Zach Harrison didn’t quite realize how his unwillingness to talk to the media would affect the attention paid on him.
He didn’t do many interviews throughout the entire process, preferring to remain quiet and embark on his recruitment with a tight inner circle that didn’t publicize anything. For a five-star prospect in Big Ten country, there wasn’t much precedent. Harrison thought that would allow him more privacy. Plus, he said it would have added an “extra level of stress” that he didn’t need.
But as the process extended and he remained unsold on any single school, keeping Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in the running, the public’s interest in him picked up.
“It was kind of weird,” Harrison said on Wednesday. “I looked up on Twitter a couple times and searched my name up, and all these dudes were talking about me. It was strange.”
Three days before signing his National Letter of Intent to attend Ohio State, Harrison sat down at his family’s kitchen table with his mom and dad, and eventually came to the decision to become a Buckeye.
“I want to leave a legacy here. I want people to be like, ‘Oh, Zach Harrison, he was one of the greatest to come through Ohio State.’”– Zach Harrison
The next day, he called his future coaching staff to tell them of his decision, then “slept like a baby that night” with his choice official.
Harrison’s under-wraps procedure of coming to a decision about which school to attend differed from most recruits, but his reasoning for selecting Ohio State didn’t seem much different than any in-state player who grew up down the road from Ohio Stadium.
“It was close to home,” Harrison said. “That was a big thing. Being able to play for my home school and build a name for myself where I already am, those were one of the big things too. My parents played a big role. They talked me through it, helped me kind of sort my emotions and feelings for everything.”
Harrison, who attended Olentangy Orange, talked to Olentangy Liberty’s Brendon White about playing at the nearby powerhouse before signing. He didn’t want to shy away from competition or pressure, but wanted to ensure it would be the best situation for himself.
Some players thrive while playing down the road from friends and family, while others crumble under the expectations. Throughout his recruitment, Harrison did what he could to avoid any unnecessary pressure.
But now as an early enrolled freshman, he’s not timid about sharing what he hopes to get out of his career. Quite the contrary, in fact.
As a physically imposing 6-foot-5 specimen, Harrison has many people expecting the world of him, and he has similarly bold desires.
“I want to leave a legacy here,” Harrison said. “I want people to be like, ‘Oh, Zach Harrison, he was one of the greatest to come through Ohio State.’ That's going to mean a lot more to me because, coming from home, I'll be able to take my kids here and grow up in a community where they know my name and stuff like that.”
Zach Harrison: "I want to leave a legacy here. I want people to be like, 'Oh, Zach Harrison, he's one of the greatest to come through Ohio State.'" pic.twitter.com/3yWw9GtokA— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) February 6, 2019
Many players head to Columbus hoping to earn a place among of the best players in program history, but Harrison actually possesses the physical tools to make it a possibility if he can maximize his potential.
As just an 18-year-old freshman, he runs a sub-4.50-second 40-yard dash and weighs 243 pounds with a giant wingspan. Sometimes, his high-school production didn’t match that of his highly recruited counterparts, but he remained a top-15, five-star prospect due in large part to his natural abilities.
“Zach Harrison is, number one, great character. That's the first thing,” co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. “Number two, he's an unbelievable athlete. To be that big and that strong and everything like that. And then watching, like we had mat drills today and just watching him in the weight room, and that's what we've tried to do. The new coaches that have come in have all tried to be around the players to try to get to know them, and he's everything you thought when you recruited him. I mean, he's a special athlete.”
Though Harrison’s size and athleticism points to him being able to play immediately, Larry Johnson often prefers to keep freshmen out of the regular rotation. Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper, Jashon Cornell, Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Alex Williams and Noah Potter will also be competing with him for playing time.
Harrison, who called it “a plus” to get pushed by teammates to compete for snaps, wasn’t sure whether he’d get on the field much in his first year, but noted that’s the goal.
“I don't know. I hope to get on the field, I hope to play,” Harrison said. “But I'm just trying to come in and work and just put my head down and grind.”
Regardless of whether Harrison plays much this season, he has long-term goals in mind.
“I don't think I've scratched the surface,” Harrison said. “I think I have a long way to go, which is exciting. I'm decent right now, but I'm just waiting for it to take off.”
To achieve his desired level of play, he’ll rely on the tutoring of Larry Johnson, who played a big role in landing him.
“I have a lot of potential, and that's part of the reason I came here,” Harrison said. “Coach J's a real good coach, really good at coaching technique and everything.”
Johnson served as Ohio State’s chief recruiter of Harrison, but the freshman will also be coached by two men who tried to get him to attend the Buckeyes’ rival.
Mattison and Al Washington, first-year assistant coaches under Ryan Day, both spent large amounts of time recruiting Harrison to attend Michigan. In mid-December, Harrison notified them he chose the Buckeyes over the Wolverines, which disappointed both of them at the time.
“When he committed to Ohio State, I was bummed out,” Washington said. “I was, I guess, pretty upset, but I understood. It was one of those deals where he said, I'm going – I said, ‘Hey, man, best of luck to you.’”
Harrison said the toughest part about the recruiting process was “closing that door” to relationships that had been built with coaches from schools other than Ohio State.
But just a couple weeks later, Day hired both Washington and Mattison as defensive assistant coaches.
“These guys are here now, he gets Larry, at Ohio State right down the street,” Day said. “He kind of died and went to heaven.”
Day said Harrison has already “blossomed” and is “killing it in the weight room.”
He’s a long way from where he wants to eventually be as a player, but he’s exactly where Ohio State spent the past three years hoping he’d end up.