COLUMBUS — Jack Sawyer has heard the talk for years now.
He knows he has huge expectations following him when he arrives at Ohio State in January. He’s seen the message board posts and the countless stories that are setting him up as the next big thing to line up at defensive end for the Buckeyes.
There were the Bosa brothers. Then there was Chase Young, followed by Zach Harrison.
And next up is Jack Sawyer.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound soon-to-be-senior is perfectly fine with that. Like everything else Sawyer does on the football, field he’s planning to just run into those expectations, full-speed ahead.
“You know, honestly, I love those expectations,” Sawyer told Lettermen Row. “I’m not afraid to be the next one. Everything I am doing it is out of a drive to be the next one. I have no problem saying so, either.
“A lot of guys kind of get upset when when people compare you to someone else, and I get that because everyone wants to be unique in a way, but at the same time you’ve got to understand that being compared to [players like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Chase Young, etc.] is a good thing. I love expectations. I love the comparisons and I can’t wait to put on that kind of performance when I’m at Ohio State. I don’t really look at it like it’s pressure. It’s what I wanted.”
The country’s No. 3-ranked prospect has never shied away from competition. It’s part of the DNA for any kid growing up playing sports in Pickerington, Ohio, a Columbus suburb of roughly 5,000 that has produced six current NFL players. Nathan Hillerich, the head coach for Pickerington North High School said it didn’t take long to figure out that Jack Sawyer was cut from that kind of cloth.
“It’s my first day in the weight room after I was hired,” Hillerich told Lettermen Row this week. “And I brought a tire in, so after that we lifted we did some like, little tire pull challenges. You throw the tire on the ground, blow the whistle and then let the kids go, to see who really wants to keep going. Jack came in, and he was going against Tyler Foster who was a sophomore for us and is now the a starting tight end at Ohio and I matched them up.
“Jack beat him and you know, he’s just going nuts, screaming and yelling, and he was fired up. Ready to go. He wanted to keep going. I was was like ‘Man, this kid is different’ and then I found out that he was only in eighth grade. There’s not a lot of eighth graders that are even working out in the in the high school weight room and who are ready to go compete and expect to win at that level. Jack expects to win every time, no matter what he’s doing. If you talk to Jack, when he goes to Ohio State, he’s going in expecting to start and he expects to be the man, you know? That’s just how he’s wired. He’s going to try to be the best whatever he’s doing.”
When he was young, Jack Sawyer was nicknamed Diesel for his relentless energy and his larger-than-expected frame.
“I was so muscular that people would come up to my parents at the pool and ask them what my training regiment was,” Sawyer joked. “They’d be wondering how many times a week I was lifting and stuff like that. I mean, I was eight-years-old.”
Size and speed have separated Sawyer from his peers for the majority of his young athletic career. He’s a Division One prospect as a basketball player, a very good baseball player and an All-American defensive end. He doesn’t slow down, ever. That approach is, perhaps, what led to his greatest challenge yet: recovering from a knee injury he suffered during his junior season while playing quarterback when his Panthers teammates needed him to.
“He wants to be involved, all the time,” Hillerich said. “And he knows that being in high school, gosh, him being on the sidelines that doesn’t do us any good when he could be out in the field. When we’re on offense, and he’s standing there watching and it’s like, he’s the best player so why shouldn’t he be out there? He wants to help us win and was always wanting to be involved in the game, be out there and do something to help us team win. That’s why he’s willing to take that on and play some quarterback last year to get us get us some big wins.”
This year, Sawyer’s impact is expected to be different. He’s primed and ready for a huge senior season after months of rehab, months that saw him lose his final year of basketball, a loss that he calls “heartbreaking.” He has his mind set on elevating himself to a new level.
“I’m bigger than I was before the injury, and I’m faster than I was before it, too,” Sawyer said. “It’s my senior season and I want to be the best. I’m terrified of being average. I have always forced myself to get better. To do more.”
The time for playing basketball is over. So too is the time for playing offense. Now, it’s time for Jack Sawyer to step fully into the pressure he’s been built for, even if that means he’s going to do less.
“This year we’ve kind of told him, you’re going to be on defense,” Hillerich said. “But he’s still doing other things for us. He’s bigger and stronger than he’s ever been. He’s doing things right. He’s always going hard. And I think that’s the key thing. He doesn’t, you know, he’s not looking for special treatment or, or anything like that. He, he just comes in, he puts the work in.”
And in the meantime, maybe he’s inspiring the next, next great Ohio State defensive end.