So Berry dedicated himself to leaving it all on the field in his final season of high school football for Lorain (Ohio) High School, and he did just that. He earned all-state honors and something even more important – a scholarship offer from his dream school of Ohio State.
“It was incredible,” he said. “My sophomore year I set the tone, my junior year I fell off a little bit and my senior year I picked it back up and I worked my ass off. I took a giant step just putting in the work every day. I stayed determined, I stayed dedicated, I stayed in my books and I made it.”
Berry’s story echoes what used to be the process in football recruiting. Coaches used summer camps and senior year film to evaluate prospects, most of whom didn’t make college choices until December through February leading up to National Signing Day.
Of course, that’s not the case anymore. Ohio State had just two commitments in late May 2014 while Big Ten rival Penn State had 15, sparking a panic among Buckeye fans that the recruiting class simply wasn’t coming together for Urban Meyer and Co.
There’s no question about it, the recruiting process has sped up, with coaches getting in on prospects earlier and earlier. For example, Ohio State took a commitment from 2017 quarterback Danny Clark last December just after he finished his opening year of high school as the first freshman starter at longtime Ohio power Massillon Washington. Clark is just one of four current commitments in the ’17 class, which just finished its sophomore year of prep football.
“The recruiting process has sped up dramatically,” said former OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton on signing day. “Social media has helped that. There are many different ways, more ways, to get a hold of kids, communicate with kids and parents and things of that sort, and because of that relationships are being built up a lot sooner.”
It’s great for when it comes to building relationships, but Drayton, who spent four years as a Buckeye coach and was a strong recruiter in the Buckeye State, saw that in some ways as a negative for Ohio State when it comes to a football sense.
“The history of Ohio is that there are a lot of great athletes that develop late for whatever reason,” Drayton said. “We don’t have spring football, they’re playing other sports, or a 6-5, 185-pound kid starts eating and becomes 240 pounds. This kind of development happens a lot in the state as opposed to Texas or Florida where they’re constantly lifting weights in the morning or there’s spring ball where you can evaluate these young men.”
That’s one reason a number of Ohio State coaches spoke of making sure there are spots in the class late for seniors who finish strong in what is often just their second or third year as a starter at the prep level. Head coach Urban Meyer also feels fewer mistakes are made when coaches get to recruit a player to the end and spend more time with them up close.
“There’s less chance for error because you get to see them as a senior, less buyer's remorse because you get to watch them,” Meyer said. “When I first started coaching the recruiting started the senior year, and now it starts the sophomore year. We had to make a decision. The first couple of years we fought that and fought it and finally we had to give in a little bit to get in the game.
“The days of making a guy come to camp are over. We've accepted that. That's disappointing because I think we should have the right to do that. Darron Lee, if he doesn't come to camp, he's not at Ohio State, and there's other players like that.”
As Meyer alluded to, the Buckeyes have started speeding up the recruiting process after this year’s slow start led to panic from some and helped zap the Buckeyes’ recruiting energies as they chased kids they might have had in the bag with earlier effort. In addition to already having a quartet of 2017 commits, the Buckeyes have pledges from six 2016 prospects after getting their first commitments in June.
Things still came together by Feb. 4 for the Buckeyes in the 2015 cycle, though. Ohio State’s class had 27 members and was ranked eighth in the nation on signing day, while Penn State’s 25-member class finished 13th. Some of the prospects who had pledged to the Nittany Lions early in the process signed with other schools, while Ohio State put together the biggest class of the Meyer era.
And some of those players earned Ohio State offers late in the process after standout senior seasons that turned heads in recruiting circles, including four Ohioans who picked up offers after the start of the 2014 season. Berry and Lakewood St. Edward wideout Alex Stump each made commitments in October, while defensive tackles Robert Landers of Huber Heights Wayne and DaVon Hamilton of Pickerington Central each pledged after the season.
“We find kids every year in the state of Ohio,” said cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, himself a former high school coach at Cincinnati Colerain. “A young man out of Pickerington that committed to us just a few days ago – in their senior year, they become dominant players, and what’s what he did. Same thing for the kids out of Wayne – he became a dominant player his senior year. There should be something to be said for that.”
Going forward, expect the Buckeyes to try to hit a balance. Ohio State will gladly take early commitments from players it feels comfortable with on both a local and national scale, but there will always be a place for those who show they are OSU-level players as seniors.
“There’s a kid right now in Ohio somewhere that is going to have a great senior year (next year) that is going to end up a Buckeye that is maybe not on everybody’s radar right now,” Coombs said. “I think the beautiful thing about that is you don’t get bogged down in how many stars those guys have. You try to find the guys who can play and function in what you do, and you’re going to be OK.”