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Prepping a Predator: Inside development, rise of Chase Young into superstardom

Larry Johnson-Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson and junior Chase Young spend hours together watching film. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football

Prepping a Predator: Inside development, rise of Chase Young into superstardom

COLUMBUS — There is no standing appointment with Chase Young, and his request for some extra film from Ohio State can come at any time.

So, it was no surprise when he walked through the door of the defensive line meeting room on a Thursday during the off date for the Buckeyes, in no rush to leave the Woody Hayes Athletic Center when he could be anywhere else and teammates were buzzing around the hallways with plans to get out of town for the weekend.

Larry Johnson is always prepared with something for Young.

Clips of the next offensive tackles who have the misfortune of trying to block the junior. Old practice footage of Joey or Nick Bosa to compare and contrast how the famed pass-rushing toolbox Johnson teaches is being used by Young. Fresh footage of another productive outing in a win over Michigan State that showcases how he disrupts a game even when he’s not piling up sacks at his usual rate.

Young likes to keep his mind in the present, his eyes on the future. But when he sits at the table just in front of Johnson in a room decorated with wall-to-wall reminders of the rich tradition of the Rushmen, his position coach teases him with a surprise.

“Well, we’re going to take you back down memory lane,” Johnson said with a smile. “If you want to evaluate Chase Young, you have to go back to the beginning.”

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Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson has a special relationship with Chase Young. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The projector fires up, Johnson grabs a clicker — and Young laughs as a raw, five-star prospect at DeMatha Catholic High School shows off a pass rush move that he would spend the next three years trying to erase from his arsenal.

The potential was unmistakable even back then, and it’s hard to argue with the results as the highlights play. But Young is able to rattle off flaws in rapid succession, even mimicking the exact same language Johnson uses before the words are out of the coach’s mouth.

How did Chase Young become the most dominant defensive player in America? Go back to the beginning.

“It’s enlightening to sit here with Coach J,” Young said. “And I feel like when you’re enlightened, you change. I’ll go back and look at my freshman tape and see just how different I was compared to now. All the stuff that he always preached, you can just see how over time it just changed.

“He always says it’s a process. It’s true.”

The proof is right there on film.

‘That’s drinking all the Kool-Aid’

Just about everybody in the country was aware of what Chase Young could become, but there was one notable holdout.

And he loves to tell the story now, laughing every time.

“I always think about my mom when I look back at this stuff,” Young said. “When I transferred to DeMatha in high school, she asked my dad one time: Are you sure? Do you think he’ll play over there?

“I was coming from a smaller school, but I was like: Mom, I got it, I’m good. Don’t worry about it.”

There was obviously no reason for concern, especially as he continued to grow into a freakish athlete while zeroing in on Johnson and Ohio State as the best place to mold him into a technician in the trenches.

Even in high school, Johnson would get calls at least three times each week from Young.

You coached Tamba Hali? What is wrong with this stance? How is the family doing?

The connection between the two came naturally, and Johnson was watching every bit of film he could find to start planning for a chance to actually get his hands on Young and truly unleash the otherworldly potential.

“Loved his get off,” Johnson recounted as the high-school clips played. “But I have to fix his stance, his back leg is not crossing the line of scrimmage. Pushing on his front foot and not gaining ground. Have to get the first step across the line of scrimmage to gain ground faster for pass rush and run fits. Pass-rush techniques, hands are down. He would call me and I would say: ‘Your knee is way down on the ground, you have no power.’

“We would talk probably three nights a week. Sometimes he would call me late at night and say, ‘Coach, you up?’ And we would talk a little about football, a little about me and my beginning, where I started, where I learned this or that from. I knew he was watching me and wanted to go find out as much as he could about me. That’s what started our relationship, he wanted to really find out who I am.”

Johnson was doing the same in return, getting to know what made Young tick.

What he really wanted to find out was if he truly had the desire to put in the work that greatness requires, because it was already clear how special he could be.

Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young has been on a torrid pace this season for the Buckeyes. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

‘I’m going to make him watch this’

The answer Larry Johnson wanted came at a camp on campus during drills in the Horseshoe.

Chase Young only got the instructions once, and he only got one rep to get each drill right.

Was he paying attention? Can he process information? Will he quit when he gets tired?

The performance was unforgettable, and Johnson was ready to shut it down for the day when Urban Meyer walked over during a pass-rush drill against offensive linemen. 

“I’m going to make him watch this,” Johnson said as the camp footage rolled. “He was not supposed to do any one-on-ones. He didn’t have anything to prove, plus I didn’t want him to get hurt for his season.”

But Meyer’s presence and the chance to battle against future Ohio State left tackle Thayer Munford brought the competitor out of Young.

Three reps. Three wins.

But Young also used his old rip move, which Johnson vowed would never show up on tape again.

“I feel like it’s crazy to look at how Coach J can develop a player,” Young said. “I feel like it’s a true testimony to how good of a coach he is, because with anybody else, maybe I would still be doing that same rip move that I did in high school.

“I might not have had a coach always on me to stop using that move.”

Johnson worked to faze that out of the arsenal, instead installing the side scissors, the double scissors, inside side scissors and long arm techniques that are his trademarks.

And while that education on the “Rushmen Way” took the better part of two full years at Ohio State, strength coach Mickey Marotti was making sure Young was physically prepared to maximize those tools.

“I mean, obviously you see a big, long, athletic, genetic freak of an athlete — did I put immature in there, too?” Marotti said. “I mean, that’s what they are when they get here. You look at these people and it’s like, ‘My God, look at the size of this kid.’

