For the past seven seasons, Ohio State’s presence pressuring quarterbacks has been founded from a defensive end projected as a top 5 NFL Draft pick.
Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa and Chase Young took turns terrorizing opposing backfields in succession from 2013 to ’19.
Young departed from the Buckeyes after a record-setting junior season, leaving a hole for the next great Ohio State defensive end to fill. Freshman Zach Harrison hopes to be that defensive end.
“He can fly,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “He’s long. Came out of high school, he was a big track guy. I remember watching him, actually, in high school. The boy can run.”
Young and Harrison’s freshman seasons were mirror images.
Harrison played 10 games in his first year to Young’s nine, and both recorded the same number of sacks with 3.5.
Young, like Nick and Joey Bosa before him, was thrust into the spotlight as a sophomore, registering 34.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
Harrison, a former five-star prospect, learned what it takes to play in the collegiate ranks in his first season.
“I learned that I’m good enough to play at this level,” Harrison said Dec. 26. “It’s a confidence that’s been building over the course of the season, and I’ve seen my play getting better and better. It’s a good sign for the future.”
There are several things working in Harrison’s favor.
Chief among them is Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who developed both Bosas and Young into the top prospects they became.
Johnson brought up another factor working for Harrison: the Ohio native’s mentality.
“He’s a guy who came in in January and really bought into what we’re doing here, and he’s worked really hard,” Johnson said. “When you work hard and grind, good things happen.”
Landers called the football team’s film room its classroom, and Harrison’s studies have been thorough. He sponges up technical tweaks and rings them out in practice, a constant cleansing cycle of learning and applying.
Landers’ favorite thing about Harrison, he said, is that he’s eager to learn from coach Johnson and the veteran players.
“We give him tips and pointers, and he works hard at trying to execute what we’ve given him,” Landers said. “It can be difficult because coming from high school to college, you’ve gotta break a lot of high school habits you’ve built up over the course of time. Zach has been phenomenal at slowly transitioning to an elite defensive end.”
Work ethic is dug into Harrison’s DNA deeper than any rip, swipe or swim he uses off the edge.
His father Jimmie works as a sales manager at CarMax and his mother Tracey is a manager at Chase Bank. Harrison said their hard work supporting him and his sister Zahara taught him how to put in the effort.
“I think I can count the times on my hands my parents have taken sick days, off days,” Harrison said. “They’re workhorses, so I’ve gotta keep that up in my house.”
There’s two things Harrison said he needs to improve before taking up Young’s mantle: leadership and flexibility.
In the world of 250- and 300-pound bodies crashing into one another, flexibility isn’t a topic often touched on when people discuss defensive linemen.
But it’s essential, Harrison said.
“Every defensive lineman needs to be flexible to bend and form and do the things they need to do,” Harrison said. “I grew so fast at a young age that I’m not as flexible as I need to be at this level.”
With a few bends in the right directions, Harrison could soon become the next top-flight edge presence for the Buckeyes.