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Do you think Zach Harrison playing as much as he has as a freshman is a surprise considering the development he needed this offseason?
— Luke Smith Ⓥ (@lukesmith24) November 15, 2019
Zach Harrison wasn’t supposed to be in the spotlight this quickly.
The five-star defensive end who came in with plenty of expectation was never supposed to start a November Big Ten game during his first season at Ohio State. As much as his recruitment was hyped up and talked about, Harrison certainly had some growing to do. He wasn’t a project as a prospect, but he wasn’t polished, either.
So when a suspension was handed down to Chase Young last Friday, Harrison was immediately thrust into a starting role for the first time in his young career.
When asked about Harrison and fellow freshman phenom Garrett Wilson, Ohio State coach Ryan Day seemed confident in his young talent.
“They’ve played a lot of football,” Day said. “That’s just the way the season has played out. They’ve made a lot of mistakes, but they’ve grown from it. They’re ahead of where they typically would be for a freshman. I think they’re both able to make an impact in the season.”
It’s not a surprise that Harrison is on the field in mid-November. Again, he was a five-star recruit for a reason. Harrison will likely only spend three years at Ohio State — he is that talented.
The plan for Harrison likely didn’t include a redshirt season this year. But the production and the fact that he already has his first start this early in his career is what surprises. While at Olentangy Orange High School, there were subtle questions about Harrison’s motor and polished skills. To see him start a game this early, those questions have been put to bed.
Young didn’t even start as a freshman for Ohio State. Young totaled four sacks during his freshman campaign, while Harrison currently sits at 2.5 entering a should-be feast against the below-average Rutgers offensive line. Harrison had the luxury of enrolling early, and he’s been working with Larry Johnson since January. In the 10-plus months with Johnson, Harrison has already shown signs of becoming an elite pass-rusher.
“I feel like I’m better in all ways,” Harrison said. “When I came in, I was still raw, still am raw, still have a bunch of technique that I need to work on, a bunch of things that I need to correct. But now I feel like I’m doing better, I’m making more plays and being more consistent with my technique.”
Now that Ohio State has official word on the two-game suspension for Young, Harrison will more than likely start against Rutgers before returning to a backup role for the Buckeyes in their national-title quest.
Young’s absence didn’t have an impact on Ohio State’s defense last week against Maryland when the Buckeyes had a season-high seven sacks as a team — including one by Harrison. Ohio State probably won’t miss Young on Saturday, either, when it pulverizes Rutgers.
After that, Young will return to the starting lineup to face Penn State, Michigan, possibly the Big Ten West winner and a bowl opponent. Harrison, meanwhile, will still be preparing like he does every week, whether he is starting in the place of the best player in America or coming on the field in relief duty.
“That’s how I prepare every week,” Harrison said.