The same type of uncertainty that college football is dealing with right now is also taking place at the high school level. Some states have cancelled fall football and moved it to the spring, others are still in limbo about if there will be fall football and what that might look like.
This creates challenging situations for big-time prospects like Pickerington (Ohio) North defensive end Jack Sawyer. The five-star prospect has made the decision to opt out of his senior year of high school football and to prepare to enroll early at Ohio State in January.
“It was kind of a long process to make this decision,” Sawyer told BuckeyeScoop.com this week. “There was never a thought in my mind that I wasn’t going to play my high school season until the Big Ten got pushed back.”
“They’re talking about early enrollees being able to play in the spring,” he continued. “Once that started to come out, me and my parents and some of my coaches were already talking (about what to do) and then when it came out that early enrollees might be able to play we talked some more. It would give me a good chance to get on the field early on.”
The opportunity to get extra work with the Ohio State staff this winter, be it through games, practices, scrimmages, or simply extra instruction from D-Line guru Larry Johnson, was the best decision Sawyer and his family believe they can make.
“It would be good for us (early enrollees) to get in the system, get in the program, see how practices are, and just get the coaching and the tutelage of the great coaching staff that we have even earlier than we would normally. So once that came out, we all kind of talked as a family.”
Another driving force in the decision? The uncertainty surrounding high school football in Ohio this fall. Much like college, there has been an inability for the various leagues and leadership groups to get on the same page.
The schedule was recently condensed to six regular season games but even that format seems very much up in the air. Sticking around only to have the season cancelled or turn into chaos would have meant valuable development time lost.
“Half of the teams on my high school schedule are still in Phase One,” Sawyer stated. “It’s just helmets so far, so who knows if the season is going to get played or not get played. So it was going to be a tough decision about whether or not I would try to play while I’m missing workouts and stuff like that. If we try to play a few games and it gets cancelled or postponed then I’m missing time both on the field and in training to get ready for Ohio State while I wait for everything to get sorted out. So we decided to just train and get ready, get a nutritionist and be ready to play when I walk in the doors at Ohio State in January.”
Sawyer’s team is scheduled to play crosstown rival Pickerington Central on ESPN in the season opener on August 30th. But sticking it out just for that was not an option that Sawyer put on the table.
“I think if I just played the Central game or something, that would be selfish,” he said. “If we still have games left, for me to just say that I had my one game and I’m done, that’s kind of selfish and dumb. All of the responses from my teammates have been amazing, they all understand and they are super excited for me.”
The question of safety is one that continues to come up whenever the discussion of football returning is brought up. Sawyer watched the stringent testing and protocols that Ohio State put in this summer and is completely comfortable with that aspect.
But there is a wear and tear argument to be made here as well for players who could be asked to potentially play in multiple seasons in 2021, though the parameters of that are still very much uncertain. Either way, Sawyer has trust in the Ohio State staff to put him in good, safe situations.
“I one-hundred percent trust coach Day and coach Johnson,” he said. “If coach Day and coach Johnson say we’re going to be alright then I’m going to go with that. I trust them to manage my reps and to put all of us in the right situations, not situations that would put us at risk.”
Sawyer will train five days per week for the next few months, will work with a nutritionist, and then will arrive at Ohio State in January.