When Malik Harrison enrolled at Ohio State, a day like Friday seemed like a distant dream.
He was a local kid from Walnut Ridge without a set position. He’d played several in high school, and until then-OSU assistant coach Luke Fickell pulled him into his linebackers room, Harrison didn’t know where he’d land.
Linebacker proved to be the right place. Blessed with a combination of size and speed, Harrison blossomed into a standout.
On Friday, he was taken in the third round of the NFL draft (98th overall) by the Baltimore Ravens, who also drafted Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round.
“Coming out (of Walnut Ridge), I didn’t think I would actually be here,” Harrison said February at the NFL combine. “I thought I would just be an average player – (going) to Ohio State, probably getting drafted late-round or whatever, but I didn’t expect this at all.”
Harrison led Ohio State in both total tackles (75) and solos (49) last year and had 16½ tackles for loss, trailing only No. 2 overall draft pick Chase Young. But he was often overshadowed by others on Ohio State’s defense because of their flashier play and his unassuming personality.
“Yeah, definitely,” Harrison said when asked if he felt overshadowed. “Not taking any credit from Jeff (Okudah) and Chase, they’re the best players in this draft. But definitely, I have been overlooked. But I never lost sight because it’s a team thing. As long as the right people see me, I’m good.”
The first one who really visualized what Harrison could be at Ohio State was Fickell.
“Coach Fickell got in my ear like, ‘Yo, you can compete with these guys,’ the guys that were highly recruited,” Harrison said. “And then I had my dad in my ear. My dad (Charles), no matter if I sucked or not, he’s going to tell me I’m the best player out there. So that really motivated me.
“And then my little brother. He really looks up to me. Every position I play, he plays. Every number I got, he’s got. So, my family are the ones that made me realize that I can come here and be one of the best linebackers.”
When Al Washington was hired as Ohio State’s linebacker coach before last season, he made improving Harrison’s ability to fend off blockers with his hand a priority.
“I think he'll be able to thrive in any system because of that mentality that we were able to kind of forge this season,” Washington said Wednesday. “He's very talented. He's always been athletic, but I think he showed his ability to beat blocks this year and make plays.”
His ability to play any linebacker spot will serve him well.
“His skill set will allow him to fit many different roles,” Washington said. “As we all know, that's the name of the game in that league.”