With the No. 1-rated class in 2016 and nine four-star players (or above) already committed for 2017, it’s the best of times for Ohio State recruiting.
But don’t be surprised if Urban Meyer is a little conflicted right now. Since he’s been hired, he’s been banging the drum that the recruiting process is moving too fast, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
“I can’t stand it,” Meyer said of accepting commitments so early while at Big Ten Media Days, “but how can you walk away from a guy you think is a good one when he says, ‘Well, I’m gonna go somewhere else.’ ”
It’s a first world problem, some might say, but to use a Meyer term, it’s real. There’s a fine line to be battled when it comes to timing – fill up a class too early and it might fall apart or the players might not develop as expected in their high school careers; wait too long and there might not be any players left, especially if they haven’t felt enough “love” as compared to other places.
A perfect world for Meyer would probably be the way things were 20 years ago, when most prospects didn’t make public commitments until their senior seasons were over and National Signing Day neared.
Under that system, a team with the recruiting cachet of Ohio State had the best of both worlds – four years of high school football during which to grade players as well as the powerhouse name to make an impact on the recruiting trail in those final months.
“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 last year on National Signing Day. “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.
As Meyer indicated, his staff showed some signs of doing things a little more slowly in his first few years at Ohio State. In the class of 2014, Ohio State slow-played the quarterback situation and saw a number of highly rated prospects commit elsewhere before Stephen Collier made his pledge after a summer camp at OSU. And in 2015, the Buckeyes had only two commits in May before a pledge from Joey Burrow kicked off a rampage through the summer months.
It wasn’t for lack of trying last year – Ohio State would have taken a number of commitments from highly rated prospects who chose other places in the months from February to May – but it did show the Buckeyes weren’t necessarily going to hit the panic button with a slow start (and OSU did end up with 27 pledges and the nation’s No. 8 class.)
Things have gone totally the other direction in 2016 and ’17. Buoyed by the momentum of winning a national championship, Ohio State has drawn interest from highly rated players across the country and accepted pledges from many. The Buckeyes got pledges from two of the top 35 players in class of 2016 – five-star RB Kareem Walker and four-star DE Jonathon Cooper – as well as 2017 studs Bruce Judson and Shaun Wade in a two-day stretch starting when Walker committed at halftime of the CFP title game win vs. Oregon.
That served as a jumping off point for each Buckeye class, and the numbers are impressive. Fifteen of 19 class of ’16 commits so far are four- or five-star prospects, including a nation’s best seven in the Scout 100, while all nine non-kickers in the class of 2017 are in the Scout 300.
So that’s good. But moving too quickly still has its dangers and its opportunity cost to Meyer, who wouldn't want to phase out such players as Tyvis Powell (a three-star Bedford native who had game-clinching interceptions vs. Michigan in 2013 and Alabama last year) and last year's breakout star Darron Lee of New Albany.
“Sure, it’s a major concern,” he recently said. “An Ohio kid, I don’t want to label an Ohio kid but a Tyvis Powell, a Darron Lee, I’m hoping (DaVon Hamilton), the D-tackle we took toward the end of the recruiting class – sometimes they develop late. If you don’t have the space for a Tyvis Powell, that’s awful. So we’re very concerned about because in-state you can’t miss.”
Meyer added he’d like to have a half a class available to evaluate a player after his junior season, and you can expect Ohio State to continue to be vigilant when it comes to players who come of age later in their high school careers, especially those who do so in the Buckeye State.
“There’s a kid right now in Ohio somewhere that is going to have a great senior year that is going to end up a Buckeye that is maybe not on everybody’s radar right now,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said in February. “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.”
Last year, those names jumped onto the scene. Wideout Alex Stump (Lakewood St. Edward) and tight end Rashod Berry (Lorain) committed in October, defensive tackle Robert Landers (Huber Heights Wayne) pledged in December and Hamilton (Pickerington Central) followed as National Signing Day neared.
This year, you could say the process has started. Three-star guard Gavin Cupp of Leipsic pledged Tuesday after working out at multiple Ohio State camps this summer, and the first few years of the Meyer era show that the Buckeyes aren’t afraid to bring in some other Ohio talents late. A strong senior year earned Columbus Bishop Ready offensive lineman Brady Taylor an offer in January 2014, while Cleveland Glenville safety Christopher Worley and Shaker Heights defensive lineman Donovan Munger committed after their final years in ’13 along with Lee after the summer camp circuit.
Some of those players, such as Lee, earned four stars but others were three-star players, and Meyer believes the right combination is crucial as he puts together his recruiting classes. Ohio State might not be what some referred to as "three-star heaven" under Jim Tressel, but mixing talent and determination is still the goal under Meyer.
“I think it’s good to have a mix (of ranked players) because always those five-star guys don’t turn out to be a Raekwons and Vonns, but there is nothing better than seeing a Darron Lee,” Meyer said. “Are you kidding me? And Tyvis. And Ohio State has had a nice tradition of that. Coach Tressel did a phenomenal job at that.”