For Ohio State freshmen Zach Harrison and Garrett Wilson, the question about becoming major contributors was always when rather than if.
So it goes when you’re ranked in the top 20 overall prospects in your recruiting class, as they were.
For Harrison and Wilson, the answer is becoming clear: Now.
With Chase Young held out last week, Harrison got his first start at defensive end. He had a sack and graded as a champion.
Wilson caught a season-high four passes for 82 yards last week against Maryland and had a long touchdown catch from Chris Chugunov nullified by a penalty. He also has given the Buckeyes a spark in the punt return game.
Harrison, from Olentangy Orange, was the No. 12 overall prospect in 247sports.com’s composite rankings. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder has rare speed for someone his size. But his lofty ranking was based largely on his potential.
Working diligently with defensive line coach Larry Johnson and soaking up knowledge from his older linemates, Harrison is speeding up the learning curve.
“I think the biggest thing I like about him is he’s willing to learn,” senior nose guard DaVon Hamilton said. “A lot of guys coming in think they know a lot of what’s going on and don’t quite understand what the scheme is.
“He’s been really fun to be around. He really wants to learn. He wants to be a part of the unit. If he really develops the way coach Johnson has prepared him to, there’s nothing he can’t do.”
Harrison was pleased with his performance Saturday, though he said he still has much improvement to make.
Harrison described getting a start at Ohio Stadium as a dream come true.
“I don’t really think about it often, but it does hit me at times, like, ‘Wow, I'm really here. I'm really a Buckeye playing for Ohio State. This is what I've dreamed of since I was little.’
“Sometimes, it's surreal. It happens in the moment and then I refocus and am back to playing ball.”
Wilson, who spent his early years in Dublin before his family moved to Austin, Texas, isn’t quite the physical specimen Harrison is. At 6 feet and 188 pounds, he’s still filling out.
But the physical gifts that made him the No. 20 prospect in this year’s recruiting class are easy to spot. He has an uncanny knack for creating space against defenders and uses remarkable body control and hands to make acrobatic catches.
Wilson can make it look easy, but he said the adjustment to college ball has included its rough patches.
“I'm going to get some of the best corners every day in practice,” he said. “I was getting locked up the first couple weeks (of practice), so I just had to learn.”
Harrison and Wilson say they want their coaches to be hard on them.
“I don't want them to only praise me,” Wilson said. “I don't want them to pick out everything good I do. I want to be pushed to be better. So there's always room to be better, and that's what my coaches are for.”
As the Buckeyes start to hit the home stretch of their season, Wilson and Harrison will be looked at to be more than freshmen.
“They've played a lot of football,” coach Ryan Day said. “That's just the way the season has played out. They've made a lot of mistakes, but they've grown from it.
“They're ahead of where they typically would be for a freshman. I think they're both able to make an impact (the rest of) the season.”