Chase Young 2.0? Zach Harrison fits the bill for Ohio State
Stop me if this seems familiar, Buckeye fans. A massive defensive end recruit spends a couple years on campus, honing his physique and slowly working his way into being a contributor. And then, in his third year, the defensive lineman explodes, has a historic season, leads OSU to the CFP, and then goes atop the NFL Draft with a hefty payday. Chase Young, right?
Well, yeah, but Zach Harrison might be repeating the script.
Harrison, now listed at 6-6 and a robust 272 pounds, looks like an NFL draft pick. The 3rd-year junior speaks with the maturity of a pro, too.
“I feel like I’m just getting more comfortable,” Harrison told the media after spring practice. “The more and more plays I get, the more and more reps I get, the more and more success I feel like I’m having … the more my confidence level goes up.”
There’s plenty of reason for Harrison to be confident, some tied to Chase Young himself.
Rise and fall
Harrison is certainly well acquainted with Chase Young’s story, since he arrived as a freshman when Young was finishing his OSU career. Young ranked as the 7th best player in the nation, per 247sports, back in 2017, when he was getting started. Harrison was projected as the 12th best player in his class in 2019. Young was recruited at 6-5, 240 pounds. Harrison was 6-5, 253. Young had 19 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his freshman year. Harrison had 24 tackles and 3.5 sacks in his.
Asked about the comparison in 2019, Young was candid.
“Zach, I think he’s ahead of me because he’s developing a lot faster,” he admitted at the time.
Unfortunately, the sophomore comparisons weren’t as flattering for Harrison.
While Young’s career took off in his sophomore season (34 tackles, 10.5 sacks), Harrison struggled through a ho-hum 2020 campaign. He managed just 14 tackles and a pair of sacks as OSU’s pass rush sputtered and the secondary gave up a trio of 400-yard passing games. It certainly wasn’t what defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs had in mind, and it suddenly spun the comparison game in Young’s favor. For the moment.
For his part, Harrison hasn’t exactly rested on his 5-star laurels coming into his critical junior season. Indeed, he’s been singled out for his work with strength coach Mickey Marotti in sculpting his already-chiseled body (adding about 15 pounds, allegedly). Singled out by Ryan Day for having “an unbelievable offseason,” Harrison found himself the veteran spokesman at Big Ten Media Days.
Joking that he hoped to use his NIL availability to sign some food deals, Harrison seemed comfortable as a veteran leader. He explained that defensive line coach Larry Johnson has him working on flattening the edges and getting to the quarterback. Harrison was excited at playing without the distractions of the 2020 season. He was pleased to be “just grinding and getting better every day and just surprising people.”
Actually, not many people seem surprised by the quality of his play.
Johnson calls Harrison’s leadership abilities “off the charts.” He raves, “He’s more confident now. He’s playing much faster, at the pace we like to play at.”
Above and beyond
How’s this in gauging Zach Harrison? Maybe Chase Young shouldn’t be the guide post. Is it realistic for Harrison to equal Young’s 16.5 sacks in his junior season? Maybe not, even in a great year. Is it realistic for Harrison to expect to leap to No. 2 in the 2022 NFL Draft? Probably not. 247sports did project him going 25th, but noted that he has both “a lot of potential” and “a lot of work to do.”
Zach Harrison looks and sounds like a man who is growing to enjoy the work to be done. And if he fails to hit each and every benchmark that Young managed, he does still hold out designs on a goal Young missed — a national championship. And if OSU freshmen Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimolau look as good as advertised this fall, maybe they’ll pick up the Young 2.0 label and run with it. Or the Harrison 2.0 label.