Ohio State’s newest recruiting class has three obvious headliners: Five-star prospects Zach Harrison, Harry Miller and Garrett Wilson.
While Miller, a center from Buford, Ga., is still finishing his senior year of high school, Harrison and Wilson are already in Columbus taking classes and working out with the team.
Harrison and Wilson join crowded position groups (defensive end and wide receiver, respectively) that include experienced upperclassmen, but that does not mean they are going to go quietly into the night.
“I mean, I expect to do everything that I can to put myself in position to play,” Wilson said when asked point blank if he sees himself being part of the offense this fall. “I can't say I expect to play, that's not up to me. I'm going to do everything that I can to put myself in position to play."
Asked what that entails, he replied, “Just be coachable. Absorb the playbook, learn it. Build a relationship with the coaches, that they can trust me. I feel like if I do that, I'll give myself a chance to play.”
Meanwhile, Harrison said he hopes he will have a role early, “but I’m just trying to come in and work, put my head down and grind.”
Of course that won’t stop fans from pining to see them earn playing time. That’s the nature of the beast since recruiting became a cottage industry almost as big as the games themselves over the past 20-plus years.
Fair or not, highly-regarded recruits are expected to make an immediate impact — especially five-star prospects — even though that actually happens only rarely.
Since 1988 (John Cooper’s first season as head coach), 18 Ohio State true freshmen have made what could be described as a major impact.
Many more than that have earned playing time, but in this case we’re talking about players who stood out rather than merely filling out the depth chart — truly memorable seasons such as those turned in by Maurice Clarett, who set the freshman rushing record with 1,237 yards in 2002, or J.K. Dobbins, who broke that mark with 1,403 yards rushing 15 years later.
What would an impact season from Harrison look like? Alonzo Spellman (1989) and Cameron Heyward (2007) each had 10 tackles for loss as true freshmen pass rushers.
Fellow end Joey Bosa did them one better, notching 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2013, but the gold standard in the past 31 seasons came from linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, who like Harrison was a major prospect who prepped not far from Ohio State.
USA Today’s National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Westerville South, “The Big Kat” stepped into the starting lineup at middle linebacker and logged 85 tackles, including 23 for loss and 12 sacks. He also intercepted four passes while helping turn a defense that had been ripped to shreds by Michigan running back Tim Biakabutuka a year earlier into one of the best in the country, the original “Silver Bullets.”
The same season also produced the best example for what an impact season might look like from Wilson, who starred at Austin’s Lake Travis High School in Texas.
In 1996, David Boston scored four touchdowns in his first two games — routs of Rice and Pitt — but his most significant contribution came at the end when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass at the Rose Bowl.
Boston, who coincidentally also haled from Texas, ended up with 450 yards and seven touchdowns on 33 receptions and went on to set career marks for catches (191) and yards (2,855, since broken by Michael Jenkins).
Eight years later, Ted Ginn Jr. didn’t quite match Boston’s numbers on offense (25 catches, 359 yards with two touchdown catches and two touchdowns runs), but his four punt return touchdowns set an Big Ten single-season record in 2004 and set him up to be a star on two Big Ten championship teams.
Aside from being talented, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Wilson came across quite grounded in his first meeting with the local media in Columbus.
“First off, it takes the right situation,” Wilson said when again asked about early playing time, “but the other important things to it is just you take in every detail that you get. You take coaching well and you have a good grasp on the playbook. That's probably the main thing. If you know the plays, you put yourself in the best position to play. Learning the playbook probably gives you the best chance to play."
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Harrison, who prepped at Olentangy Orange High School in the northern Columbus suburbs, held off questions about his freshman-year expectations as well as he did most inquiries about where he planned to play his college ball during his senior season, but he did reveal his long-term goals.
“I really haven’t thought about this season that much. I just want to work and whatever happens, happens,” the 6-3, 243-pound Harrison said.
“When it’s all said and done I want to leave a legacy here. I want people to be like, ‘Oh, Zach Harrison was one of the greatest to come through Ohio State.’ That’s going to mean a lot more to me because coming from home, I’ll be able to take my kids here and grow up in the community where they know my name.”
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