National Signing Day was just seven hours away. Sleep wasn’t on the agenda. He was holed up in his daughter GiGi’s room, presumably to spare the rest of his family from the constant barrage of buzzing that came with the last-ditch pursuit of a top-flight class. The midnight hour isn’t particularly well-known for good news, so Meyer had to know he was in for a long night when running backs coach Stan Drayton shot him a text.
Detroit Cass Tech four-star running back Mike Weber, a player who committed to the Buckeyes in early December, was having second thoughts. Spurred by the arrival of Jim Harbaugh and the daily crush of pressure at his high school (a notorious University of Michigan stronghold), Weber was listing out the reasons he was considering lining up against instead of with Meyer and Drayton for The Game.
“That young man got talking about the opportunity to play home, in front of a home crowd – real stuff,” Drayton said. “Immediately I texted Urban in the middle of that conversation, ‘We’ve got to keep recruiting this kid. It’s not over. He’s got some great questions and great concerns.’ We knew at a quarter to 12 midnight that we were still in the battle.”
The Three Pitches
What do you tell someone hours before the biggest decision they’ve faced? Meyer pointed to the backfield. In the wake of a championship, he’s been fond of speaking about the difference between theory and testimony, noting that his program is now the latter.
When it came to recruiting Weber, he simply pointed out the successes of Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott, as well as the dominance of the men in the trenches paving the way for those backs.
“The last two tailbacks are as good as anybody in America,” Meyer said. “Statistically, we have a fantastic offensive line and we believe in our tailback. It's not theory. It's real. You watch it on film.”
While Meyer and Drayton were there to close, the early innings were logged by cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. The Cincinnati native does his fair share of recruiting in the Queen City, but his recruiting territory also includes the state of Michigan. The excitable, energetic Coombs seems to take a special satisfaction out of grabbing players from the home state of a pair of division rivals.
He famously did that in the 2014 recruiting cycle when he nabbed Damon Webb from Cass Tech. To go into Michigan is hard enough, but to do so at a school where the head coach played at Michigan and regularly sends players to his alma mater upped the degree of difficulty quite a bit.
The first blow helped land the next, though. Webb played as a true freshman, contributing on special teams and seeing some snaps as a backup in a handful of games. He’ll battle for a starting cornerback spot this spring thanks to the departure of Doran Grant.
By all accounts, Webb and his family – especially his father, who is known for riling up Michigan fans on Twitter with the occasional playful jab – appear to love Ohio State. And when that can be shown to Weber, it becomes testimony instead of a theory. Coombs hammered home a simple fact – there was already a Cass Tech product having success in Columbus.
“I think the strongest recruiting people in your school are your players and their parents. If you have those players who have the connection with those same families at a high school, they’re going to be able to share their experiences,” Coombs said. “That’s very valuable. When you have a kid like Damon Webb, his experience here is going to translate well to a kid back home, and I think that’s been a positive experience. I think his family would tell you that, and it’s what they’re sharing with the people back home.”
The foundation had been laid by Coombs from the beginning, with Drayton and Meyer hopping on long ago to continue pouring layers of support. A funny thing happens when a life-altering decision looms, though – understanding gives way to second guessing, and nerves triumph over comfort.
“You can sit there and provide information, provide information, hit some good trigger points, and at 12 midnight right before signing day it can be as simple as, ‘What is Curtis Samuel’s role on this football team?’” Drayton said. “You spend two years recruiting an individual and giving them that information, but because the pressure is right around the corner some of those first day questions come back up.
“That’s the nature of the process. My job in that deal is to provide him the information that is needed, make him aware of the opportunities he has at Ohio State and most importantly, be as honest and real as I possibly can for him so he can make a legit decision for him and his family.”
He found the winning example in an ironic place.
Drayton said that Weber kept circling back to the fact that he wanted to return to Michigan one day and felt opportunities might be spitefully withheld because of his Ohio State degree. The running backs coach hit him with examples of Buckeyes who had come from Michigan in the past, guys like Johnathan Hankins.
He searched and searched and then hit paydirt.
“I also used the example of Desmond Howard on the other end of it,” Drayton said. “I went to junior high school with Desmond Howard. He decided to go to the Team Up North and we absolutely hated that decision at the time. But, I’ll tell you what – when he started having success, when he won a Heisman trophy, let me tell you what, he brought some pride to Cleveland. He did. He brought some pride to Cleveland. He can go in Ohio and do whatever he wants. They love Desmond Howard.
“It's the same thing for Mike Weber and that's what we made him realize. As long you live right and you take advantage of your opportunities the right way, you'll have the world by the tail.”
A Battle Won
Half a lifetime ago, this sort of night might have been fun for Meyer.
On Wednesday afternoon, after the close of a recruiting cycle made all the more difficult by the time crunch of playing for a national championship, Meyer could smile. He had locked up five talented prospects that were either uncommitted or wavering the night before. Two of those happened to be Mike Weber and his fellow Cass Tech prospect Joshua Alabi, a three-star defensive tackle.
He was weary from the endless work, but the text from Drayton had paid off.
“It's fun when you get them and you smile and laugh,” Meyer said.
As has become the case on the recruiting trail, the last laugh belonged to him.