Jashon Cornell: Path to the NFL Draft
Six years ago, Jashon Cornell was the number one high school prospect in the nation. A dominant defensive end, he entertained offers from the best colleges in a wild recruiting process. With hours left until the start of the 2020 NFL Draft, he is flying under the radar as a defensive tackle prospect. Cornell is under no illusion that he still brings the dominance and calibre that propelled him on to the national stage, as he prepares for the biggest stage of them all.
“I feel like some teams judge me as a day three guy, and some teams think I’m gonna fall out of the draft because not a lot of people have me on their radar. When a lot of teams go back and watch my film, they’ll see the type of player I am, see the high calibre player I am. I might not have a first or second round grade, but I’m a first or second round player.”
Work hard, compete, cause havoc
The path to the NFL Draft began for Jashon Cornell in St. Paul, Minnesota. With a work ethic instilled in him by his mother, Sheena Cornell, and with a natural appetite for competition, Jashon found a place where these things combined and a love affair with football developed at an early age.
“I started playing football when I was six years old. Football has always been a home away from home for me. It’s where I belong. That’s where it all started, as a six year old playing with a third grade team. Being able to compete at that level at a young age, I’ve always loved the game and loved to compete.”
Despite growing up in Minnesota, Jashon’s competitive nature found inspiration some 1000 miles away in Baltimore. As a child learning the game, the Ravens had some of the most competitive defensive players in the game.
“I was a big Terrell Suggs fan. Especially when the Baltimore Ravens were playing at the level they were when I was young. I was always a fan of how their defensive flew around, and how Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis were always able to get into the backfield and cause havoc and be that destructive defense that the Baltimore Ravens were. That’s where a lot of my inspiration came from growing up.”
Jashon Cornell dominates at Cretin-Derham
He took that football inspiration into the next stage of his path to the NFL Draft. He played high school football at a Minnesota powerhouse in Cretin-Derham Hall. They are a high school program with a reputation for producing high calibre football players. It was a perfect environment in which a young Jashon Cornell could excel.
“I loved playing high school football. It’s really where everything starts. Playing at Cretin was very special, with the coaching staff they have and the top players that played there before. You understand the concept of winning championships and making players better at the same time.”
It was evident early on that Jashon Cornell was going to be another one of those top players to come out of Cretin-Derham high school. During his sophomore and junior years with the team he would rack up 46 tackles for loss and 29 sacks with five forced fumbles. There was natural talent, but the work ethic that had been instilled by his mum, helped transform that talent into something special.
“I used to ride my bike to school every morning at like 5-6am to work out before school. Grind every morning. After school I was doing the same thing, getting another workout in. I was working out every morning and afternoon. I think that helped me improve my game for sure.”
The number one junior in the nation
After his impressive junior campaign, Jashon Cornell was ranked as the number one prospect in the nation by ESPN. The spotlight became focused on him as he went into his senior year, with the eyes of the college football world bearing down.
“It put a lot of pressure on, especially as a young kid, you’re not expecting to be the top guy. For it to happen, puts a load of pressure on your head. It was all good pressure though. You can always say, I’m at the top right now, people are chasing me, and I’ve got to compete each and every day to keep the spot. Your ability has to grow each day, you’ve got to keep grinding each day, to keep that number one spot.”
The recruiting process picked up steam after his junior season, with multiple offers coming from the biggest college football programs in the nations. The likes of Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma submitted offers but there was one deciding factor that would see Jashon Cornell become an Ohio State Buckeye.
“The recruiting process was fun, especially when every coach in the country wants you. It’s a good feeling to have, especially when you’re able to control where you’re going. I feel like choosing Ohio State was the best thing for me, especially because of my position coach. He’s one of the best position coaches in the country. Playing for Larry Johnson was the best decision I made for myself.”
Legendary college coaches help shape Jashon Cornell
Being able to be coached by the highly rated defensive line coach Larry Johnson had guided Jashon Cornell to Ohio State. At the time, another legendary figure in the college football world was the head coach, Urban Meyer. Over his five years as a Buckeye, Jashon would also play under one of the brightest young head coaches in Ryan Day.
“It was great playing for Coach Meyer. He had that winning mentality. He could always get the best out of any player. That was one thing he was really good at, he was able to coach guys and those guys be able to trust him when they go out on the field and be able to play at a high level for him.”
“Coach Day was really a player’s coach. He’s all about the players and what they players want first. He was all about us. That’s one thing you love in a coach when he’s a player’s coach. He took care of us and we wanted to play for him. A lot of people doubted him when he became the head coach of Ohio State. He proved those doubters wrong this season by getting to the playoffs as a first-time head coach. That’s one thing you should know about Coach Day is that he has that same winning mentality but he’s more of a player’s coach.”
Competing for time on the best defensive line
Despite being a high school star at Cretin, Jashon Cornell wouldn’t see the field as a Buckeye until 2016. Coming into a top college program means competing for playing time against some of the best at the level, and Jashon would have to redshirt his freshman season in 2015.
“You learn how to get humble real quick! The redshirt for sure showed me that I wasn’t ready. It gave me time to hit the lab, get stronger, get faster, get quicker, learn how to play college football, learn how to read the playbook in the film room. It gave me a year to gain confidence in my ability to play at a high level.”
The competition he faced for playing time, helped him get better each and every day. During his time at Ohio State, Jashon Cornell has suited up alongside the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and heads into the 2020 NFL Draft with teammate Chase Young, the consensus best player in the class.
