Marcelys Jones made his pledge to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, kick-starting what is ranked as the No. 3 group in the country according to Scout as we head down to the final hours until Wednesday's National Signing Day.
Of course, putting together a recruiting class is far from a simple process – witness the recruitment of Jones, whose arrival at OSU for January classes wasn't assured until he actually stepped foot on campus more than a year after his initial pledge – so we decided to look back at how exactly Ohio State ended up where it is right now.
The First Big Surprise
Considering he attends a school (Cleveland Glenville) that has long been a pipeline to Ohio State, the commitment of Jones was only a surprise because of its timing, but the addition of Damon Webb on Jan. 13 qualified as a big splash.
Webb, a stud cornerback out of longtime Michigan pipeline Detroit Cass Tech, surprised many when he became the second pledge to Ohio State. In his mind, though, he had plenty of good reasons to spurn the Wolverines and some SEC schools when he picked the Buckeyes after a weekend visit.
"Coming into this visit, I wanted to look at a lot of aspects of the university starting off with education," said Webb, who also credited the recruiting of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. "They have a good sports industry program with a lot of majors, and my parents and I felt it was a good program. Then there is the overall winning aspect. I feel like I can win here, and get a good education."
When asked about whether he would waver, Webb said, "Done deal." More than a year later, his word has been his bond.
Another Surprise – And A Change
Ohio State stayed at two pledges until a junior day weekend Feb. 10 when the floodgates opened.
The pledge of Lancaster, Ohio, offensive tackle Kyle Trout was no surprise, and Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary speedster Parris Campbell also committed that day upon receiving a coveted OSU offer. But the verbal from Southfield, Mich., defensive end Lawrence Marshall seemed to show just how serious the Buckeyes were when it came to invading the Wolverine State.
"When I went down for the visit, it was amazing," he said. "The coaches, and the coaches families and fans treated me great and told me about the school."
Four days later, the Marshall plan was changed when he gave his decommitment, becoming just one of two players – so far – to join and then leave the class. The choice came after visits to Michigan and Michigan State in the days after his Buckeye pledge.
"I had a great time (in Columbus last weekend) and it was crazy, but it was just going too fast," Marshall said. "I'm trying to slow it back down."
It soon became clear, though, that slow down would not involve Ohio State, and in May, Marshall became a Wolverine.
Ohio State had no way of knowing during the spring that its linebacking depth – and as a result, the unit's play – would be a serious issue by the fall, but it was still good news when the Buckeyes got pledges from Kyle Berger and Sam Hubbard within a four-day span of early April.
The two would go on to become Scout 100 players at linebacker, two athletes who will be counted on to add depth to the Buckeye squad upon arrival in 2014. But at the time, they were just high school juniors, and Hubbard – a Cincinnati Moeller prospect – had been a Notre Dame lacrosse commit before making the choice to join OSU.
"It was kind of surreal," Hubbard said. "You grow up watching the Buckeyes play hoping you can be part of it one day. I got to put on the jersey with my No. 6 that I wore last year and it was a special moment. So it was kind of surreal getting my picture taken with it on."
Berger would eventually miss his senior season because of a torn ACL, but at the time, he was more than excited to join a group that was clearly gaining momentum.
"I really think my relationship with Luke Fickell was the single most deciding factor," the Cleveland St. Ignatius star said. "He's great with my family and me and is a tremendous coach. He's coached great players and I want to be the next one."
The Summer Push
Recruiting tends to hit some of its highest notes these days during the summer – after all, there are camps everywhere throughout the country, and many players want to be done with the process before their senior seasons – and that was no different at Ohio State.
Between the months of May and August, nine players – Lonnie Johnson, Dante Booker, Sean Nuernberger, Jalyn Holmes, Stephen Collier, Terry McLaurin, Jamarco Jones, Demetrius Knox, Malik Hooker and Curtis Samuel – picked Ohio State to cement the class as one of the best in the nation.
Johnson, a wide receiver out of Indiana, started the party by committing on Mother's Day. Nuernberger, Holmes, Collier and McLaurin – all of whom but Holmes had earned offers thanks to standout performances at OSU's summer camps – all joined up in a two-week span in the middle of June.
Collier's commitment was significant because he provided OSU with its long signal caller in the class. The Buckeye staff had been cautious in extending offers to QBs throughout the 2014 process, but when dominoes started to fall across the nation – including the commitment of target Kyle Allen to Texas A&M – Collier was extended an offer on the heels of two standout camp performances in Columbus.
