The Hurry-Up: Larry Johnson Discusses Recruiting and Development Strategies, Future Buckeye Receivers Making Highlight Plays

By Zack Carpenter on December 31, 2019 at 6:50 pm
Larry Johnson

The Hurry Up is your nightly dose of updates from the Ohio State football recruiting trail, keeping tabs on the latest from commits and targets from around the country.

Johnson often sees something special in players other coaches don't

When Chase Young took his first visit from Maryland to Ohio State's campus, it didn't result in a scenic tour through the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the Shoe. 

It was a business trip, and defensive line coach Larry Johnson put him through the wringer.

"It was a work day," Johnson told Eleven Warriors during Thursday's Fiesta Bowl Media Day. "It wasn’t like hang around and play. I challenged him and every time I did, he popped off, man, like ‘I’m good.’ And that’s what you wanna do. That’s how you find out."

That's how you find out, Johnson says, how a defensive lineman can turn from just a typical recruit to a recruit worthy of being recruited by one of the D-line position coaches in the nation who continues pushing players into the pros.

"(a recruit) may be a three-star in a lot of people’s eyes, but he’s really not because at the end of the day, he has a chance to grow and really be special."– Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson

That doesn't just go for blue-chip players like Young, Joey or Nick Bosa. That also means someone like former three-star recruit DaVon Hamilton, his brother Ty Hamilton (another three-star player who is a 2020 Buckeyes signee), or even a four-star 2020 signee Jacolbe Cowan, a player who seems destined to move to defensive tackle but whom Johnson believes has the makings of a defensive end. 

And it was also the case with Mike Hall. Hall is a four-star player from Streetsboro High School in Ohio. But when Johnson began recruiting him, Hall was only had three stars. But Johnson saw something in him so he began carving out a relationship with him.

Same thing with Marcus Bradley, a defensive lineman from Maryland, who a little more than a month ago didn't even have a star rating and still doesn't even have a profile picture up on his 247Sports page. But that didn't matter. Johnson knew his face and knew all about Bradley's potential ever since getting to know him during Bradley's freshman season at DeMatha Catholic before he transferred to Quince Orchard.

These guys jump onto Johnson's radar because he is always keeping a keen eye on little things that typically may go by the wayside for many other coaches.

"I’m watching all the interchangeable things and intangible things that can make him a great player," Johnson said. "So (a recruit) may be a three-star in a lot of people’s eyes, but he’s really not because at the end of the day, he has a chance to grow and really be special. I look for that. I’m a really detailed guy and make sure those guys handle that. And I’m not afraid to take a shot at a guy. Because it’s my job to handle and develop that guy. 

"Or you miss some guys because they don’t play hard. They don’t play hard, and that is a tough sell when you see a guy not play hard. Because that’s a habit, and a habit stays with him unless you break it. I’ve gotta see that habit before they get on campus and say you know what? I’ve gotta spend some time with him. I’ve gotta go to camp and see it. It’s my job to challenge him."

So when five-star Zach Harrison, for example, hit campus, Johnson knew exactly what to focus on to make him better. The sheer running ability and athleticism was obviously clear to see, but when he watched Harrison on video and in person, there were things Johnson caught to where he knew precisely how to turn him into a more polished college player.

"That's my job to find out how I can make him better," Johnson said of Harrison. "You look at him in high school, he was an OK pass rusher. But we saw the speed and the athleticism, and now it’s just changing that. You’ve gotta get him to feel comfortable. To me, that’s the biggest thing. 

"He's a 4.35 guy running the 40-yard dash with a (6-foot-6) frame. I can’t buy that. Now, it’s just like, how I can take him and mold him? That’s the fun part. That’s the fun part of coaching. ... That’s what I told (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Quinn (Barham) in January. And that’s why you see him doing this now. He’s only a freshman, but right now he’s right there with all the great freshmen we’ve had come through here, and he’s starting to do some of those things, which is really interesting to watch."

Johnson has strong ties to the DMV area on the east coast. He says that's typically the basis for his recruitment of players, but then he goes national.

When asked what qualities about players from the DMV stand out, Johnson says, "It’s not just the DMV. It’s across the country, I’m looking for the same thing. I’m a raw coach so sometimes I’ll see a guy that most people don’t see. They won’t see the small things in a player because you’re not there. You’re just watching videotape."

Fleming, JSN making highlight reels

Ohio State's 2020 defensive back recruits have been asked throughout the year what they think it will be like to go up against the highly skilled receiver recruits the Buckeyes are bringing into the class. 

To a man, they keep saying how much they're looking forward to it because it will only help them improve. 

On Tuesday, linebacker/safety hybrid Kourt Williams II got a little taste of that when he went up one-on-one against receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba during practice for the All-American Bowl.

Smith-Njigba is not the only one picking up where they left off during the regular season. 

Julian Fleming is at the Under Armour All-America Game practice snagging highlight-reel catches as well.

With those two leading the charge, the Buckeyes could end up with an even more athletic, explosive receiving corps next season and into the future if they continue to develop under Brian Hartline.

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