Jack Sawyer feels like he hit his stride midway through his freshman season, but by then it was already too late for the five-star pass-rusher to have the year he truly hoped for.
Ohio’s top-ranked prospect and the No. 5 recruit in the 2021 cycle finished the year tied for the third-most sacks among Buckeyes, but that tally was just three on the season, and Sawyer logged upwards of 20 snaps in only two games all year – blowouts against Akron and Rutgers. Sawyer expects more out of himself in year two with Ohio State, and that makes the work he does this offseason all the more critical.
“I think I can take a huge jump this year. I plan on it,” Sawyer said after Ohio State’s third spring practice last week. “And I just think last year, I was a little inconsistent earlier in the year and kind of let it affect my play a little bit. I feel like halfway through the year I kind of turned it on pretty well and started progressing at a high level. And I'm just looking forward to this year, you know, get a chance to go out and show it.”
With a four-sack performance in last year’s spring game, albeit mostly against Buckeye reserves, Sawyer appeared game-ready well before his freshman season began in Columbus. Things did not come as easily after that, though, as Sawyer saw all of seven snaps in the Buckeyes’ first two games, and just 16 against Tulsa the week after.
While many saw Sawyer’s spring game showcase as a sign of immediate things to come, Sawyer himself had a feeling that level of success wouldn’t come quite as quick, even with the high expectations he placed on himself coming in.
“I didn't really think that because it's a lot different going against the competition we were going against,” Sawyer said. “And I was just trying to improve, I kind of try to block that noise out as much as possible. And I was focused on getting better. And I knew it wasn't gonna be easy like that, I just try to keep getting better and trying to keep improving and I think once like I said once I kind of got through that first little shaky part earlier in the year that I really took off.”
Sawyer recorded his first career sack in last September’s 59-7 drubbing of Akron, a game in which he played a season-high 37 snaps, and two weeks later against Maryland, Sawyer had his first sack against Big Ten competition. Sawyer graded out as a champion for the performance against Maryland, and he felt he had gotten his groove for the first time as a college football player.
But even if he had the hang of things after that, the grind of the football season still took a toll nonetheless, and Sawyer played no more than 15 snaps the rest of the way.
“The most important thing I learned in the first year is probably just to stay consistent,” Sawyer said. “The first year kind of goes like this a lot. But then once you find it, you know, it clicks. I think for me, it kind of clicked halfway through the season. I kind of you know, that's when I really turned it on. I just felt it, you know, and just bringing it every day, too, kind of wears on you. It's a grind. It's the longest season I've ever had in my life playing football and just every day you're here for at least four hours doing stuff and it was kind of a lot for a lot of us younger guys at first, but then once you find a routine you got to stick with it and I think that that can help everybody.”
Often asked to compare Sawyer and fellow five-star freshman defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau last season, defensive line coach Larry Johnson referred to Sawyer on multiple occasions as a “finesse” player in comparison to the Washington native. That was one factor that might have limited Sawyer’s snaps as a freshman, and something he’s made note of as he prepares for his second season.
“I didn't take offense to it because I know what he means. He means I'm more of a pass-rusher that uses his hands a lot instead of just bull rushing,” Sawyer said. “I've been trying to instill in my game a little more of a long arm and some more power moves and stuff like that, put some more size on if you guys can't see. So I'm trying to try to be able to do both.”
"We’re trying to do something big here. We’re not trying to go 12-2 like we did last year, so I’m just so focused on winning."– Jack Sawyer
Sawyer said he weighed 230 pounds at the start of his first spring at Ohio State, but has bulked up to 265 this offseason and may even add another five pounds before the start of the season. Sawyer said Johnson’s “finesse” remark wasn’t an attempt to label him a soft player, but it does appear to be something the Pickerington native is working hard to address this year.
“I don’t think he’s gonna describe me as that this year,” Sawyer said.
While Sawyer made it clear that he has big plans for his sophomore campaign, he didn’t speak openly about his individual goals for the season, preferring to hold those cards close to the vest and prioritize team success in 2022.
“I just want to win a title real bad. I just want to win,” Sawyer said. “So it’s kind of the stage I’m at in my life right now and my career here, we’re all just so invested in each other that it’s hard to talk about yourself because the team’s always the most important. I’m just focused on obviously being the best player I can be. If I do that, then the stuff will take care of itself. But the emphasis is on the team. We’re trying to do something big here. We’re not trying to go 12-2 like we did last year, so I’m just so focused on winning.”
Often hailed as the potential next great Ohio State pass-rusher after Chase Young and the Bosa brothers, Sawyer has heard all the comparisons and feels the pressure. Getting another spring under his belt is the next step toward living up to some of that hype, and Sawyer intends to do exactly that sooner or later with the Buckeyes.
“You guys know what those expectations are. And obviously I've seen them all the time but I tried to stay focused, try to be the best player I can every day,” Sawyer said. “I think that's helped me really take my game to the next level these last few months.”