Welcome to a new series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. With the calendar turning over to March and spring on the horizon, the players will be working their way back to the practice fields to prepare for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, now is a great time to introduce you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus will highlight one of the newest Buckeyes, and will hopefully provide a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
Today’s freshman: Jack Sawyer.
Playing his high school ball about a half hour east of Columbus in Pickerington, OH, Jack Sawyer comes to Ohio State as a five-star prospect and the No. 3 strong-side defensive end in the 2021 class. As the nation’s No. 4 overall recruit and the top in-state player in the cycle, the 6-foot-5, 248-pound edge rusher is the highest-rated player among this deep and talented group of incoming freshmen. Committing to OSU on Feb. 3, 2019, Sawyer was the first verbal for the program in the class.
For as highly rated a prospect as Sawyer is, he garnered only 13 scholarship offers after shutting down his recruitment so early, 100% certain from the jump that he wanted to be a Buckeye. Still, a few other big programs threw their hat in the ring for the star defensive end, including Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Penn State. While his own recruiting process was the opposite of eventful, Sawyer played a role in helping Ohio State’s coaches build the rest of the class, hosting the ‘Buckeye Bash’ event back in October to bring other recruits to Columbus during the COVID-19-induced NCAA dead period.
Sawyer was so eager to join the Buckeyes that he actually opted out of his senior season of high school football with hopes of suiting up for Ohio State in the event the Big Ten moved its season to the spring. While that obviously did not wind up being the case, Sawyer used the time off to train and prepare himself for his collegiate career, choosing to enroll early as he arrived on campus in January with the rest of the team’s early entrants in the 2021 class.
Even without his final year of prep football, Sawyer put up some monster numbers at Pickerington North. The defensive line is obviously where he excels, totaling 99 solo tackles and 19.5 sacks over 21 games between his sophomore and junior year. However, Sawyer did a little bit of everything for the Panthers, totaling 482 all-purpose yards on offense between rushing and receiving while also completing 79 of 135 passes for over 1,000 yards with nine TDs to just three picks. A two-sport athlete, Sawyer also played basketball for Pickerington North.
Just check out his impressive junior highlight tape, which showcases his skillset on both sides of the ball but mostly as an edge rusher:
As the team’s star defensive player and quarterback, Sawyer helped lead the Panthers to the Division I Region 3 playoffs in his junior season. For his efforts, Sawyer was named the OCC-Ohio Division Defensive Player of the Year. He excelled in both of his sports, making the varsity basketball team as a freshman. His superb athleticism comes as no surprise, as his mother was a star basketball player at Pickerington and his father played football at Findlay College. His grandfather also played baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system.
Sawyer is expected to be the next great defensive end at Ohio State, and he is not shying away from those expectations.
“He wants to be the best,” Sawyer’s high school coach Nate Hillerich told Lettermen Row. “He thinks he’s the best player when he’s on the field. He’s relentless, he’s not scared to compete against anyone. … I think with the rankings and him already committing to Ohio State, he was ready to just go. He’s ready to go play in college.”
“I love expectations,” Sawyer himself told Lettermen Row last July. “I love the comparisons, and I can’t wait to put on that kind of performance when I’m at Ohio State. I don’t really look at it like it’s pressure. It’s what I wanted.”
Ironically, according to 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu, Sawyer’s player comparison is none other than former Buckeye Nick Bosa — you know, that guy that casually went on to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year with the San Francisco 49ers while helping lead his team to the Super Bowl. Here is a little bit of what Trieu had to say about Sawyer in his scouting report:
“As an end, that athleticism shows up as he gets off the ball well and can bend the corner and get upfield. Also is strong enough to anchor in against the run and has the blue-collar mentality to work in the trenches. Can run plays down when they go away from him and pursues hard. True strong-side end with enough versatility to play in multiple fronts or schemes. High-level prospect who is ready to come in and compete as a freshman at the college level and has the traits of a future high draft choice.”
With defensive ends Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith both returning in 2021, Sawyer will likely not earn a starting job as a freshman — but neither did the Bosa brothers or Chase Young before him. Still, with a bunch of unproven talent behind those guys, there is every chance that Sawyer will play a significant role in the rotation at the ends, and could even be the No. 3 guy or higher on the depth chart when the season begins. It wouldn’t even be all that surprising if Sawyer winds up playing more snaps later in the year than either Harrison or Smith if he is as good as his recruiting profile says he is.
Regardless of when he finally sees his first game as a starter, you could pretty much bet on Jack Sawyer being the next big defensive end to make a name for himself at Ohio State under the tutelage of Larry Johnson. It is far too soon to crown him a future first-round NFL Draft pick, but Sawyer will certainly have every chance to prove himself in the coming years.