Ohio State recruits nationally these days, but the Buckeyes still pull heavily from surrounding states. Ohio’s neighbor to the west traditionally doesn’t produce as much talent as most Midwest states, but the Buckeyes still take players out of Indiana. Although Ohio State has more scholarship players currently on the roster from Michigan and Illinois (three apiece), Indiana isn’t far behind with two – Terry McLaurin and Joel Hale. With the Hoosiers on the schedule this week, here are six things to know about the Buckeyes’ recruiting efforts in Indiana.
1. Unlike most Midwest states, basketball rules Indiana.
Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton came to Columbus following a stint at Notre Dame, and he said it doesn’t take long to notice which sport takes a priority in Indiana.
“Administratively, community-wise, it always struck me when I went into Indiana that they have gymnasiums and arenas that are off the charts,” he said. “The football facilities are nice, but the basketball arenas are like, ‘Wow!’ In Ohio, the nicest ones are football stadiums. I think the emphasis sometimes changes. It doesn’t mean there aren’t good players there, because there are. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t recruit the state, because you absolutely should. It doesn’t mean the quality of high school isn’t good, because it is.”
McLaurin said on Monday that he played basketball growing up but switched to football after the realization that his 5-8 frame probably wasn’t going to cut it. Although he ended up growing 8 inches over the next four years, he stuck with football after committing to it.
2. Because of basketball and population, the football talent pool is lower than it could be.
There’s no ignoring the fact that some of Indiana’s best athletes choose basketball, a decision that is less prevalent in most of the other Midwest states. But population also plays a role. Indianapolis and Fort Wayne are the only two cities with more than 250,000 residents, and only four cities in the state exceed 100,000 residents.
“Basketball is king in that state,” Scout.com recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “They do lose some athletes to that sport, but the best talent is also confined to two pockets – Indianapolis and Fort Wayne – so you only have those two areas that are putting out a lot of talent and then you’ll get some isolated kids from other parts of the state. Other than those two, you don’t have major cities where the talent can come from.”
3. Many of these kids grow up with blank recruiting slates.
When asked if he grew up an Indiana fan, Hale laughed and issued a point-blank no. McLaurin said much of the same.
For Ohio State, that’s an area it can exploit.
“My recruiting was very open because I didn’t have a favorite team,” Hale said. “I just grew up loving football. I knew I loved playing football and I knew I wanted to be with the best and play against the best with the best coaches, so Ohio State provided that being the best program closest to home.”
4. It helps to not have to worry about Indiana, and especially not worry about Purdue.
Over the last 10 completed recruiting cycles (2006-15), Indiana has produced 41 four- or five-star athletes according to Scout.com. Five have signed with Indiana. Zero have signed with Purdue. Zero. In the last decade, the Boilermakers haven’t signed anyone better than a three-star in their own state. As you may have surmised, that is not good.
It doesn’t appear to be getting better, either. The four four-stars in the class of 2016 are committed to either Michigan State, Ohio State or Michigan.
5. But you still have to deal with Notre Dame.
While Indiana and Purdue have struggled to lock down the cream of the crop, Notre Dame has had no such worries. The Golden Domers have taken the top-ranked Indiana prospect in each of the last four years and the top two local recruits in three of those four cycles.
Some attribute that to the power that elite home-state schools have in their own territories (think Ohio State in Ohio, USC in California, etc), but Trieu said that it’s a little different in Notre Dame’s case.
“I think a Notre Dame offer is a big deal, but more because it’s Notre Dame and less because it’s in-state,” he said. “I think it’s different from a Michigan kid getting a Michigan or Michigan State offer or an Ohio kid getting an Ohio offer. It still carries weight, but it’s in a different way. Notre Dame has been more likely to recruit Fort Wayne, which has two very good Catholic schools.”
6. In the end, it’s all about picking your spots.
Recruiting success comes down to how schools choose to allocate their resources. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense for Ohio State to spend as much time in Indiana as in Georgia or Florida. The good news is that the talent tends to be concentrated, which makes it easier for the coaching staff to make the rounds.
“The nice thing is that you’re talking about recruiting two pockets of talent in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne,” Trieu said. “You can crank through both of those areas if you spend one day in each during the recruiting period. It shouldn’t be super time-consuming.”
Ohio State will never be omnipresent, but the Buckeyes can choose their spots and make a play for top kids in years where the talent is on an upswing.
“What always happens is that every state goes through runs,” Hinton said. “There will be runs where all of a sudden there are eight guys in an area where in other years there might be two guys in that area that are Ohio State-level guys. The negative with recruiting today is that you probably don’t have the same relationships in places because recruiting is so national today. You don’t have the same relationships with high school coaches that you might have a while back in recruiting, but where the players are you better be. That’s what we try to do here at Ohio State.”