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Zach Harrison: Ohio State-Michigan also high-stakes recruiting battle

Article written by:On3 imageJeremy Birmingham


Zach Harrison by Birm/Lettermen Row

It’s been almost two long years that Ohio State has recruited Olentangy Orange High School 5-star defensive end prospect Zach Harrison.

If you believe the crystal ball predictions, it feels like the Buckeyes are going to fall short. Right now, Michigan is the clear-cut favorite to land Harrison, a feeling based on his strong relationship with linebackers coach Al Washington, his strong relationships with a handful of commits there and players and a general sense that he’d rather not stay in Columbus for college.

Maybe that is all true. What’s also true is that as of Wednesday morning, Harrison has not made a decision as two programs about to settle the Big Ten East Division on the field Saturday continue to battle over a prized target on the recruiting trail.

“The fact of the matter, here’s a kid who has never rooted for a particular college team,” one source told Lettermen Row. “So he likes a lot of things about his three favorites. The hard part is telling two of the three no. Every day there’s something different he might like or dislike.

“He is still very much torn.”

If Zach Harrison knew where he was going to college, he’d made a college announcement. Today.

Instead, on the day before Thanksgiving, Harrison is expected to make the short drive to Ohio State, watch the team practice and spend more time with Larry Johnson and the coaching staff.

Unless he’s working as a secret double-agent in order to provide Jim Harbaugh’s staff with the Ohio State game plan, there probably isn’t another good reason Harrison would make this trip if he had truly made up his mind.

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Zach Harrison has taken his recruitment very seriously. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Harrison will not visit Ohio State this weekend for the actual game against Michigan, though. That may be another sign for some that he’s heading to Michigan, but it’s simply not related to his decision: Harrison just wants to watch the game in his basement with his friends, teammates and family like he always does.

It’s been written many times over the last two years that Harrison is different. He’s not the type of young person that wants the attention the recruiting madness has cast upon him. In some ways, it’s possible that if he ends up somewhere other than Ohio State, it’s the attention and pressure of recruiting that may have helped send him in that direction. The truth is that for a young man in Ohio with the lofty expectations Harrison has on his shoulders, the pressure to stay home and win big can be suffocating.

That’s especially true for a player that is as self-aware as Zach Harrison. He knows that he has the physical talents to be a truly special football player, but he’s also aware that he’s still developing as a football player and needs time to reach his potential. That’s why unlike almost every other 5-star prospect in the country, he refuses to make early playing time a major piece of his decision. That’s not what it’s about for him. It’s always been about comfort and relationships.

Larry Johnson and Urban Meyer have a good relationship with Harrison. He’s also, reportedly, been very close to James Franklin at Penn State. His relationship with Jim Harbaugh has gotten better over recent months, no doubt, but Michigan has done a spectacular job with Al Washington leading the way. Plus, the commits with the Wolverines have really connected with Harrison. There’s a lot of speculation about Meyer’s health and his future. There’s now talk that James Franklin could bolt for the West Coast and USC, putting Penn State in the rearview.

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Ohio State will keep waiting for Zach Harrison to sort out his future. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

It’s difficult to combat rumor when even outright denials can spun as mere deflection. In a normal recruitment, the response is to fight back with facts, but those are malleable in recruiting.

It can be pointed out that Harrison has only seen one Michigan win over Ohio State in his life, but that’s easy to spin with a narrative that it’s merely the past. It can be pointed out that Larry Johnson is the country’s best defensive line coach and that’s bounced back from the unfounded rumors that he’s on the verge of retirement.

Michigan has commitments from six different defensive linemen already, 26 commits total and has just 15 seniors on its roster. There will be a lot of attrition coming for the Wolverines, and they’re working hard to load up on the 2019 class in an attempt to really swing momentum in the Big Ten. If Jeff Brohm leaves Purdue as expected, Michigan is also going to be the favorite to land Boilermakers commit George Karlaftis. They offered Canton, Mich. 2019 defensive end Darius Robinson on Tuesday night, and though the message is that Robinson is a tight end, it seems unlikely that 6-foot-6, 250-pound player isn’t a defensive end in college, too.

Again, though, Harrison isn’t going to be swayed by stuff like that, so the usual talking points don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that Ohio State has only one defensive end committed and told Harrison more than a year ago they’d not recruit another one because that spot in the 2019 class was his.

Comfort, relationships. That’s what matters and he has those two things with each of his top three schools. Harrison wants to enroll early in college and is expected to sign his Letter of Intent in December, so a decision has to be coming soon. There are still in-home visits left for Meyer, Harbaugh and Franklin, if the country’s fifth-ranked prospect wants to use them. My belief is that he will.

If he doesn’t, it’s because he’s made up his mind and will announce a college choice. Heading down to practice on Wednesday afternoon, that’s still not the case as Ohio State and Michigan tussle over more than just a Big Ten title.