The Columbus Dispatch
OSU juniors weighing draft plans
They were at opposite ends of Ohio State’s 2019 recruiting class.
Defensive end Zach Harrison was the crown jewel of the group, the first proof that new coach Ryan Day could be the closer that predecessor Urban Meyer had been.
Offensive tackle Dawand Jones was the lowest-rated prospect in the Buckeyes’ class, a former basketball star who was still raw and overweight.
Harrison and Jones would face off against each other in practice the next three years as both developed into starters. After Ohio State’s Rose Bowl game against Utah on Saturday, each will have to decide whether New Year’s Day will mark their finales as Buckeyes.
Both juniors said recently that they hadn’t finalized their decision about whether to enter the NFL draft. Both had successful seasons but could be significantly higher picks in 2023 if they continue to get closer to their vast potential.
Harrison and Jones were secondteam All-big Ten picks in media voting and third-team by coaches.
They aren’t the only Buckeyes with NFL choices to make. Junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who Monday opted out of the Rose Bowl, is expected to
turn pro, and left tackle Nicholas Petitfrere could follow him, though neither has announced a decision. Cornerback Cameron Brown said on Twitter recently that he would return. Bullet Ronnie Hickman said he would be back.
Several other players, including kicker Noah Ruggles, defensive tackle Taron Vincent and cornerback Sevyn Banks, have eligibility remaining and could return.
But Harrison and Jones are the biggest names.
“I’m still gathering information, so I can make the right decision for me and my family,” Harrison said.
He admitted to leaning a certain direction but declined to say which way. He did make it seem that, if he left, he wouldn’t have achieved all that he wanted at Ohio State.
“That’s definitely part of my decision,” he said. “I feel like there’s definitely some things I’ve left on the table that I feel like, if I come back, I can accomplish. But that’s something I’ve just got to factor in and sit down with my mom and dad and make those decisions.”
Harrison, the only junior among OSU’S six captains, had his most productive season. He was credited with 29 tackles. Seven were for losses, including four sacks.
“I just feel I improved from last season,” he said. “I feel like I affected the game a lot more than in my first two years. That’s something that I want to continue to do, just grow as a player every single year and get better and better.”
And Harrison wants to be more consistent.
“Always being the dominant player that I know I can be,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest thing for me — making sure I’m that player every single snap, every single game.”
Ohio State will play for a new defensive coordinator next season when Jim Knowles arrives from Oklahoma State. Harrison is intrigued by what changes he will make.
“I’d love to sit down with our new D.C. and see how the defenses look like and how the ends play,” he said. “That will definitely factor into whether I stay or leave.”
The 6-8, 360-pound Jones’ rapid improvement in the offseason prompted Thayer Munford to volunteer to move from tackle to guard, opening a spot for Jones.
It would be a major jump to go to the NFL after only one season as a starter.
“I’m just still weighing all the options, honestly,” he said.
Like most other Buckeye linemen, Jones struggled in the Michigan game. Wolverines defensive end Aidan Hutchinson had three sacks and was consistently in the Ohio State backfield.
“I had a bad game, but I looked at some of the clips, and it wasn’t that bad,” Jones said.
Michigan went on to question Ohio State’s toughness, and that’s something Jones said he and his teammates are using as motivation against Utah.
“For sure, just because that’s what this program is built on,” he said. “For people to question it and question how tough we are, knowing that’s our motto every day and what we live by, we’ve for sure been coming a little bit harder during practice.”
Jones and the Buckeyes will be able to show on Saturday how much that paid off, and then he, like Harrison and others, will have to decide whether that was his last college game.
Bill Rabinowitz covers Ohio State football for The Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @brdispatch.