, but Johnson said it’s taken extended time in the program for him to become the player who had his name called several times Saturday.
“He’s had a great camp, so I’m not surprised,” Johnson said. “Fifth-year player, he finally gets it. He understands it.”
The years have not always been kind to Cornell.
Cornell entered Ohio State in 2015 as a defensive end. While stars at the position like Nick Bosa and junior Chase Young played significant time in their true freshman season, Cornell redshirted his first year.
The following year, not only did Cornell sustain a groin injury that limited him to just five games, but he was also switched to defensive tackle.
Cornell’s most successful year to date was 2017, a season in which he had 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks; however, he was moved over to defensive end once again the following year.
Ahead of this season, Cornell said he was looking forward to returning to his more natural position at tackle.
“When I was at defensive end, I didn’t feel as comfortable in the past when I was switching back and forth at positions,” Cornell said. “But when I’m at three-technique, I feel like I’m at home.”
In a twist of fate, Cornell’s breakout turn against FAU came with him playing both positions. An ankle sprain to senior and regular defensive end starter Jonathon Cooper meant Cornell got the start opposite Young, and he made the most of it.
Johnson said Cornell’s pass-rush prowess, on display in his strip sack of FAU redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Robison late in the first quarter, gives him a “different level” at three-technique.
Johnson said he plans to return Cornell to tackle this week, though with injuries to sophomore defensive ends Tyler Friday and Tyreke Smith, in addition to Cooper, Cornell will have the opportunity to continue to be a difference-maker at multiple spots on the defensive line.
“Training room, cafeteria, your playbook, watching film, I feel like it’s helping me a lot more,” Cornell said. “I’m more focused than I was previous years.”