“When you’re playing with many great calibre players, you have no choice but to get better. Everybody is always trying to improve and be the best defensive lineman you can be. That’s one thing I think we did as a defensive line, we treated everyday as a competition to get better. I feel like when we were all doing that, especially when we were playing great defense, we were the best defensive line in the country. Each and every day when we went out to practice, or went out to play a game, we were competing at a high level.”
Back to back BIG Ten Championships and beating "That team up North"
The competition led to success on the field. During his time at Ohio State, Jashon Cornell has been a part of three BIG Ten Championship winning teams and went to the College Football Playoffs. As he heads to the NFL Draft, those Championship runs are the things he looks back at with pride.
“My biggest achievement at that program is being able to win five games against that team up North, and win three BIG Ten Championships back to back, three times in a row. It just showed that everybody in the BIG Ten had to chase us, that Ohio State was the leader in the BIG Ten, and that everybody in the BIG Ten has to go through Ohio State.”
“That team up North” refers to the Michigan Wolverines. The rivalry that runs between the Wolverines and Buckeyes is so ferocious that Jashon Cornell can’t bring himself to utter their name. He has never tasted defeat in what he describes as the biggest games of his career.
“It’s a big part of being a Buckeye. Each one of those games are important, especially when you battle each other. You’ve got to be ready every time you go against that team up North. Being 5-0 versus them, is one of the accomplishments you want as a Buckeye. It goes back in history. When that game happens, everywhere around the world everybody has that game on their TV! Billions of people out there are watching the Ohio State vs Michigan game just because of it being one of the best rivalries in all of sport.”
Dropping inside to defensive tackle drives Jashon Cornell to standout 2019 season
The 2019 edition of the rivalry game saw Ohio State trample Michigan 56-27. The domination of “that team up North” would be a marquee moment in a standout season for Jashon Cornell. In his senior year, he contributed 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and a forced fumble, more than in his entire Buckeye career to that point. The upturn in production came from a change in position which could impact his NFL Draft potential massively. Having played his entire football career at defensive end, he would kick inside to defensive tackle with immediate results.
“I think moving to that position was the best thing for me, and I made that decision to be a three technique. You don’t find too many defensive ends who are able to pass rush from the three technique position but also be able to play the run like I did this past season. It helped my career in the near future that I can be a five technique or go inside and be a three technique and showcase my pass rushing ability and be able to stop the run also. I treat it like I’m still playing defensive end when I’m pass rushing, but I play the run like I’m a 300lb defensive tackle.”
Versatility is a key word where the NFL is concerned, and it’s not lost on Jashon Cornell that having the ability to play across the offensive line is something that will increase the potential to be drafted.
“I think before last year I wasn’t on anyone’s radar but after this past year I think I jumped on a lot of scouts and teams radars because I showcased that ability to play at a high level each and every game.”
Sprinting up Summit Hill with a little chip on the shoulder
Despite a breakout year as a senior in a high-profile college football program, the post season attention hasn’t materialised for Jashon Cornell through the early NFL Draft process. There was no All-Star game appearance and no invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. Although it adds a little motivation, he knows that it doesn’t define your ability to make it to the NFL.
“It was a little chip on my shoulder not being able to go to the combine. I know teams are still interested in me. It was a snub, but it’s not a big issue. Guys got drafted before that haven’t been to the combine.”
With a disrupted NFL Draft process this year, players who didn’t go to the NFL Combine are having to turn to more bizarre and unique ways to show their physical attributes to NFL teams. Jashon Cornell has captured the attention of both regional and national media with his runs up “Summit Hill” in St. Paul, telling me he’s probably ran up and down there 100 times or more in the last few weeks. It’s a testament to the continual grind that he’s had since that kid at high school.
“I’ve been doing some unique training things. I’ve been sprinting up hills, and doing different workouts on video, and sending them to teams. I want to show teams that I’m still working despite the circumstances that we’re in right now. I’m still grinding, I’m still working out, still trying to get better every day.”
Since the NFL can’t go see the Draft Players train, let’s take some Draft Players to the NFL. I’m going to post some of my Draft Players workouts focusing on the ones with no Pro Day. Here’s Buckeye DT @JayRock_9 running hills last week at 293 pounds. pic.twitter.com/EjgUPa5QRA— Mike McCartney (@MikeMcCartney7) April 6, 2020
"I'm one of the best interior pass rushers in the draft"
When Roger Goodell puts the Cincinnati Bengals on the clock later today, former Ohio State defensive lineman Chase Young won’t have to wait long for his phone to ring.
For Jashon Cornell, that wait may be a little longer, but he’s confident in the ability he can bring to the team that takes a chance on him.
“Draft me because I’m one of the best interior pass rushers in the draft. You’re not going to be able to find a guy of my calibre who can play defensive end and three technique and be able to be as versatile. I think that’s one thing that I’m bringing to a team as a player, is the ability to be versatile, to switch positions and still be able to play at a high level. I’m a unique pass rusher that’s also able to stop the run.”
He’s been waiting for this phone call since he first picked up a ball aged six, since those days of riding his bike to Cretin-Derham Hall every morning. All the hard work, the effort, the sacrifice, leads to these next three days.
“It would feel like my childhood dream is fulfilled. To be able to play at the best level possible would be the greatest feeling ever, to be drafted by a team would be the best feeling ever.”
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Feature Image Credit: Associated Press
Huge thanks to Jashon Cornell for taking the time to talk to us. Also to Maggie Lyon at Priority Sports for helping connect us.