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Zach Harrison coming out of shell for Ohio State, poised for breakout

Zach Harrison-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football
Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison has the potential to be a superstar. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Question Of The Day

Zach Harrison coming out of shell for Ohio State, poised for breakout

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State, Zach Harrison and the Rushmen? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

Jonathon Cooper is the heart and soul of the Ohio State defensive line, and there’s no doubt whatsoever that he’ll again be a captain as he returns for his fifth year with the program.

When it comes to NFL Draft buzz for next spring, that spotlight is probably going to belong to Tyreke Smith if he can finally get a full healthy season with the Buckeyes.

But for the best odds on the statistical leader for the vaunted Rushmen, now would be a good time to grab stock in Zach Harrison before the rest of the college football world catches on — even if it’s a little hard for a former five-star recruit who already has a Fiesta Bowl start under his belt to fly below the radar.

There has never been a single doubt about the physical tools Harrison brought with him to Ohio State after a heated recruitment for his services. But even Buckeyes strength coach Mickey Marotti admitted there were a few doubts about Harrison’s mentality before he arrived on campus, though those are now something of a fading memory as the potential superstar at defensive end gets more comfortable both on and off the field ahead of what could be a major breakout campaign.

Zach Harrison-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison is capable of becoming a star. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“When he was recruited, I was like: ‘What are we doing?'” Marotti said last week. “He was so quiet, he didn’t want to talk, he wouldn’t look you in your eye — so awkward. I’m like, there’s no way. I don’t care if he runs a 21.2-second time in the 200 with no cleats on. What are we doing?

“But it’s weird, because the first day he was here it was completely the opposite. I asked him why he was like that in recruiting. He was like, ‘I hated it, I didn’t want to talk.’ Now he’s like J.K. [Dobbins]. You see him, you feel him and you hear him. His ceiling is pretty high. He’s got that high-basement ceiling.”

There’s nobody better to lead that building project than Larry Johnson, and the combination of the legendary defensive line coach and yet another gifted pass-rushing weapon figures to yield big-time results.

Just about everybody who has passed through Johnson’s workshop points back to the leap they made in their second season with him, and Harrison already proved he could be a quick learner by cracking the rotation as a true freshman. Marotti wasn’t alone in his initial skepticism about how much Harrison could contribute early, but he finished with 24 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks — and earned a pair of starts, including in the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes hardly could have asked for more as Zach Harrison just started getting his feet wet with the program. And it’s a pretty clear signal that a lot more production is on the way.

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Austin Ward

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.