Jashon Cornell remembers thinking he was “on top of the world” his junior year at Cretin-Derham Hall, when ESPN ranked him as the No. 1 recruit in the country.
At the time, Cornell was more hyped in the Class of 2015 than Kyler Murray and Saquon Barkley, both now the future of the NFL.
Almost as quickly as he rose to the top, Cornell dropped off the radar, buried on the depth chart at Ohio State. Overcoming injuries, position switches and a depth chart jammed with NFL prospects, the St. Paul native has resurfaced with a chance to start this season for a national title contender.
“I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder,” the fifth-year senior defensive tackle said. “I feel like I have something to prove.”
Nobody wants to be known as a bust.
“I came out of Minnesota as one of the top players in the country,” Cornell said. “I haven’t produced like I thought I was because injuries and things set me back. I feel like being healthy physically and mentally now is helping me out. It’s helping me play a lot faster, allowing me to play like I used to.”
The Buckeyes are relying on Cornell for leadership on a defensive line that lost No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa and third-round pick Dre’mont Jones to the NFL. Despite having just one start (vs. Minnesota last year) in 32 games played, the 6-3, 285-pound Cornell is a front-runner to be a starting defensive tackle.
“He knows the system now,” Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson told reporters. “And now this is the last shot. He’s got a chance to be the three technique [starting on the D-line] … and I think he sees the goal now and what can be possible. He’s got all the tools. He’s everything you thought he would be, so now it’s about doing it on the field.”
After redshirting in 2015 and being limited to five games with a groin injury in 2016, Cornell showed some promise as a sophomore, moving to defensive tackle to play behind Jones. In 2018, the Buckeyes needed Cornell to help with depth issues at defensive end, especially with Bosa’s injury problems.
Switching positions kept Cornell from developing as a pass rusher. His explosiveness got better, but he was primarily a run stopper, recording 29 tackles and three sacks the past two seasons. After showing flashes of talent, Cornell showed more confidence this spring when he moved back to the inside for good.
“I came out of high school as a defensive end, but I feel like I transitioned into a three technique,” he said. “That’s my best position.”
Far removed from the days he was considered a once-a-generation high school player in Minnesota, Cornell relishes being under the radar now on a line with no real big names.
“I’m not a well-known player anymore,” Cornell said. “We’re a bunch of no-name guys. We’re like a quiet storm that’s waiting to hit the field.”