Heading into his junior season, Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison is settling into his role as one of the faces of the fourth-ranked Buckeyes heading into 2021.
After coming into the program as a seemingly reserved, reticent athlete in the 2019 recruiting class, Harrison’s vibrant personality has noticeably begun to shine through over the past year. But while his lively demeanor may be somewhat of a surprise to those outside the program whose time with Harrison has been limited, Harrison made it known on Monday that nothing’s changed with him. Rather, people are simply beginning to see the type of person those close to him have known for years.
“Nothing, this is who I’ve always been,” Harrison said on Monday when asked about what’s changed in him. “I just didn’t always give (the media) the insight into it. I remember during recruiting, everybody would always be like, ‘Yeah, Zach is a nice, quiet guy. He’s calm and collected.’ But if you ask anybody who actually knows me, quiet would be the last word they would use to describe me. I’m just being myself more, being comfortable in my skin.”
Harrison’s label as the quiet, reserved type was created in large part during a recruiting process in which he played his decision-making process as close to the vest as possible. In an era where recruits — especially those as highly sought after as Harrison — continue to up the ante on flamboyance and showmanship with their recruitment, Harrison was the anti-modern day recruit.
Now, as he continues to shed that label, the difference in Harrison appears to be night and day from when he first arrived on campus. As one reporter presented it to Harrison on Monday, the Olentangy Orange graduate seems like an entirely different person this year, an observation that drew a wide grin from Harrison.
“(Strength and conditioning) coach Mick (Marotti) always says the same thing,” Harrison said. “He’s like, ‘I hated you in recruiting. You’d show up and wouldn’t talk and just mope around.’ I’m like, ‘Coach, I didn’t like recruiting.’ I didn’t know anybody, so I’m not just going to be this (way) around people I don’t know. That might be a little offputting.”
Harrison later added, “I’ve been like this. The d-line room has definitely seen this side of Zach, and I feel like a lot of my close friends on the team have seen this side of Zach. And now it’s really just (the media) who haven’t seen the real Zach.”
Harrison’s evolution this offseason hasn’t been limited to his demeanor in front of cameras, either. On the field, defensive line coach Larry Johnson has seen Harrison take a step forward in every facet of his game after recording just two sacks in a COVID-shortened season, beginning with his body.
“He’s more confident right now. He’s playing at the much faster pace that we like him to play at. His leadership is off the charts right now,” Johnson said on Monday. “But he put the work in. He’s 270 (lbs.) and he probably played last year around 255 (lbs.). So he’s a bigger, stronger guy going into his junior year. So we kind of like where he’s at right now.”
Asked what he attributes to his added size this season, Harrison was very simplistic with his answer; eat everything.
“Eat a lot of food,” he said. “I like pizza, buffalo chicken wraps. My dad makes pretty good chili … Really, just eat everything and anything I get a hand on. And with the working out we do with coach Mick, and the way my body works, it’s not going to necessarily be bad weight. It’s always going to end up shaping up a little bit.”
Harrison said the added weight won’t cause to him to lose any of the speed that makes him such a dynamic edge rusher. Like he has done since middle school, Harrison has been able to add weight while also increasing his speed. And with the added “fast-twitch muscle,” Harrison is becoming even more explosive, a prospect that doesn’t bode well for opposing offensive linemen.
With Harrison poised to make the leap into the upper echelon of collegiate pass rushers this season, and a heavy stable of running mates around him, Johnson just may have his next great group of defensive linemen at Ohio State. As far as Harrison is concerned, the expectations couldn’t be higher for the unit as the season draws near.
“I think this could be one of the best defensive lines we see at Ohio State. And that’s saying something because we’ve had some good defensive lines,” he said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.