With the Buckeyes in the midst of camp season, more than 600 players from fifth through eighth grade were gathered at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the final day of a three-day youth camp. Most wore OSU apparel and were looking forward to the opportunity to run out of the tunnel and onto the field at Ohio Stadium. As the program's recruiting coordinator, however, Peterson is tasked with instilling that same fervor into kids who will be seniors this fall.
Since losing head coach Jim Tressel on May 30, the Buckeyes have added two verbal commitments but have hit on some hard times. Four-star defensive end prospect Se'Von Pittman spurned OSU to issue a commitment to Michigan State on Sunday, but the biggest news came Tuesday night when five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis withdrew his verbal pledge to the Buckeyes.
Rated the nation's No. 6 offensive tackle, Kalis committed last September. He was set to reopen his recruitment once Tressel announced his resignation but interim head coach Luke Fickell was able to get the Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward standout to stick with the Buckeyes.
Coaches can not comment on recruits until after they have signed national letters-of-intent but Peterson appeared to be referring to Kalis when the subject of de-committing was raised.
"An old coach told me, ‘When you commit somewhere you want to make it solid,' " Peterson said. "I always correlate it to getting engaged. When you get engaged, you want to make it solid. If you have a doubt, then guess what? You probably shouldn't be engaged. We'll get married in February, but if you have questions then guess what? We don't want to be engaged. We don't want to have a commitment.
"We want guys who are solid and confident in what they want to do. Those are the kind of guys we want at Ohio State."
The Buckeyes now sit at eight verbal commitments for the class of 2012. Peterson said the final number will be around 20 members in this year's class.
At his inaugural press conference after being named head coach, Fickell said the coaches will continue to use the same approach Tressel had utilized during his 10 years at the helm: use the program to sell itself. Once kids gain an appreciation for the tradition and the people at OSU, the plan goes, they will want to sign up.
"We've always tried to sell the program," Fickell said. "Is it a little bit more difficult? At times, but that doesn't make us any different."
Peterson said opportunities such as the ones afforded players who attend camps at OSU are vital for these efforts.
"If you walk down the hallway and see the 100-yard office where you have each bay telling a storyline and if a kid is enthralled and passionate about something, the history and the program speaks for itself," he said.
As for overcoming the hurdle that is having a coaching staff promised nothing beyond the 2011 season, Peterson said the key is communication.
"Every kid is different," he said. "I came here as a young player and people always have questions and we invite them, ‘Hey, come see us. Come talk to us. Meet us in person and take a look around and meet the people involved in the program and go from there.' "
That approach seems to fit the profiles set by the last two players to join the program. When Tyvis Powell and Najee Murray issued verbal commitments to the Buckeyes, both stressed how important it was for them to join the program they had cherished since childhood.
Peterson said things will be fine in Columbus no matter what happens in this class.
"At the end of the day kids are going to end up where they're going to end up," he said. "We're not going to shortchange. We're proud to be at Ohio State and we've got a great product and great people. We're still going to be ready to play come September."
Hall To WR? Peterson said that running back Jordan Hall has not been moved to wide receiver but hinted at a more expanded role for the junior.
"If you watch Jordan Hall, he's a football player," the coach said. "I watch him catch punts and all I know is he's a very talented football player that can be an impact player for us."
During the spring, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden described Hall as pound-for-pound the best player on the roster.
Strong Freshman – Peterson has four scholarship tight ends on the roster but said a former Buckeye was recently impressed with one of his newcomers: Jeff Heuerman, who was on hand for spring football after enrolling in winter courses.
"Jake Ballard, who is with the (New York) Giants right now, came in and said, ‘hey, this kid is lifting with me and he (should still be) in high school,' " Peterson said. "His strength and his dedication to his body and strength training allowed him really to have a good spring for a high school kid."
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