Ohio State can’t afford to miss on a five-star prospect just down the road from the in-state powerhouse football program. Those types of players with such proximity don’t come around every recruiting cycle.
Thus, Urban Meyer made Zach Harrison a priority a couple years ago, and Ryan Day had him atop the list of targets in the 2019 class when he was announced as the program’s soon-to-be head coach on Dec. 4.
“This was one of those ones we had to win,” Day said at his early signing period press conference on Wednesday. “He's down the street, and so that was a big get for us.”
At different points in the past year, both Michigan and Penn State seemed to have an edge on the Buckeyes, who desperately wanted the Olentangy Orange defensive end. But on Wednesday afternoon at a private ceremony with more than 15,000 people watching a livestream on Periscope, Harrison announced his commitment to Ohio State, which came more than two years after Meyer and Larry Johnson began recruiting him.
“It's been a long process,” Day said. “His head coach, Zebb Schroeder, had a lot to do with this. Larry Johnson has been recruiting Zach for a long, long time. Obviously Urban had a big part of this thing, and it's been a long time coming.”
Last week, Day and his coaching staff had their final in-home visit with Harrison, the No. 4 overall prospect in the country and the top player in the state of Ohio.
Day said he came away from the meeting with Harrison and his family feeling that “there was a connection made there.” He noted Johnson’s multi-year relationship with the Harrison family as being a key to landing the 6-foot-5, 243-pound defensive end. Day felt that by the end of the process, Ohio State’s coaching staff had earned the trust of the Harrison family to “take care of their son.”
“It was really important to sit down in the home and talk to the family about the direction of the program, and having some communication just on some of the leadership changes obviously that comes with the change in the head coach,” Day said. “And that communication stayed all the way until last night.”
As the top-ranked player to sign with Ohio State since Terrelle Pryor in 2008, Harrison will enter the program with ambitious expectations both for himself and foisted upon him from others. Those will only be increased due to his proximity to campus and the mysteriousness of his recruitment.
Harrison has the natural talent that is hard to overlook, including to Day.
“When you look at somebody who runs a 10.8 100-meter dash at his size and the potential that he has, all you think of is the Bosas of the world and some of the top defensive ends in all of America,” Day said. “He thought this thing through. This wasn't something he just jumped to, and obviously being under Larry's tutelage, that's a big part of this thing. And so it isn't all going to happen at once, but the ceiling for Zach is really, really high.”
Johnson has pumped out successful college defensive ends who have turned out to be high-level NFL players.
Just last year, the Buckeyes rotated four NFL defensive ends: Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes. Chase Young, who will likely play one season with Harrison before heading to the draft, has a chance to become a first-round pick.
Harrison hopes to become the next player in the extensive list of collegiate studs Johnson has coached to make it to the next level, and given his freaky natural gifts, he has a head start.