Their head coach was ousted before most of them even arrived, and a 6-7 freshman season under an interim coach was hardly what any of them signed up for in February 2011. A 24-game win streak under new head coach Urban Meyer set records but was stopped at the worst possible time in the worst way, and an undefeated season in 2012 went unrewarded thanks to a bowl ban.
When things finally started to look up, the quarterback and star of this class sustained a season-ending shoulder injury two weeks before the 2014 season opener against Navy. As fate would have it, the Buckeyes were eventually rescued by another member of this class – the only one who didn’t show up until the following year. Ohio State’s ringless class ended that distinction in incredible fashion, winning the Big Ten title game, Sugar Bowl and CFP National Championship to cap off a season that defied belief.
While National Signing Day is loaded with analysis regarding which team fared best (this group finished sixth on that February day four years ago), a more honest look comes after watching those college careers play out. What follows is a look back at each individual member of the class of 2011 and what they’ve accomplished in the four years since signing to play for Ohio State.
THE EARLY ENTRANT
Shazier was the only player from this class to leave Ohio State early for the NFL Draft. Following an impressive 2013 season in which he notched a team-leading 143 tackles, the former four-star linebacker from Plantation, Fla., was drafted with the No. 15 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. His rookie year in the NFL was marred by injuries, but Shazier was one of seven Ohio State rookies to start at least one NFL game during the 2014 season.
The member of this class who ranks No. 1 alphabetically also finished his career among the best athletically. A four-star prospect out of Centerville, Ohio, Bennett served as a senior captain during the 2014 national championship season and will have a tree in the Buckeye Grove thanks to an All-American selection from CBS Sports. He finished 2014 with seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss and played an integral role in holding both Alabama running backs to less than 100 yards in the Sugar Bowl. He was one of four seniors to receive an invitation to the 2015 NFL Combine.
Although Carter technically had one year of eligibility remaining following the 2014 season, Meyer announced in late November that Carter would be forgoing that year and that the Michigan game would serve as his Senior Day. Originally recruited as a three-star offensive guard from Cleveland Kennedy, Carter eventually switched to the opposite side of the ball. He played 13 games as a defensive tackle reserve in 2014 and recorded one tackle.
One of three five-star prospects in this class, Grant arrived at Ohio State with the burden of expectations squarely upon his shoulders. He classified himself as an underachiever based on the production of his first three years as a Buckeye but managed to make his time at OSU count with a senior season to remember. As a captain in 2014, he made 69 tackles and one sack to contribute to a resurgent defense that helped Ohio State claim the national championship. Additionally, the Richmond (Va.) Hermitage product served as a mentor to highly touted freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan, with whom he split time at middle linebacker.
A four-star cornerback out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Grant found consistent playing time as a backup in his first two seasons in Columbus. He ascended to a starting role in 2013 and earned the boundary corner spot in 2014 following the departure of Bradley Roby to the NFL. He finished his senior season with 63 tackles and five interceptions to help earn first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2014. He also played an integral role in limiting the success of Biletnikoff Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl. He was one of four seniors to receive an invitation to the 2015 NFL Combine.
Heuerman arrived at Ohio State as an early enrollee and played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011. His first catch came in the final game of that season, a loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl. The former three-star tight end out of Naples (Fla.) Barron Collier made eight catches as a sophomore and became a big contributor during a junior season in which he snared 26 passes for 466 yards and four touchdowns. Heuerman dealt with injuries as a senior but still managed to amass 17 catches for 207 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was one of four seniors to receive an invitation to the 2015 NFL Combine.
Miller came to Ohio State as a five-star defensive end out of Canton (Ohio) McKinley but was unable to consistently fulfill the promise of his recruiting projections. He played sparingly in each of his first three seasons before earning the starting job in 2014. He finished off his OSU career with 34 tackles and a sack. He will go down in Ohio State lore, though, for his interception return for a touchdown against Alabama that gave the Buckeyes a 34-20 lead and was the first pick six against the Crimson Tide since the 2007 season.
After an inconsistent first three seasons, Smith may have played his way into the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. His connection with Jones in the final three games of the 2014 season certainly showed off what he could do, but Smith produced results throughout his senior season. The Massillon (Ohio) Washington four-star product led the Buckeyes in yards (931) and touchdowns (12), averaging a whopping 28.2 yards per catch. He was one of four seniors to receive an invitation to the 2015 NFL Combine.
As the son of former Ohio State running backs coach Tim Spencer, the program’s third-leading rusher, Spencer was quite familiar with Ohio State before ever setting foot on campus as a player. The four-star wide receiver out of Vernon Hills, Ill., improved throughout his first three seasons, going from 78 to 136 to 216 receiving yards from 2011-13. As a senior he caught 15 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns but also made an impact in other ways. Citing his blocking and route-running, Meyer called Spencer the true MVP of the 2014 national championship team.