"They wanted me to be patient," Collier said. "They wanted to be sure and they knew that I was probably going to get pursued hard by other colleges. They told me to be patient and that more than likely things would work out in my favor and they were right."
Shortly thereafter, nine Buckeye commits – Campbell, Trout, Collier, McLaurin, Webb, defensive lineman Dylan Thompson (who had pledged in March), Holmes, Berger and Booker – headed to Oregon to take part in Nike's The Opening camp, giving the Buckeyes the largest contingent of commits at the event.
By the time Knox (another player who was at The Opening) gave his pledge July 29, the Buckeyes had a set class at a true position of need – the offensive line, where the two Joneses were joined by Trout and Knox, Texas' top offensive lineman.
Season Comes, Goes
With its class already nearing 20 members, Ohio State started to focus on 2015 prospects during the season, though a large collection of highly rated talent was on hand in Columbus when the Buckeyes hosted huge prime-time games with Wisconsin in September and Penn State during October. Five-star players like Juju Smith, a safety out of Los Angeles, and Texas cornerback Tony Brown attended games as the Buckeyes prepared to make final pushes for each.
Still, on the balance sheet, the season was relatively quiet when it came to the "Dream ‘14" class. New Jersey wideout Noah Brown pledged in September after an official visit to see the San Diego State game, and Johnson left the class during early November.
While the team reeled from its Dec. 7 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, a setback that kept OSU from reaching the national championship game, the program got good news in mid-December when two southern stars picked the Buckeyes.
First came a top-50 player at a position of need in Georgia linebacker Raekwon McMillan, representing the Buckeyes' second big win of a Peach State prospect in as many years. McMillan first picked up an Alabama hat before casting it aside and choosing OSU on Dec. 16 after a long, contested recruiting battle in which he always seemed to like the Buckeyes.
"There was something special every time I went to Ohio State," said McMillan, who gave the Buckeyes even more needed depth at linebacker. "It was special and great every time I talked to Coach Meyer and Coach Fickell. Last night didn't close on anything. The whole 3 years they have recruited me closed the deal."
A day later, the Buckeyes went even further south, pulling in a verbal from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., playmaker Johnnie Dixon. The wide receiver pulled the trigger on Ohio State after a late push by the Buckeye staff.
A four-star prospect, Dixon enrolled in time for January classes along with McMillan.
Ohio State, as usual, sent a bevy of prospects to postseason all-star games, but all eyes among Buckeye fans were pointed toward San Antonio to see what would happen with a three-man contingent of Tarblooders.
Smith seriously considered postponing his choice while Jones arrived saying he was unsure if he'd report to Ohio State for January classes a few days later as planned. Lattimore's commitment, one that was expected by OSU analysts, also seemed in doubt at one point, but when the lights went on, both Smith and Lattimore committed to the Scarlet and Gray during the nationally televised game.
"Ohio State was the right school for me because it was home away from home, and the place I always wanted to go," said Smith, who said he almost postponed his announcement in order to visit Kentucky and Michigan before signing day. "Throughout the recruiting process I always had my eye on Ohio State, but the other schools were great too."
"I was just playing with the media when I started talking about other schools, to kind of go along with Erick possibly not announcing," Lattimore said. "It was really funny for me, but he was serious about not announcing. It was probably a little immature, and I never meant any disrespect to the Army game at all."
When Ohio State got a commitment out of a fifth offensive lineman in the class, Columbus resident Brady Taylor, on Jan. 20, it appeared the class – which moved up to third in the nation with Taylor's pledge – might coast on home.
It was not to be, of course, because this is recruiting.
First, there were rumblings that Knox would take visits, trips that didn't come to pass. But last weekend, news surfaced that Jamarco Jones, OSU's only offensive lineman in the Scout 100, would head to Michigan State before signing day to check out the Spartans, a trip that has taken place this weekend.
There was also news this past week that five-star defensive end Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich. – yes, Marshall's teammate – would make his final official visit to Ohio State this weekend as well.
As we sit, the Buckeyes are down to trying to keep Jones and add McDowell before Wednesday. This being recruiting, who knows what will happen before the faxes come across the wire, though, on Wednesday.
No matter what, it was fun. Let's do it again next year, shall we?