COLUMBUS — There were signs that the decision had already been made, but Haskell Garrett didn’t want the spotlight on him.
Ohio State was preparing for the Sugar Bowl, and Garrett obviously had more pressing immediate concerns along with the rest of his teammates than discussing his future. The Buckeyes senior also didn’t want to provide any kind of distraction or make the days leading up to the game about him, so he artfully pushed any conversation about himself back to the rest of the team.
But Garrett had elected not to be honored during the program’s virtual Senior Day festivities, a flashing-neon indication that he was prepared to return to Ohio State no matter what happened in the College Football Playoff. And conversations with his family after the title-game loss only solidified that option in his mind, leading up to Tuesday’s announcement that looms as one of the most important of the offseason for the Buckeyes.
“I’m really honored [by the attention], but it’s not just me out there,” Garrett said last month. “It’s a group of guys. So, it’s not just only my honor — my success is their success. We share all success. So, I’m really honored, but I’m more focused on winning this game. … I’m trying to stay in the moment.
“I can celebrate all the accolades and everything I’ve accomplished myself after the season. I’m more worried about this team we’re playing and the game we’ve got coming up.”
The Buckeyes won that first one in dominant fashion against Clemson, and Garrett was right in the thick of the blowout victory up front. Ohio State couldn’t finish the deal in the title game against Alabama, but having Garrett back will go a long way toward helping the program get back there. With that plan now finalized, Lettermen Row is evaluating what it means for the Buckeyes moving forward.
What Haskell Garrett means to Ohio State
The Big Ten awards voters might not have realized it, but Haskell Garrett emerged last season as one of the most dominant forces up front in the country. The Buckeyes were clearly aware of his immense value, of course, watching Garrett blossom into the kind of game-changing defensive tackle that has long been projected since he arrived as a four-star recruit. Certainly it took a bit longer than Garrett might have ideally wanted, but patience is almost always rewarded for talented players who give Larry Johnson time to work his development magic.
The fact that Garrett was inches away from potentially never playing again for the Buckeyes after getting shot in the face in August only adds to his remarkable journey. But his on-field rise is impressive enough all on its own as he went from a rotational reserve who had only shown flashes of his potential into a pocket-pressuring, run-stuffing monster who earned a couple first-team All-America nods after being snubbed on the all-conference ballots.
How Buckeyes could look at defensive tackle now
There was optimism coming out of the title game that Ohio State was going to be able to keep its twin terrors on the interior together for another season, but Tommy Togiai instead cashed in on his breakout season and announced he was declaring for the NFL Draft on Monday. That certainly dialed up the focus on Garrett’s decision, because replacing both of them would have been a huge challenge for a unit that is largely short on experience. There’s no question that losing Togiai is a blow, but it should be a manageable one now for the Buckeyes with Garrett and fellow senior Antwuan Jackson sticking around alongside Taron Vincent, Jerron Cage and a handful of young guys looking to break into the lineup.
Larry Johnson earned the benefit of the doubt years ago when it comes to getting the most out of his players, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll find the right combination by the end of training camp. But at least heading into spring practice, Vincent would appear to be the key that could unlocking the potential for the Buckeyes on the interior. Vincent might not have Togiai’s raw power, but he’s got a similar frame and was considered the nation’s top defensive tackle coming out of high school before injuries slowed him down over the last couple years. If Vincent gets a healthy, normal offseason with the Buckeyes, pairing him with Garrett should keep the unit rolling.
Evaluating impact of Haskell Garrett returning
Considering the depth at the position, the production he provided last year and the message that his return sends to the rest of the program, Garrett’s return might be the biggest move of the offseason for the Buckeyes. At a minimum it’s the most critical for the defense, since the overall title could be argued with Chris Olave on offense. But both of them have All-America ability and surely would have come off the draft board relatively early this spring, and the value of having elite performers stick around was highlighted by the Alabama veterans who just beat Ohio State in South Florida. Garrett couldn’t have been blamed for heading to the professional ranks after four years in college, but it speaks volumes about him and the Buckeyes that he didn’t.
Bottom line: Whether it was expected or not, Haskell Garrett gave Ohio State a huge bonus by sticking around to bolster the defense for another season.