Staff Hasn't Altered Recruiting Philosophy

The Ohio State football program faces quite a bit of uncertainty in the next six months, which could be having a vast impact on the 2012 recruiting class. However, the Buckeyes' staff is approaching the courting of top talent the same ways they always have.

Whether the seemingly never-ending string of bad news regarding NCAA violations that has occurred over the course of the past 11 months will take a toll on Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class remains to be seen.

The coaching staff, however, is carrying on as if nothing has changed.

Ohio State has endured more change in the past year than perhaps the entire previous decade under the direction of former head coach Jim Tressel, but the coaching staff he left behind hasn't changed its philosophy when courting top talent.

"Recruiting at Ohio State is bigger than any person or situation," said tight ends coach John Peterson, who also is the program's recruiting coordinator. "The Ohio State brand will be here longer than me or any coach. When you're out recruiting, you're honest and you're recruiting the kids that want to come to Ohio State."

But the Ohio State that is currently being sold is vastly different from the program Tressel was selling a year ago. And recruits want answers.

Gone is the head coach who enjoyed unparalleled success before news surfaced that he had knowledge of NCAA violations being committed and opted not to come forward with the information.

Replacing him is 38-year-old Luke Fickell, a first-year head coach who had no previous experience in his position prior to taking the job, and his long-term status with the program remains unclear.

And finally there's the pending NCAA sanctions that could result in what the university has already suggested – vacating the 2010 season, multiple player suspensions, probation and a reduction in scholarships over multiple years – or the possibility of harsher penalties such as a multiseason postseason ban.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing during the recruitment process is the coaches don't have the answers to those questions. Instead, they continue to drive home the point they feel has been the foundation of recruiting for the program for years.

"The one thing you will always know is that Ohio State will be here whether we are here or not, whether the NCAA says this or that. Ohio State will be here," cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said. "That's the one thing we will always not so much sell, but communicate to recruits.

"The academics, the tradition, it is unmatched. That's the part we go out and make sure we attack. Don't come to the school because of a coach. Come because of the school or the program. That's the No. 1 one thing."

The results for Ohio State so far this year seem to prove that is the proper approach. The Buckeyes currently have 14 commitments for their 2012 class, including a pledge from five-star running back Bri'onte Dunn of Canton (Ohio) GlenOak, despite facing some of the most uncertain times in recent memory.

Joining Dunn as part of the class are five other players ranked by Scout.com as four-star recruits, including a recent commitment from Virginia-based Fork Union Military Academy wide receiver Mike Thomas.

"It really hasn't changed," safeties coach Paul Haynes said of the program's recruiting philosophy. "At this point, in the guys we're recruiting, everything is on the table and you're up front and honest with them and they are up front and honest with you on what they're feeling.

"We have always wanted guys who were interested in coming here and being here instead of trying to convince guys to want to be here. I don't think that has changed with the guys that we're recruiting. The approach is the same. The school is the same. The tradition is the same. There's not much different."

Perhaps Ohio State's coaches don't have much of a choice when talking to recruits aside from focusing on the tradition, particularly because the change the program has endured of late could conceivably just be the beginning.

The NCAA could potentially hand down a crippling punishment to the program, and Fickell – as well as his staff currently recruiting the prospects – could no longer be a part of the program in the coming months.

But this was the approach the staff took in recruiting long before the NCAA was ever even an imaginable topic.

"I am not going to say that I have been here five years and we have been to this many bowl games and I have coached 18 years," Johnson said. "What does that matter? It is all about Ohio State and the program. Yes, we run this defense and we do this or that, but it is about being around the players and our academics.

"But what we do say is, ‘Hey, all you have to do is come and be around our players. You bring your family, come down and be around the players, the program and be around everyone who is involved with athletics.' That's a huge, huge plus."

Senior safety Tyler Moeller – who was a part of Ohio State's 2006 recruiting class – remembered that's exactly how he fell in love with the Buckeyes.

"They didn't sell themselves at all," Moeller said. "Coach Peterson was my recruiting coach, and he showed that he was a great person and we developed a friendship in that way. Ohio State really sells itself just based off the tradition, the facilities and the overall (success) coming out every year and being the best. That really sells itself.

"I think one guy who was committed to Ohio State (for 2012) went elsewhere, so you see things like that. But if I was being recruited, that stuff wouldn't have too much of an impact because we are still Ohio State even after everything that happened to us this year, and in my opinion we are still going to finish strong."

The recruit to whom Moeller was referring is Kyle Kalis, a 6-5, 305-pound offensive tackle who switched his verbal commitment from Ohio State to Michigan in July, which commenced a panic among many Buckeye fans concerning Ohio State's progress in the recruiting class.

Kalis, a five-star prospect ranked the No. 7 overall offensive tackle in the 2012 class, said he didn't feel it was appropriate to pay punishment at his college of choice for the actions of players who played before him. Still, Haynes feels losing out on prospects is part of the game.

"When you get into these situations, you always look at the guys you lose," Haynes said. "You lose guys all the time. And some of those guys we lost may have been guys we weren't highly recruiting but it was out there that we were highly recruiting.

"I don't think it is any different. I think it is a bigger deal when you lose a guy. People make a big deal about it and I don't think anything's different from what we've done in the past."

Ohio State has relied on recruiting the best prospects in the state because the coaches believe those players tend to have a better understanding of what it means to be a Buckeye.

And those are the types of players the staff targets regardless of situation.

"You walk into this facility and you embrace tradition and what this place is all about," wide receivers coach Stan Drayton said. "This place has seen flux before, and I don't remember it falling off in recruiting ever before.

"It is still Ohio State and there are kids out there that want to be here because it is Ohio State. We're targeting those kids. We aren't going to target the kid who is going to complain about what is going on because he isn't going to survive here."

The Buckeyes are still in position to land some of the best recruits in the state and have the potential to finish with another top class despite the off-the-field situations.

Building a foundation of in-state talent – all but one commitment is from Ohio – the coaching staff is more than pleased with the way things are coming together.

"We are combing through our back yard heavy for those Ohio kids who understand what it is to be a Buckeye and who understand what that rivalry is all about playing that team up north," Drayton said.

"That's what we're going to focus in on – kids who want to be here. That's the sell. That's it."

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