Kenyatta Jackson

Larry Johnson Says Buckeyes Caden Curry, Kenyatta Jackson Jr. Building ‘Something Special’ Entering Year Three

The Buckeye brotherhood is strong.

In today’s day and age of college football, a player could choose to leave one program and enter the transfer portal seeking a new opportunity and more playing time with another team. Ohio State is no stranger to that two-way street.

So when Buckeyes such as Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau announced their returns for a fourth season, some Buckeyes, such as rising juniors Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson Jr., could’ve opted to find a new destination where they’d receive a larger share of snaps. But that wasn’t what they chose to do.

“All those guys could go into the portal if they wanted to because those guys came back, right?” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “But they all want to be part of something special, and I think that’s what separates us and who we are. And the fact that KJ and Caden Curry never wonder what they want to do. They just want to play ball and come back and be the best player they could possibly be.”

Curry and Jackson are two of Ohio State’s junior defensive ends ready to make a bigger impact heading into Year 3.

All counted, there are seven D-ends listed on Ohio State’s roster. Sawyer and Tuimoloau are incumbent starters, and with Johnson’s history, Curry and Jackson figure to get involved in the rotation.

“I think the biggest thing they’re doing is chasing greatness right now,” Johnson said. “I mean, to be the best player they could be in college football. I think that’s what they want. Win a national championship. Beat the team up north. Those are all great goals for those guys to chase, and I think that’s one of the reasons they came back.”

The two of Curry and Jackson have combined for 36 games played, 27 tackles and two sacks through two seasons.

Both arrived at Ohio State as four-star recruits part of the class of 2022. Curry hails from Greenwood, Indiana, and Jackson is from Hollywood, Florida.

Curry has dabbled in both defense and offense for the Buckeyes. He’s appeared at fullback where his 6-foot-3, 260-pound frame can pave the way for a ball-carrier just as he could plow through an offensive line. His mix of blocking and tackling abilities make him an intriguing player to watch for a breakout junior season. He totaled a career-high 11 tackles as a freshman and recorded his first sack as a sophomore in 2023.

Jackson offers just as imposing of an athletic build and larger. Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 258 pounds, the third-year from Chaminade-Madonna Prep redshirted his first season with the Buckeyes in 2022 then played in 11 games last season amassing six tackles and a sack.

Johnson said Jackson has shown signs of “coming out of his shell a little bit” and being a leader, something many Ohio State defensive linemen have gone on to develop.

“It’s all about being consistent,” Johnson said. “He’s tough. He has all the skill set. He can bend. He can run. He can tackle. He’s physical — he has all that. Now can you be consistent in doing what you’re supposed to do? And so far, he’s doing a good job with that.”

Johnson said Curry and Jackson are “right where you need to be” and he’s overjoyed “that we got some more days of practice to get ready” for a critical 2024 season.

Ohio State will get a shot at making the expanded 12-team College Football Playoff that will be in place for the first time next season. The Buckeyes could potentially play upwards of 17 games featuring a conference championship and four full rounds of the CFP.

Johnson wants to make sure Ohio State is ready. Johnson said Curry, Jackson and fifth-year senior Mitchell Melton are considered next man up when veterans like Sawyer and Tuimoloau are in need of a breather and Johnson rotates the next group onto the field.

“We’ve never done that before, and so early on this season, we may play a lot more young players in a situation to make sure we get to the stretch,” Johnson said. “I think our older players now understand like what we’re up against. And the thing I will say to you (is) that we don’t have jealousies in the room. We don’t have that. We have a bunch of guys that want to win, and if you can help us win, I want you to help us win. That’s the attitude in the room.”

Johnson said the Buckeyes are “going to do what we want to do” along the defensive line next season, and that likely means a lot of rotating to ensure players are most fresh when they’re in live competition.

While the thought of opportunity elsewhere, or even in the NFL Draft after three years, may appear enticing, Johnson said Curry and Jackson remained bought into the program. He thinks they’ll be two Buckeyes that Ohio State can lean on, and perhaps make the right play at the right time at the right point in the season.

“You go (as) a third-year player, go in the NFL, you might think you’re ready but when you got four years under your belt, you got your toolbox ready to go, you got a chance to elevate your game when you walk into that next level,” Johnson said. “And I think that’s where those guys looked at: how can I get better, coach? And every day we’re working on the small pieces to make them elite players and I think that’s what we’re enjoying right now. You can see the difference in the guys and that’s the positive of what’s happening right now.”

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