At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Zach Harrison is easy to spot on a football field.
The Olentangy Orange High School senior defensive end stands out because of his size and speed, which have helped to make him one of the top college recruits in the nation.
But when he first started playing as a fifth-grader, or even when he was playing as a freshman with the Pioneers, Harrison lacked the coordination to capitalize on his athletic gifts.
"I was really bad," Harrison said. "I was the biggest guy there, but I was terrible. I was big and long, but I couldn't run 15 yards without falling. I couldn't do anything. I was so uncoordinated. I didn't grow into my body until my sophomore year."
Harrison wasn't just being tough on himself. Asked for his recollection, coach Zebb Schroeder just smiled and shook his head.
"I saw Zach for the first time in middle school workouts, and he was like a baby deer learning how to run," said Schroeder, whose team is 3-2 heading into its OCC-Buckeye Division opener Friday, Sept. 28, at Westerville North. "Even back then, he had long legs; he had long arms then and big feet. He has size 17 feet now and was probably a 15 back then. He was tight. His ankles were tight, his hips weren't developed, but you could just see the potential was there.
"Kudos to Zach because he did the work to develop into an explosive football player. Between the summer of his freshman year to the spring of his sophomore year, that's where he developed himself as a football player. He put on close to 40 pounds and got faster and stronger. He put in the work. He was here every weekend catching passes from our quarterbacks, so that coordination, he developed on his own. He hasn't been one of the best since day one, and that's probably why he has such a humble mindset."
Harrison is soft-spoken; he prefers to let his actions on the field do the talking. He earned first-team all-state, all-district and all-league honors the past two seasons.
Last fall, he totaled 18.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks on 34.5 total tackles. At tight end, he had nine receptions for 173 yards and four touchdowns.
As a sophomore, Harrison had 32 tackles, including 11 for loss, and five sacks. He also caught 13 passes for 185 yards and five scores.
"I'm fast and long and powerful, too, but there are things I still have to work on," said Harrison, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. "I need to work on my technique and hand usage. Really, everything is a work in progress."
Schroeder said Harrison has a passion for the game, which has helped him develop into a "5-star talent" who is expected to star at the next level.
"Zach just loves football, and it shows," Schroeder said. "He's a 5-star talent that doesn't have off days. He has great practices, great film sessions, great workouts in the weight room. ... You expect that out of a role player who is scratching and clawing to get on the field, but people don't expect that from one of the top players in the country."
Harrison missed the first three games of the season with a leg injury, but returned for the Pioneers' 35-7 win over Big Walnut on Sept. 14. He had three tackles, including two for loss, and one sack, and caught two passes for six yards.
On Sept. 21 in a 41-12 win over Westland, Harrison assisted on a tackle but made a much bigger impact on offense. He caught four passes for 112 yards with touchdowns of 47 and 14 yards.
"It's football and injuries are going to happen," he said. "You can't really stop it. You just have to eat right, lift to strengthen yourself and do what you can to try to prevent them."
Harrison has scholarship offers from several high-profile Division I college programs.
"I like things about all of them," he said. "I wish I could go to all of them, but I'll have to pick the one that's best for me."
Schroeder said Harrison will be ready for the next level, but that Harrison knows there still is work to be done.
"In his mind, this is just a stop in a journey," Schroeder said. "He'll have to continue to work on coordination of his moves. That will come in the next couple of years. He knows the guys in college that have excelled over the past few years didn't come in as a finished product.
"He doesn't believe that he has arrived, and that there is work needed to be done to get better. There are people out there that have his talent and skill level and that have worked as hard as he has. Those are the guys he will go up against in the upcoming years."