Coaches like to say that young players don’t know what they don’t know, and despite all of the teaching and coaching that happens, the process always has to take its course.
Just as water finds its level, so do freshmen.
Every year the Ohio State football team welcomes in a new class of rookies, each coming from different backgrounds, burdened with wide ranges of expectations.
The expectations of the current crop of freshmen, however, may be taking things to a new level. And that’s without even discussing the Buckeyes’ newest quarterback addition Quinn Ewers, who will be arriving next week or so.
The weightiest of expectations will reside with freshman defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, who will begin fall camp this week shouldering comparisons to past Ohio State greats like Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young.
It’s inevitable and it isn’t new.
Junior defensive end Zach Harrison came to Ohio State in 2019 as a five-star prospect, seen as the next in line to follow in the footsteps of those who came before him.
Everybody has to follow their own path, however, and that’s what Harrison has done. He came to Ohio State with people expecting him to pick up right where Chase Young left off, but his process has been different. Having dealt with that kind of ascribed responsibility, Harrison knows the kind of obstruction it can be.
He also knows how to get around it. So when Sawyer or Tuimoloau want to talk or they run into something that they didn’t know they didn’t know, Harrison will be there to help them navigate.
“I haven’t really given them much advice yet,” Harrison said at Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis. “I’ll let them come to me. I don’t want to be the guy that’s just overbearing and act like I know everything, when really I don’t know all the answers. But if they have questions, they know that my phone’s always open, my door’s always open, they can just reach out to me with any kind of questions that they have.”
Harrison is emerging as one of the Buckeyes’ vocal leaders, but he’s also sitting back and observing where he can. By doing so, he’s getting a very good idea of where his young teammates can use a hand and where they can use some encouragement as well.
“It’s unique, because I can see a lot of myself and how I used to act in a lot of the freshmen,” he explained. “I can see that they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know what to expect. They don’t know how to carry themselves. They don’t know how to push themselves. And I went through that and I can tell them, ‘Alright, I get it, workouts are hard, you’re tired, you can’t breathe. You’re sore. It’s the fifth week of team run or whatever. You don’t want to do it anymore, but just keep pushing through and eventually you’re gonna break through that wall and it’s gonna get easier. It’s gonna get better for you.'”
Harrison’s advice comes from a place of experience. He’s seen it. He’s talked with defensive line coach Larry Johnson about being criticized for not meeting certain expectations. As if 10 sacks just happens based on a recruiting ranking. After a freshman year that was in line with those of Chase Young and Nick Bosa, Harrison’s sophomore season last year only featured two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
It also featured a pandemic.
“I mean, really, once once the games started, it’s like, ‘Oh, where’s Zach Harrison, he’s supposed to be doing this or that.’ I’m like, ‘Whoa, I’m just trying to get better every day.’ It’s a process,” Harrison said. “Freshmen don’t come in perfect. Freshmen don’t come in as NFL players. That’s the point of being developed by Ohio State. And that’s something that I had to realize.
“Coach J, when we sat down and had a meeting, he talked to me about it for a while. He’s like, ‘Zach, you’re in a great spot, just keep getting better every day and let the chips fall when they fall. Don’t worry about chasing these numbers and chasing this and that. Just go play and get better every day.'”
But the internal pressure is measured and comes from a much healthier place than the external pressure, which is why players are advised to ignore the outside noise.
Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau aren’t going to go through anything that Zach Harrison hasn’t already been through, and if he sees those old familiar signs, he’ll stop waiting for them to come to him and he’ll make it a point to go to them.
“I mean, yeah, definitely a lot of pressure from the outside. Not so much in the program,” Harrison said. “But you can see it on Twitter, you see that you’re supposed to do this, that, and the third. And you can really get caught up in thinking about what you’re supposed to do as opposed to living in the moment and trying to get better every single day. And that’s something that if I see starting to happen with those guys, I’ll definitely reach out and be like, ‘Hey, just focus on you, man. The outside, they’re always gonna talk, so don’t even worry about that.'”