Defensive end prospect takes over at quarterback
Jack Sawyer was standing on the field before Ohio State’s game against Cincinnati this month when he was approached by Buckeyes coach Ryan Day.
Day began with some good-natured ribbing about his high school team.
“Let’s get a win down there,” Sawyer recalled him cracking.
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Pickerington North had lost its first two games. Sawyer, a junior who is committed to the Buckeyes as one of the nation’s top defensive end prospects, responded that the situation was dire enough that he might also play quarterback.
True enough, Sawyer lined up behind center for the Panthers’ third game, against Olentangy Orange, leading them to their first win. He is expected to remain in place the rest of the season.
The team’s quarterback depth chart had taken a hit. Gio Thomas, who was to begin the season as the starter, moved to Florida, then Dom Myers, who moved from safety, suffered a knee injury in the second game.
“Obviously, I love defense,” Sawyer said. “I love getting after the offense, having sacks, having tackles for loss, stuff like that. But I’m trying to do what I can on offense and help my team.”
With the move to quarterback, Sawyer has seen some of his playing time reduced on the defensive line. He's used largely as a pass rusher on third downs or other critical sequences.
Pickerington North coach Nathan Hillerich estimated that Sawyer was playing about half of the defensive snaps, though he still has managed 10 sacks through four games.
Between some drives, Sawyer needs to huddle with the rest of the offense.
Though it could leave him open to possible injuries, Sawyer said Ohio State’s coaches, including Day and defensive line coach Larry Johnson, have been supportive.
“They think it’s awesome, and it’s going to make me more athletic,” Sawyer said. “They’re not mad or anything.”
In his two starts at quarterback, Sawyer ran almost as much as he has thrown. While completing 16 of 38 passes for 215 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception, he ran 26 times for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
Sawyer said his favorite run came in the third quarter against Olentangy Orange when he ran for a touchdown to extend the lead and stiff-armed a pair of defenders on the way to the end zone.
“It’s fun, just running around, throwing the ball, taking off and running,” Sawyer said. “I just think of it as playing in the backyard when I was a kid.”
Pickerington North lost to Westerville Central 41-6 last week, dropping to 1-3.
Sawyer has limited experience playing quarterback. He recalled playing the position only once in youth leagues, as a fifth-grader on a local all-star team. He mostly ran the ball then too.
Hillerich believes Sawyer, who stands 6 feet 5, has the arm talent and athleticism to make an impact.
It just might not be an overnight adjustment.
“He throws it as far as you need to throw it, 60, 70 yards,” Hillerich said. “That's no question. The biggest thing is getting some of the timing down when you haven’t thrown to receivers but for just a week.”
The payoff might come later in the season, and when league play begins next month.
"We haven't played our best,” Hillerich said, “but going forward, we feel he can put us in a position to make a late run.”