Stacy Elliott, the father of Ohio State sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, has covered a lot of ground since his son became a Buckeye in the class of 2013. The former Missouri football player still resides in the St. Louis area but has spent plenty of time in Columbus as of late.
On Wednesday, however, he was in Cincinnati at St. Xavier High School as four-star linebacker Justin Hilliard announced his verbal commitment to play for head coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Elliott remained in the background for most of the ceremony, but as ESPN closed out its internet broadcast of the announcement, he let out a single cry.
Becoming a valuable asset for Ohio State's recruiting efforts is something that came about because of his love for the football program, but he never expected that passion for the Buckeyes to develop. While most schools in his son's recruitment gave him whatever access he desired, Ohio State was not as open.
"When we met Coach Urban Meyer in the process, he really stressed how he wanted to continue producing a family environment here at Ohio State," Elliott said. "To be honest with you, as a parent, when we first went there I thought that would be almost impossible because of the magnitude of the program – the security, your son being whisked off to places you can't even go. At other schools I went to, I could go in the locker room. I've never been in the locker room at Ohio State. That's a sacred ground."
Restricted access aside, the program began to grow on the elder Elliott, especially after Ezekiel set foot on campus. He said that running backs coach Stan Drayton really helped him feel welcome, and he stays in regular contact with several members of the coaching staff.
His willingness to become an ambassador for the program is something the coaching staff realized could help them with the parents of recruits, and Meyer began asking Elliott to come to Columbus for big recruiting weekends. It was his videos that went viral when he captured the passionate recruiting pitches delivered by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
"After Ezekiel came, I started having an ongoing relationship with Coach Meyer because I work with youth and I noticed how much he really puts time into trying to bring programs and create situations to better his student-athletes," Elliott said. "We started talking, and he started asking my family to meet up with the family of potential recruits. With the families of the incoming class of 2013, we're all tight. We started developing that family environment during game day, pre-game, going down to different tailgates, meeting people… that has trickled into the Woody, where Coach Meyer tells us as parents and families to take ownership. Me and my family have led the charge in doing that, and it's a beautiful thing."
On June 22, Elliott posted a picture on Twitter that showed him posing with Hilliard and his father during the four-star linebacker's final visit to Columbus. It was just another example of Elliott reaching out to the family of an Ohio State target and delivering a pitch about why he believes the Buckeyes offer more than any other school.
When asked about what drew him toward Ohio State, Hilliard noted that it wasn't the academics or on-field product that made the difference. It was the people.
"All the schools I was looking at had great academics and football, but I believe the thing that separates the schools apart are really the relationships you build with the people around campus and the players and coaches," Hilliard said. "I really got to know a lot of the players such as Raekwon (McMillan) and (Ryan) Shazier and some of the Ohio State greats.
"I would definitely say the comfortability level I had with Ohio State has always been high for me, and I have always been an Ohio State fan. It was a pretty easy choice."
The teammates that he will suit up with in Columbus played a big role in that decision, as Hilliard spent quite a bit of time with McMillan on his visits. There's no questioning the impact of Meyer, who has shown over the course of his Ohio State tenure that he can get recruits by produce a family environment so coveted by Stacy Elliott.
"Coach Meyer is a very genuine person," St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. "He has been through all of the battles. He can pull his rings out. He can play a lot of different roles because he's been there and he's done that. But the one thing about Coach Meyer is his passion for the game and his fiery nature. Kids feed off that. Kids love that stuff. I think that had a huge impact for Justin."
There's one other person who helped, though, and he's someone that Meyer and his staff members can turn to no matter what happens with the career of Ezekiel Elliott.
"My relationship with the coaching staff and Coach Meyer in particular is not really based on Ezekiel," Stacy Elliott said. "I'm not looking for any favors. As a dad, I have my personal opinions about last year. You know, at times, we all want our child to play more and things like that, but I told Coach Drayton and Coach Meyer that regardless of what happens between my son and them, we will always be friends.
"I believe in what they do. I believe in what they stand for. Being here is different. I feel like a Buckeye. I am a Buckeye."