We continue our trip around the state looking at the best Ohio State football recruits since 1985 with a focus on the northeast.
This was a favorite recruiting area of Jim Tressel, who put his famous fence around Ohio the highest around the land where he was born and spent more than a decade as head coach at Youngstown State. Northeast Ohio has produced more than 150 Ohio State recruits since BSB began covering recruiting full force in the mid 1980s, by far the most of any region of the state.
That group has included a Heisman Trophy winner, more than 40 NFL draft picks and numerous All-Americans and All-Big Ten players. Narrowing down the group of nominees for No. 1 was not easy, but we present the options here. Vote for your favorite.
An All-Ohio defensive player who also punted at Elyria West, Steve Tovar signed with Ohio State in 1989 and became the first Buckeye recruited by John Cooper to be named an All-American. A three-year starter at inside and then middle linebacker for the Buckeyes, Tovar led the team in tackles from 1990-92 and made the All-Big Ten first team all three of those years. He was a two-time All-American and won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award as a senior when he made a career-high 128 stops. His 408 career tackles are still fourth in Ohio State history, and he added 35 tackles for loss. After being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round in 1993, he played eight NFL seasons. Tovar was elected to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001.
A consensus prep All-American and the top-rated recruit in Ohio in 1993, Mike Vrabel was a three-year starter at defensive end and remains the all-time leader in tackles for loss with 66 and sacks with 36. He piled up 196 tackles in 50 games, including 38 starts, and his sack total is still in the top five in Big Ten history. Another three-time All-Big Ten and two-time All-America player, Vrabel set the Ohio State single-season record for tackles for loss with 26 in 1995, and he is the only two-time Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He had a stellar 14-year NFL career that included three Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots and returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach from 2011-13. A member of the original Silver Bullets defensive unit, Vrabel was elected into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Ohio's Division I Defensive Player of the Year after starring on both sides of the ball at Akron Garfield, Antoine Winfield had an immediate impact at Ohio State after signing in 1995. Despite playing behind veteran cornerbacks Shawn Springs and Ty Howard, Winfield made 56 tackles (eighth on the team) as a true freshman, including five for loss. The 5-9, 178-pounder also proved to be a powerful hitter, forcing three fumbles in his first season before playing extensively again off the bench (and at times for an injured Howard) in 1996. He moved into the starting lineup in 1997 and became the first Ohio State cornerback to lead the team in tackles with 100. He added eight tackles for loss and was named team MVP while winning his first All-Big Ten and All-America honors. He repeated as an All-American and an All-Big Ten performer as a senior in 1998, when he also became the first Buckeye to win the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. He will be inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame later this year.
After helping Canton McKinley win state and national championships, Mike Doss signed with Ohio State in 1999, and fans soon began clamoring to see him on the field. He broke into the starting lineup at safety full time in 2000 and led the Buckeyes with 94 tackles, including 13 for loss, while also picking off three passes and recovering three fumbles. He made 87 more tackles (including 10 for loss) as a junior, but Doss' legend really began being written after the 2001 season when he announced in a teary press conference he would return for his senior season. That was among the key points in the building of the 2002 national championship squad, which benefited greatly from not only Doss' ability to make plays but also his leadership. He made 107 tackles as a senior and picked off a pass in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl upset of No. 1 Miami (Fla.), cementing his legacy as one of the best defensive players in Ohio State history. One of only seven three-time All-Americans in school history, Doss remains the all-time leader in tackles by a Buckeye defensive back with 331, a total that is 11th overall.
The last player to join the star-studded 2002 recruiting class and Jim Tressel's first recruit from Cleveland Glenville, Troy Smith became the only Big Ten quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy when he did so as a fifth-year senior in 2006. He also won the Walter Camp and Davey O'Brien Awards that season while leading the Buckeyes to an undefeated regular season and a second consecutive Big Ten title. Smith was undefeated against Michigan, becoming the first quarterback since the 1930s to go 3-0 against the Wolverines, and had some of his best performances in The Game. In 2004, he became the first Buckeye to throw for 200 yards and run for 100 more in the same game as Ohio State shocked the favored Wolverines, and he led a thrilling comeback victory in Ann Arbor in 2005 before tossing four TD passes in the No. 1-verses-2 showdown of 2006. Smith, who will be inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame this fall, was 25-3 as a starter, and his 5,720 career passing yards are still sixth in Ohio State's official records while his 157.1 career passing rating is No. 1 in the Big Ten.
Although he played only one season at Ohio State, Maurice Clarett was one of the most important pieces on the 2002 national championship squad. The Warren Harding product had an immediate impact, rushing for 175 yards and three touchdowns in his debut against Texas Tech then breaking Archie Griffin's single-game freshman record with 230 yards two games later against Washington State. Although injuries sidetracked him off and on throughout the rest of the season, Clarett still rushed for 1,237 yards (another OSU freshman record) and made the All-Big Ten first team. He ran for 119 yards and a touchdown against Michigan then added another 47 yards and two scores in the national title game against Miami, though his biggest play in the latter contest might have been when he took the ball away from Hurricanes safety Sean Taylor after an interception. NCAA violations cost Clarett the rest of his career at Ohio State.
Ted Ginn Jr.
Although he was the No. 1 defensive back recruit in the country as a senior at Cleveland Glenville, Ted Ginn Jr. made his marks at Ohio State on offense and special teams. He led Ohio State in receiving in 2006 with 59 catches for 781 yards. His 135 catches are seventh most for a Buckeye career, and his 1,943 yards receiving are eighth. He set a Big Ten single-season record as a true freshman in 2004 with four punt return touchdowns and finished his career with six, also a conference record. Ginn's 25.6-yard punt return average in 2004 also remains a Big Ten season record. A track star with electrifying speed, Ginn also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Against Michigan State as a freshman, he scored three touchdowns three different ways -- on a 17-yard run, a 60-yard pun return and a 58-yard catch that proved to be the game-winner.
After a standout career at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, John Simon was another player who had an immediate impact at Ohio State. He worked his way into the rotation on a loaded 2009 defensive line then started his last three seasons. He led the Big Ten in sacks with nine in 2012 en route to being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. Simon was a two-time All-Big Ten pick and two-time captain who was picked as the Buckeyes' MVP following the undefeated 2012 season. His 20.5 career sacks are seventh in school history, and his 43 tackles for loss are tied with Jerome Foster for No. 7.
Honorable mention: Raymont Harris (Lorain Admiral King), Robert Smith (Euclid), Korey Stringer (Warren Harding), Kenny Peterson (Canton McKinley), Nate Clements (Shaker Heights), LeCharles Bentley (Cleveland St. Ignatius), Matt Wilhelm (Elyria Catholic), Donte Whitner (Cleveland Glenville), Anthony Gonzalez (Cleveland St. Ignatius), Kirk Barton (Massillon Perry), Antonio Pittman (Akron Buchtel), Beanie Wells (Akron Garfield).