COLUMBUS — Jack Sawyer knows pressure. He thrives under it.
Sawyer began to show flashes of dominance in high school football during his freshman season. By his sophomore season, he was a top-five player in America with scholarship offers from all over the country.
He had to manage the pressure that came with that territory, especially as a central Ohio native who committed to Ohio State early in the process.
But now at Ohio State, the valve is finally released. Sawyer can just be a freshman with something to prove.
“I think he’s going to embrace it,” Pickerington North coach Nate Hillerich said. “He’s going to love being back to being a freshman. He was a five-star Ohio State commit as a sophomore. We would go out and every single person knew who he was. The expectations were so high.
“I think he’s excited to be a freshman and prove himself. He’s going to go out with something to prove. … I think he probably has less pressure now that he’s a young guy again and has something to prove.”
Sawyer wasted no time committing to Ohio State after his sophomore season, becoming the first member of the 2021 recruiting class and beginning to build what ultimately became the No. 2 class in the country for this cycle.
The spotlight has rarely been taken off Sawyer for the last three years of his high school career. But that didn’t impact the 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end. Even as a well-known, top-five prospect who garnered most of the attention of opposing offensive lines, Sawyer had 19 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks as a junior.
“It’s crazy how mature he was and how polished him and his parents were,” Hillerich said. “I give them credit, him and his parents. Just him knowing how much impact what he said, his massage and how much of a brand he wanted to build right from the start.”
He continued to get better as his time in high school went on, not worrying about the pressure that comes with being Jack Sawyer.
“He wants to be the best,” Hillerich said. “He thinks he’s the best player when he’s on the field. He’s relentless, he’s not scared to compete against anyone. … I think with the rankings and him already committing to Ohio State, he was ready to just go. He’s ready to go play in college.”
Sawyer has been ready to play for a while now. Going to high school just 30 minutes from the Ohio State’s campus, Sawyer was able to spend time around legendary defensive line coach Larry Johnson as he trained Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, among others. He has been working on his technique to become as polished as possible before arriving at Ohio State.
Now that he’s on campus, that work during high school could translate to early success at the next level.
“I think it just shows you his work ethic and his goals and expectations of where he wanted to be,” Hillerich said. “It wasn’t good enough to just go out and dominate high school talent. He wanted to make sure he was ready to play at the next level.
“So, he was trying to emulate and find any way necessary to make himself the best player he could, so that way when he steps on the field, he’s ready to compete, find a way to get out on the field and help Ohio State as a freshman.”
After three years of the spotlight, the pressure, the national ranking, Sawyer is finally at Ohio State. He’s with his defensive line coach preparing for his first spring practice. He’s settled into the only college he wanted to go to, a place where the pressure ramps up even more, being a five-star central Ohio freshman at Ohio State.
But the pressure of playing for the Buckeyes is new territory for Sawyer. The spotlight isn’t squarely on him. He can finally be a freshman with a clean slate, something he hasn’t had for four years — and maybe never really had at all.
Sawyer has continued to improve. He’s handled expectations and pressure as well as anyone could at his age. Jack Sawyer was incredible under pressure for years. With less pressure? He could be even better.
“There’s no one like him,” Hillerich said. “He can’t wait to go compete and go against the best. He’s not scared of anyone. … I expect it to be just like that at Ohio State.
“His expectation is to step on the field and play right now.”