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Ohio State Coach Larry Johnson Reflects On His Close Bond With Chase Young

Ohio State should have one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country. If the Buckeyes live up to that hype, it’ll likely be because of a lot of players who are unknown to even staunch fans. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
Ohio State should have one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country. If the Buckeyes live up to that hype, it’ll likely be because of a lot of players who are unknown to even staunch fans. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

The excitement of having his name announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell as the No. 2 overall pick of the NFL Draft likely had not worn off when Chase Young settled down for what was sure to be one of many interviews.

Not even half an hour had passed since he spoke with Redskins head coach Ron Rivera, and unsurprisingly, reporters were already clamoring to speak with him; that's part of the deal when you get drafted by your hometown team. So, he sat in front of a laptop and waited for the videoconference to begin.

At first, the screen was blacked out, so he couldn't see who he was supposed to be speaking with. But then the image appeared, and it wasn't a reporter at all; he was talking to Larry Johnson -- Ohio State's defensive line coach and his longtime mentor.

Young's eyes lit up, and after a few pleasantries between the two, he said, "Hey coach, we've got to get back in the lab and get to work."

"That's what I admire about Chase," Johnson told "He's not afraid to work."

After knowing him for about six years, that's the type of statement Johnson has come to expect from Young. From the time the two first met when Young was a sophomore at Pallotti High School, he has trusted Johnson's method, and that dedication has transformed into an intense bond that goes beyond that of a coach and player.

"I thank God every day because he put Coach J in my life," Young said. "We just really put it all out on the line for each other."

Johnson remembers the first time he met Young, who was not the physical specimen he is today. He was a tall, lanky, athletic kid, but it was plain to see that there was potential to be a special player.

Young was uncommonly mature for his age; Johnson said he would often ask in-depth questions that "probably a young kid wouldn't be thinking about." He wanted to know all about football, but he was also intrigued by the players that Johnson had worked with in the past. He would look them up, study them and come back to Johnson with questions.

"He would probably call me five days during the week, sometimes late at night," Johnson said. "'Hey coach, you up?' And we were just talking about everything."

The two would talk about life and goals, and it was apparent from those conversations that Young wanted to be great. After games in high school, he would ask how he played and what he could do to be better before Johnson even had the chance to look at the film.

It's rare, Johnson said, to scout a player who is so engaged, but that is what made their relationship so special.

"We made a heart to heart connection," Johnson said. "He respected me for what I did and I respected him. And I think that started a connection [for him] to really trust me."

At Ohio State, the coaching staff wants its players to buy into the process, or as Johnson calls it, "drink the Kool-Aid." Young trusted it, but Jonhson could tell that he wasn't dedicating himself completely because at times he would revert back to what he did in high school. Young was merely sipping the Kool-Aid when he should have been chugging it.

It only took one season for Young to rid himself of that habit. He didn't play poorly in his first season, as he recorded 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. But clearly, he wanted to improve on all of those numbers.

Once his freshman year had ended, Young told Johnson that he was all in. He was going to do whatever his coach told him and never look back.

"When you get a real relationship with Coach J and you go to him extra all the time, you are just building a relationship and you let him know, 'I'm here, I'm all in,'" Young said. "And then, he goes all in for you, too. I feel like that's how it was – he was all in for me and I was all in for him."

Outside of his natural talent, part of what made Young such an elite player was the way he studied his opponents. Johnson would often get texts throughout the week from Young asking to spend an hour watching film. On Thursdays, the two would meet after practice and study technique or something on an opposing player for hours, usually until about 9:30 p.m.

The Buckeyes' coaches also have each of their players fill out an evaluation sheet for their opponents. They included a wide variety of questions pertaining to a player's stance, strengths, weaknesses, their best moves and even whether they turn their shoulders.

The purpose of the evaluations is to make sure players are actually watching film and to make sure they are paying attention to what they're watching. Young didn't have a problem with that.

"He knew exactly what a tackle was going to do, when he's going to kick set wide, when he's going to kick set back," Johnson said. "He knew all those things going into the game, that he had a game plan for exactly what was going to happen."

As for ridding Young of his high school techniques, Johnson helped fixed his stance and hand movements. Ohio State's pass rush techniques can be intricate, so Young's hands and eyes all had to work in sync. Once Young understood the reasons for the changes, which was to make him a better player, he dedicated himself to mastering them.

"When he did it perfectly, it was...beautiful," Johnson said. "It was like music and playing a very great note because you knew it looked good."

It only took one year after Young said he was all in that Johnson started to see him transform from a talented player to one who had a chance to play in the NFL.

"You saw him change right in front of you. He got much stronger, he was healthier and you saw a guy change his whole attitude."

Young went on to be considered one of the best college prospects that many had seen in years. He improved in every category from his freshman season to the point where he led college football with 16.5 sacks before deciding to forego his senior season.

The moment the two shared on their Zoom call just minutes after Young was drafted was a special moment for Johnson. It was the culmination of the path they had started together years ago when Young was the scrawny kid from Pallotti who aspired to be where he is now.

Johnson remembers sitting down with Young and planning out how his career at Ohio State would unfold. The goals they set were lofty, but Johnson wanted Young to chase them all the same. Young accomplished them all, and Johnson knows he is prepared to pursue a long and successful professional career.

"He exceeded what I thought he was going to do because he stays so driven about being special."