INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 01: Chase Young #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes chases down Clayton Thorson #18 of the Northwestern Wildcats in in the third quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 01, 2018 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

5-star defenders helping Ohio State defense in more ways than one

The Ohio State defensive end tied the school single-game record for sacks with four against Wisconsin on Saturday, and he was predictably named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

He was also added to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which goes to the nation’s best player annually.

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A day later, the Football Writers Association of America recognized him with its Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honor, something no Buckeye had received since Chimdi Chekwa in 2010.

Not that head coach Ryan Day needed an excuse to gush about the Maryland native, who leads the nation in sacks per game (1.69).

“Having a player like Chase play the way he has clearly changes the game and makes everybody on that defense better because you have to account for him on every play, but that’s only good if he plays that way, and he is,” Day said.

The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Young arrived from Hyattsville, Md., two years ago with high expectations, and the five-star prospect has done a lot to make the high school talent evaluators look smart.

“We all know his potential and what he’s done, but I thought his intensity and the way he approached that game was special,” Day said. “You could tell he played with a chip on his shoulder. But that’s only good if he keeps continuing to play that way, and I think that’s why you’ve got to give him credit week in and week out. He’s played the same way, he’s been consistent, he’s been tough, he’s been productive.”

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While some players specialize in rushing the passer, Young has proven to be an all-around player for the Ohio State defense.

He is fourth on the team with 29 tackles, including a team-best 15.5 for loss. Young has forced five fumbles and a blocked kick, too.

“But now we’re into the teeth of this thing, and he’s going to have to continue to play that way because now he’s got the biggest bullseye he’s ever had on his chest,” Day said. “And that’s going to be tough going down the stretch.”

Young also has the appreciation of his teammates.

“First off, I’ve gotta give kudos to Chase just because the way Chase played in that game, I’m proud of him,” senior defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “He played phenomenally, but those are things he does in practice on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. It’s just a testimony to not only what (coach Larry Johnson) teaches but also the way that he’s practicing. Big-time players show up in big-time games, and he definitely showed up.”

Of course, being a five-star recruit does not guarantee immediate success.

There are many examples of this, but one was also in the spotlight Saturday against Wisconsin.

Justin Hilliard was the highest-rated recruit in Ohio in the class of 2015, but he has had far from the impact he hoped to up to this point.

Injuries ravaged his first two years in Columbus, and it appeared his last was in jeopardy when he suffered an Achilles injury in the spring.

And yet there he was Saturday helping bottle up one of the nation’s best running backs as part of a 4-4 defensive look the Buckeyes had not showed much previously in the season.

Although Hilliard was credited with just one tackle (it went for a loss), he was a key part of a defensive strategy that saw Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor gain just 52 yards on 20 carries.

“With today’s day and age with (transfer) portals and everything else, he stuck through it,” Day said of the Cincinnati St. Xavier product. “He worked through injuries, he worked through playing time issues, and then he steps up in a huge moment for us to beat Wisconsin and plays really well and makes some big-time tackles.”

Younger players pass Hilliard on the depth chart last season, but he stuck with the program and logged 20 tackles, mostly on special teams.

He graduated in May with a degree in marketing and could have transferred elsewhere and played right away without having to worry about secruiting a waiver but opted not to.

“That goes to show you what kind of a kid Justin Hilliard is,” Day said. “He’s got character, he’s got perseverance, everything about him is great. He’s helped us on special teams for years, but now he’s able to step up into that role and make those kind of plays for the team. That’s a guy who’s leaving a legacy behind, and that’s about hard work and working through tough times, and we’re just really happy to have him part of this team.”

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