Welcome to an ongoing series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. Spring practice is officially underway, and this year’s crop of Buckeyes is already hard at work preparing 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: Donovan Jackson.
Your offense is only as successful as your offensive line allows it to be, and so it is imperative for a program like Ohio State to stack talent in the trenches. Ryan Day and position coach Greg Studrawa were able to do just that in the 2021 class with the addition of five-star offensive guard Donovan Jackson. The Bellaire, Texas native comes to Columbus as the nation’s No. 1 OG and the No. 18 player in the country overall. He is the third-highest rated player in the loaded cycle for Ohio State, behind only Jack Sawyer and Emeka Egbuka.
As one of the nation’s best offensive linemen, Jackson racked up well over 30 offers for his services, including from the likes of all the heavy hitters such as Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas and many more. He cut his list down to an official top 12 back in July of 2019, including all of the aforementioned schools as well as Michigan, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas A&M and of course Ohio State. On Jan. 8, 2020, Jackson officially committed to the Buckeyes, and he signed his LOI this past December.
Jackson began his high school career as a freshman at Houston Christian High School, where he was the team’s starting left tackle right from the jump. He then transferred to Episcopal, where he spent the last three years. Taking home offensive line MVP honors at The Opening in July 2019, he helped lead the Knights to a Southwest Preparatory Conference 4A title as a junior. He was named to the 2020 All-USA high school preseason team by USA Today, and was selected for the Army All-American Bowl. He was also ranked No. 31 in Sports Illustrated’s list of the top 100 players in the 2021 class.
It’s tough to put together a standout highlight tape as an offensive lineman, but Jackson does just that with his ability to straight up maul people up front:
Jackson continues a strong trend of Ohio State being able to pillage some of the best talent out of Texas, as the 6-foot-4.5, 308-pound blocker was the state’s No. 1 prospect in the class. His commitment makes it five cycles in a row that the Buckeyes have signed at least one five-star offensive lineman, with some big names before him including Wyatt Davis, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Harry Miller and Paris Johnson Jr.. Davis (2017) was the most recent five-star guard to commit to Ohio State, and that went pretty well for all parties involved.
Jackson has drawn rave reviews from the talent evaluators, already earning some first-round NFL Draft grades and seeing a comparison to Dallas Cowboys standout offensive lineman La’el Collins. Here is what 247Sports midlands region recruiting expert Gabe Brooks had to say of Jackson’s abilities:
“Owns the requisite height with outstanding verified length. Legitimately elite prospect whether projected to tackle or guard. Wingspan verified at 7 feet with 36-inch arms. Broad and burly with the expected play strength given his build. Plays with good leverage and bends naturally. Shows enough lateral mobility to mirror edge speed, aided by terrific reach. Capable of bullying second-level targets with impressive functional athleticism to reach them. Owns an encouraging 4.63 short shuttle from summer between sophomore and junior years.
Promising body control, even when engaged, relative to mass. Plays hard and will finish blocks to the ground. Technically sound for a high school player. Athletic profile includes strong performances in shot put (52-3 1/2) and discus (165-0). Will face adjustment going from Texas private school ball to P5, but has faced strong competition in elite camps and non-district games. Extremely high-floor prospect who could virtually play anywhere on the offensive line in the long run. One of the nation’s top 2021 offensive linemen and could reach NFL Draft first-round status.”
Versatility has been the name of the game along Ohio State’s offensive line these past few years, and Jackson certainly fits that bill. We’ve seen players move all along the line in order to give the Buckeyes the best possible starting five up front, including Miller’s move from center to guard, Matthew Jones playing basically everywhere, and Johnson’s most recent switch to guard. As Brooks points out, Jackson has the size, strength, and athleticism to basically play any position on the line, and that could pay dividends to him seeing the field early in his Ohio State career.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, I wouldn't expect to see Jackson playing significant snaps this upcoming season even despite his immense skillset. The Buckeyes have a ton of returning talent among their blockers, including both returning offensive tackles in Thayer Munford and NPF, and a starting guard/center in Miller. As previously mentioned, Johnson will likely command one of the guard spots, while the lone remaining starting role will probably go to either Matthew Jones or Luke Wypler. We could even see Dawand Jones earn significant playing time as he has taken great strides these past few years.
The future of Ohio State’s offensive line is incredibly bright, and Jackson will play a big part of that future. While he won’t be a starter from day one, he will almost certainly be playing everyday on that front five in year two if all goes according to plan. With the amount of hype surrounding the highly-touted prospect, it wouldn't be all that surprising to see him blossom into the next program great at the position, regardless of where it is on the line he does eventually find himself in Columbus.