“But he’s a kid. He’s 17, 18 years old, and you can’t forget that. But when you put them in our culture, you tell them what you expect and you train them — you train him hard, but you can’t train him any differently than any other athlete. It’s just the results on a guy like that, they happen a little quicker. The ceiling is so much higher than other guys.”

That’s also why it was so important for the Buckeyes to have other guys around him setting the standard.

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Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is projected to be one of the first picks of the NFL Draft. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Chase Young and the Bosa Brothers

The comparisons are inevitable, but there is nobody inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center who wants to entertain them.

The tradition of the Ohio State defensive line is one of the most decorated in the country, and that position has been an assembly line of NFL talent for years even before Johnson elevated it to a higher level with Joey and Nick Bosa becoming the poster boys. At the pace Young is on now, he could rewrite the record books as he heads into the second half of the season with 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles already to his credit, and that has generated barroom debates all over Columbus about whether he’s now the best to ever do it for the Buckeyes.

“There’s no comparison,” Johnson said. “You’re talking about three different athletes. Three different kids. I guess you could say the Bosa brothers came from the same family, so who is the better Bosa? Maybe you could do that. But Chase is a Young, he is different than those two guys.

“But they all have the same toolbox, that’s what is so unique. They have that brand. Joey is long, lean and he could bend — he could always do that. Joey was not as athletic coming in, he grew into that. Chase came in really athletic, but now he’s learning the hands part, the bending part. Nick I think was really strong, not as tall, but really powerful and could play three-technique, inside and outside. All different. All great players, but different mindset. The one thing in common they all have: The ability to rush the passer — and they all have the same toolbox.”

The common thread between them allows Young to study the Bosa boys, and that’s one glimpse into the past that he doesn’t mind adding to his film routine.

He also still pays close attention to his old running mate Nick, still measuring his own success against what the first-round pick is doing for the San Francisco 49ers — just like he used to do during drills on the indoor practice field.

“Nick, he used to push me naturally,” Young said. “I used to study Nick, even when he was here. He used to push me in workouts. I would be on his heels every day, trying to beat him at anything. If I beat him at anything, I’m like, ‘Whew, I just did that.’

“Now, he’s in the NFL, had a good game, NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Now he just set the bar even higher. Now I know going into Northwestern next week, I’ve got to get two [sacks], I’ve got to get three. It just keeps going and going and going.”

And somehow, the work still isn’t done.

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Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is still expecting more in the second half of the season. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

‘I was only sipping on the Kool-Aid’

Only with the Chase Young-sized expectations he deals with could last season be considered anything other than a success.

But even with him comfortably at the top of so many NFL Draft boards, there was a sense Young could give the Buckeyes so much more — and he felt it, too.

There were questions about his motor, though they ignored the fact that he had to shoulder Nick Bosa’s workload and wound up playing 91 snaps in the Rose Bowl.

“Nobody in the country can play 75 plays at maximum speed,” Johnson said. “There may have been moments on the field when he may have looked tired, but it wasn’t because of lack of effort.”

There were questions at times about his first step, something Johnson and Young had spent countless hours trying to improve to get him past the line of scrimmage without any wasted motion. But it was tough to do on two sprained ankles.

Even a passion that everybody who knows Young can see burns bright came under fire when it seemed like he wasn’t doing enough to beat double teams, something he wasn’t quite prepared to handle and wouldn’t have even had to with Bosa healthy.

“Last year I was starting to trust it — but not fully,” Young said. “I was only sipping on the Kool-Aid.

Chase Young-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young was exhausted after playing 91 snaps in the Rose Bowl. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“It was a test, and going through all that, I’m good with it now because I know how that feels. With the whole double teams and chips and stuff like that, it really doesn’t faze me anymore because I trust in Coach J. They can’t do that the whole game. If they want to win the game, they can’t throw those little 5-yard passes the whole game. They’re going to have to launch the ball, and when they do, that’s when you’ve got to make them pay for it. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities. I feel like after going through that, I’m ready for anything.”

That, of course, is bad news for those tackles that Young spends hours studying each week.

If he’s ready for anything, there’s nobody ever really ready to stop him.

“I would say I really haven’t thought of him in the human context,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s a very good player, big strong defensive end … he’s firm. He’s very well coached. He’s got a very quick first step out of the box.

“I don’t really think of him in terms of: ‘Oh, he’s just like so and so.’ I just look at him like a guy who’s extremely productive, making big plays out there. … He can wreck a football game.”

The Spartans found that out the hard way, and a couple days later Young was in the film room diving into ways that he could have given Ohio State even more.

He could have been anywhere as the off-date weekend started and the Buckeyes earned a couple days of freedom. But Young was in the film room with Johnson, reflecting on where he’s been and looking ahead to where he wants to go.

“He wants to be the best,” Johnson said. “Whatever it takes, he’s driven to be the best.”

So, take a stroll down memory lane with Chase Young.

The proof for the best player in the country is right there on film.

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Vicvod

Wonder how Northwestern’s offensive linemen slept last night. #2 is comin to get ya! GO BUCKS!

DaveSkis
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DaveSkis

Superb article! Great background information. Provides a truly unique perspective into the making of an elite athlete.

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Austin Ward is Lettermen Row's senior writer covering Ohio State football and basketball. The award-winning journalist has covered the Buckeyes since 2012, spending five of those seasons working for ESPN after previous stints at the Casper Star-Tribune and Knoxville News Sentinel.

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