The adjustment to life as an early-enrollee football player at Ohio State is akin to shedding a comfortable coat and diving into frigid water.

The cushy life of being a high school star is over, replaced by rugged early-morning workouts and academic demands.

Zach Harrison is adjusting to that, but the defensive end from Olentangy Orange has a peace of mind that often eluded him during his recruitment.

“Some people like the attention,” Harrison said last week when Ohio State made its freshmen available to the media. “I didn’t. It was an extra level of stress I didn’t need.”

Dispatch feature: Five Star Recruit | The journey of Zach Harrison

Outwardly, he stayed mostly silent. He kept his Twitter account private. Few people had any idea which way Harrison was leaning.

That’s largely because Harrison didn’t know, either. The conventional wisdom was that Michigan was the front-runner for most of the recruiting process.

“My mind changed almost every day,” he said. “It was a different school every day.”

Only three days before the Dec. 19 early signing day did Harrison, after a discussion with his parents, settle on Ohio State.

“It was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “I was talking to my parents and they were like, ‘I think this is where you need to go,’ ” Harrison said. “I was like, ‘You know, this is where I need to be. I need to come here.’ When I called the coaches, I think it was that Monday, I sat there at the table, I was like, ‘I’m done. This is it.’ I slept like a baby that night. It was crazy.”

Harrison’s desire to learn from defensive line coach Larry Johnson was a huge factor in his decision. Though the urge to spread his wings away from home was appealing, he ultimately decided that he wanted to play close to home.

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“I wanted to be great when it’s all said and done, and greatness is linked with Ohio State,” he said. “If I put in the work, I’ll come out and be great.”

Harrison was a five-star recruit based on his potential. He has rare speed for a player who is 6 feet 5 and 243 pounds, but he knows he is far from a finished product.

“I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface,” Harrison said. “I have a long way to go, which is exciting. I’m decent right now, but I’m waiting for it to take off.”

Harrison knows that he is going to have good days and bad days as he adjusts to college life. So far, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day seems delighted with his progress. Day gushed about Harrison’s performance in early-morning mat drills last Wednesday, which are one of the crucibles for young Buckeyes.

“He has come here and blossomed,” Day said Wednesday. “Had an unbelievable day today. He has been killing it in the weight room.”

During Michigan’s recruitment of Harrison, Wolverines assistant coaches Greg Mattison and Al Washington took the leading roles. Now both are at Ohio State.

“We laugh about it all the time,” Day said. “Zach Harrison right now is walking around with the biggest smile on his face of anybody in the whole campus. In the recruiting process, he built relationships with Greg and Al. Obviously, he built a great relationship with Larry Johnson. These guys are here now, and he gets Larry at Ohio State right down the street. He kind of died and went to heaven.”

Harrison is now content to grind through workouts and blend in with his teammates. He hasn’t set personal goals for his freshman season.

But he ultimately wants to leave a mark fitting for someone as highly touted as he is.

“When it’s all said and done, I want to leave a legacy here,” Harrison said. “I want people to be like, ‘Oh, Zach Harrison was one of the greatest to come through Ohio State.’ That’s going to mean a lot more to me because coming from home, I’ll be able to take my kids here and (have them) grow up in the community where they know my name.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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