A four-star prospect out of Columbus Eastmoor, Tanner had an up-and-down career at Ohio State that was set back by injuries. He recorded an interception against Buffalo in 2013 and made eight tackles in reserve duty in 2014. Meyer announced on National Signing Day in 2015 that it appeared likely that his career at OSU will be ended because of injury problems.
Along with Carter, Underwood is the other member of the 2011 class that chose to forgo one more year of eligibility and make the 2014 campaign into a senior season. The Shaker Heights, Ohio, three-star guard lettered in 2011 and 2012 while seeing time as a backup but missed the entire 2013 season because of an ACL tear. He competed for a starting role in 2014 but was unable to win a job.
ONE MORE YEAR
Farris showed up to Ohio State as a four-star defensive tackle from Elyria, Ohio. He was switched to the offensive side of the ball and served as a sixth man of sorts for the 2014 offensive line. Farris came in briefly against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after an injury to Jacoby Boren and helped pave the way for an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run. He has one year of eligibility remaining and is considered to be one of the most likely options to replace departing right tackle Darryl Baldwin.
After spending three years at defensive tackle, where he started nine games as a junior in 2013, Hale moved over to the offensive side of the ball to try to create an impact for the team where he saw a need. Injuries kept him from doing so, but the former three-star prospect out of Greenwood (Ind.) Center Grove has received a redshirt and will return for the 2015 season and move back to defensive tackle.
Haynes, a two-star prospect out of Cumming (Ga.) Pinecrest, redshirted in 2011 and split time with fellow long snapper George Makridis in 2012 and 2013. He won the job outright for the 2014 season and has one year of eligibility remaining at Ohio State.
Technically, Jones has up to two years left but all likelihoods point to him being an appropriate enough fit for this category. The only player from this class to not make it to Ohio State as planned was of course the one who helped deliver the Buckeyes their first national championship since 2002. Jones signed with Ohio State in 2011 as a three-star prospect out of Cleveland Glenville but spent a year of prep school at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before arriving at OSU as an early enrollee for the class of 2012. He was the offensive MVP of Ohio State’s 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten title game and helped quarterback the Buckeyes to wins against Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff, giving him three rings in three career starts.
It didn’t take long for the Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne product to validate his five-star status. Miller took over as the starting quarterback midway through his true freshman season in 2011. He followed that up by winning Big Ten player of the year in both 2012 and 2013 as Ohio State won 24 straight games to set a new program record. He flirted with declaring for the NFL Draft but decided to return for his senior year. That season was delayed after he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury less than two weeks
Vannett, a four-star tight end from Westerville (Ohio) Central, redshirted as a true freshman in 2011 and saw limited time in 2012 and 2013, when he combined to catch 17 passes for one touchdown. He emerged as a junior in 2014, hauling in 19 passes for 220 yards and five touchdowns. With Heuerman out of eligibility, Vannett will presumably be Ohio State’s No. 1 target at tight end his senior season in 2015.
Bobek lasted just one year in Columbus, choosing to transfer to Minnesota after a freshman year in which he played sparingly. The former four-star center out of Palatine (Ill.) William Fremd sat out the 2012 season due to transfer rules and the 2013 season due to a medical issue. He finally saw the field for the Gophers in 2014, playing in a reserve role against Eastern Illinois, San Jose State and Northwestern. He has one year of eligibility remaining but has yet to crack the two-deep for Minnesota.
A former three-star prospect out of Akron Firestone, Brown announced Aug. 2, 2014 that he would be transferring to Akron for his junior season. He received a hardship waiver and was able to play right away, starting the final 10 games of the 2014 season at right guard for the Zips. He redshirted in 2011 and didn’t play in 2012 but earned an Ohio State varsity letter in 2013 after playing 208 snaps – mostly in special teams action.
Cash, a native of Plantation, Fla., didn’t last as long in Columbus as his high school teammate and fellow 2011 Ohio State signee Ryan Shazier. After a freshman season in which he played five games and made three tackles, he transferred to Duke. He sat out the 2012 season and earned first-team All-ACC honors as a redshirt sophomore in 2013 and second-team all-ACC honors as a junior in 2014.
Crowell was a three-star linebacker out of Waldorf (Md.) High Point but never really got a chance to contribute on the field thanks to injuries. He redshirted in 2011 and wasn’t medically cleared following a 2012 season in which he played just three games. A pair of microfracture surgeries ultimately derailed his time in Columbus and ended his football career prematurely.
Gambrell redshirted in 2011 and was dismissed from the team in January 2012 after being arrested for misdemeanor assault. The former four-star cornerback out of Toledo Rogers does not appear to have enrolled in a different college football program since then.
Hayes was a four-star prospect out of Toledo Whitmer and the first commitment of the 2011 class, but he had one of the shortest tenures of the group. After redshirting in 2011, Hayes left the program in spring of 2012 and didn’t join another program. He was indicted Jan. 15, 2015, on charges of felonious assault and child endangering after injuring his girlfriend’s five-year-old son.