Familiarity Key To OOS Recruiting Effort

Ohio State has increased its out-of-state recruiting under Urban Meyer and his staff, but that doesn't mean the Buckeyes are sending out offers across the country without discretion. The OSU staff talks about how it decides which recruits to go after with BuckeyeSports.com.

Since the current Ohio State staff was hired in late 2011, the Buckeyes have signed four recruits from Texas.

But director of player personnel Mark Pantoni has a different opinion from those who would say the Buckeyes are a major presence in the Lone Star State.

"To say we recruit the state of Texas is false," Pantoni said.

The Buckeyes have also inked a quartet players from Florida in that span, and they have two 2015 commitments from the Sunshine State, but as Pantoni says, "To say we recruit the state of Florida is false."

OK, so what gives?

Well, to hear Pantoni tell it, recruiting isn't as easy as just looking at the Scout.com top 100 and putting out offers to the top players in the nation.

The Buckeye staff wants to minimize misses on the recruiting trail – both in terms of losing recruiting battles and in terms of making sure those players will be successful upon arrival at Ohio State – as much as possible, and to do so, they want to make sure that their out-of-state efforts are being sent in the right direction.

"We have to make sure there's some sort of tie, otherwise our chance of getting them is probably very low," Pantoni said. "To say we're going to get a kid from Fort Lauderdale with no connections there, it's very hard because you have to beat the three in-state schools, Georgia, Alabama. And that's a long way and it gets cold here so..."

Pantoni's voice trailed off, but the message was clear – familiarity with a player is key to both winning recruiting battles and making sure the players don't wash out upon arrival.

That's an important factor as the Buckeyes bring in fewer Ohio players under Meyer. The staff says it leaves no stones unturned in looking through the Buckeye State, but finding the high-level players worthy of OSU offers seemingly has been more difficult than in past years, and the 2015 crop in Ohio seems to be fairly in line with the '14 class.

So when it comes to out-of-state recruits, the familiarity approach is backed up by on-staff recruiting coordinator Tim Hinton, a longtime prep coach who discussed the very subject with BSB upon his hiring. For Hinton, much of the key is making sure the OSU staff has familiarity with a player's high school coach.

"Unlike some other sports, the high school coach is a major part of the recruiting battle when it comes to football, I really believe that," said Hinton, who made numerous stops as a high school coach in the Buckeye State. "There are other sports that it's gotten away from the high school coach, to the AAU coach and that sort of thing, but in football it's still the high school coach.

"In dealing with recruiting over the years and seeing it from a couple of different perspectives, you just learn to be very honest, you learn to be very open. Urban uses the word transparent all the time, and you learn to be transparent because if you do that, you'll develop the truth factor. Nobody wants to turn their player, their son, whatever, over to a person that is a used car salesman or is phony about what he does."

Familiarity with a high school coach has a lot of benefits to the Ohio State coaching staff. To start with, it can be the key to the door that gets the Buckeyes in on a player.

While Ohio State's brand often gets the Buckeyes in the door with athletes around the country, having an in on the high school coaching staff is what takes the recruitment to another level. For example, when it comes to Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer wideout Johnnie Dixon, a 2014 signee, Meyer's coaching staff inked four players from that coach while in charge at Florida. In the case of Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County linebacker Raekwon McMillan, a Scout 100 signee in 2014, two of his coaches are from the Buckeye State.

To OSU, the tie not only opens the door, it allows the Buckeyes to get better evaluations of recruits as well.

"It has to be," Hinton said. "There's no doubt. You have to have an open, honest relationship, and guys who coach have to feel comfortable telling you the strengths and weakness, the social and the character. A high school coach will give you the honest tools to make a great decision about a player."

Of course, there's no foolproof system to making sure it works. One of those Texas recruits, five-star 2013 linebacker Mike Mitchell, appears to be transferring out of the program to head back to his home state. Mitchell is said to be returning to the Lone Star State to be close to his father as he battles illness, just one of the many things that can pop up when a player goes halfway across the country to play college football.

Minimizing such instances – Meyer has said his research has indicated that 33 percent of signed recruits wash out at each school, something he hopes to eliminate at OSU – is one reason the Buckeyes put so much effort into familiarity in the recruiting process.

"Coach Meyer places a big emphasis on asking questions to the kids," Pantoni said. "Don't be a big talker. The most important thing is to listen and ask the tough questions and learn about the kids. You have to learn to build that trust with the high school coach to lean on him for information, and talking to the guidance counselor and the principal and anyone associated with that kid to find out every little things because you're right, you don't want to bring a kid up here you don't know much about."

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