INDIANAPOLIS — Malik Harrison was the 683rd-rated player in the 2016 recruiting class.
DaVon Hamilton was 998th a year earlier.
Ohio State signed them as local-kid projects. Many times, such players don’t pan out. Harrison and Hamilton did.
But even as Harrison blossomed as an outside linebacker and Hamilton did as a defensive tackle, they were often overshadowed. Some of it is because they were surrounded by players such as Chase Young and Jeff Okudah. Some was because of their low-key personalities.
"We're both quiet," Harrison said. "We're not the center of attention."
There is a tight bond between them, though, and so it was perhaps fitting that the Senior Bowl roommates spoke on the same day at the NFL combine.
"Honestly, me and Malik are kind of goofballs," Hamilton said. "He came in a year after me, but ever since we've been together, we've been best friends."
Hamilton, a Pickerington Central graduate, was a backup until late in his Buckeyes career. He began to emerge as a fourth-year junior in 2018 and then really asserted himself last season. Hamilton had 10½ tackles for loss in 2019 as a nose tackle, including six sacks.
"I learned the art of perseverance," he said. "I didn't really play until my third year. I didn't even start until my senior year. It's really kind of molded me into who I am today."
Harrison was one of the players Hamilton leaned on during times when his perseverance was tested.
"Obviously he started a lot earlier in his career than I did, but I talked to him every day," Hamilton said. "(He was) very helpful."
Harrison was a quarterback at Walnut Ridge High School and didn’t have a set position when he arrived at Ohio State. Luke Fickell, then the Buckeyes’ linebackers coach, believed that was his best position and pushed for him there.
"Coach Fickell really got in my ear like, ‘You can compete with these guys, the guys that are highly recruited,’’" he said.
It turned out to be a smart decision. At 6 feet 3 and 247 pounds, Harrison has the size to be imposing as a weakside linebacker and combines that with surprising speed. He established himself as a budding star in 2018 and built on that last season, when he led the Buckeyes with 75 tackles, including 16½ for loss.
On Thursday, he was asked to describe himself as a player. He chose the word beast.
"A lot of people in Columbus, they always call me humble," Harrison said. "So when they see me out there on the field, it’d be like, oh, that's a humble beast out there. He’s humble, but when it's time to go out there and play, he can flip that switch and be a beast."
Hamilton is similar. He’s so unassuming that it wasn’t until well into his senior year before he let it be known that his first name is spelled with a capital V. He just didn’t want to bother with continually correcting people.
With the draft two months away, Harrison is considered a possible second-round pick.
"I feel like I'm definitely one of the top five (linebackers) out there," Harrison said.
He’s as optimistic about Hamilton’s chances of success in the NFL.
"He can be a great player," Harrison said. "I feel like DaVon can be in the league a long time."
Hamilton is regarded as a mid-round pick, though he said he has not put much effort into guessing how high he’ll go. All he promises teams is that he’ll work hard and give everything he has.
That’s what got him and Harrison this far after their humble beginnings as overlooked recruits.
"We take pride in being hometown heroes," Harrison said.
That doesn’t mean they’re not ready to spread their wings. In a couple of months, Harrison and Hamilton will live outside of Columbus for the first time.
"I feel like it's time for me to move on," Hamilton said. "I've been here my whole life. This is time."