Five-star defensive end Zach Harrison (Orange, Olentangy, Ohio) committed to Ohio State after a long recruitment where he stayed out of the spotlight and ended a guessing game that came right down to the end for three Big Ten East schools.
That decision has just as much of an impact on the school he picked as the ones he did not: Michigan and Penn State, which were also in the mix to sign him. The No. 4 overall player and top-rated strong-side defensive end according to 247Sports Composite rankings was the highest-ranked recruit to commit to a Big Ten school as part of the early signing period on Wednesday, and it’s easy to see why after watching the highlight reel.
Make no mistake: This is huge for Ohio State. It’s the first big win on the recruiting trail for new coach Ryan Day, who is taking over for Urban Meyer after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. The Buckeyes had a few recruits decommit after news of Meyer’s retirement. Safety Jordan Battle (St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) flipped to Alabama, and quarterback Dwan Mathis (Oak Park, Belleville, Mich.) flipped to Georgia on Wednesday. Harrison changes whatever narrative was starting to spin there.
“It’s huge,” Day said at his press conference Wednesday. “Like any time you are competing. You are competing for recruits. You’re competing on the fiedl. This is one of those ones we had to win. He’s down the street, and so that was a big get for us.”
Harrison is an impact player who has been compared to former No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney, who went to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Buckeyes have developed top-shelf defensive line talent in Joey and Nick Bosa under Meyer, and Chase Young appears next in line.
Harrison is next, and he’ll have time to develop under defensive line coach Larry Johnson. In other words, the beat goes on in one of Ohio State’s most important positions.
That should register with Michigan, who was the favorite to land Harrison through November. That perception changed after Ohio State’s 62-39 victory in the regular-season finale, but the fact Day scored this recruiting head-to-head win makes it clear it won’t be any easier for Jim Harbaugh to come into Central Ohio and land blue-chip talent.
Harrison is that guy in 2019. The next one is 2021 defensive end Jack Sawyer, an up-and-coming talent from Pickerington North High School (Pickerington, Ohio) who already has offers from Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. In two years, he will be at the center of that Big Ten recruiting battle.
Penn State will feel the Harrison commitment, too. The Nittany Lions landed defensive end Micah Parsons last season in a battle with the Buckeyes, and that was a big reason why Penn State had a top-10 class under James Franklin in 2018. Penn State was in on Harrison too, but in the end the Buckeyes were able to win that battle.
It’s only one recruit, and it’s important to know Ohio State will always have the advantage for blue-chip talent in Central Ohio. But Harrison’s commitment sets a tone for the Day era in Columbus. Meyer took the Buckeyes to the next level with seven consecutive top-five classes from 2012-18. That’s a huge reason why Ohio State was 54-4 in Big Ten play, 7-0 against Michigan and 6-1 against Penn State under Meyer. Those schools haven’t beat Ohio State on the field because they haven’t won enough of the big-fish battles on the recruiting trail.
Harrison — all 6-5 and 243 pounds of him — is a big catch, made bigger by the fact he comes in Day’s first haul. For Ohio State, that’s business as usual.
For Michigan and Penn State, it’s a sign there’s still a lot of catching up to do.