With the number of weeks and days dwindling away until National Signing Day, Neal Kopp, the head coach at Austintown Fitch High School, began calling on his friends in the coaching fraternity on behalf of one of his players, Miles Williams.
Kopp started to become uncertain about Williams' status with Ohio State after Jim Tressel paid him a visit in early December, and as a result of that meeting he, all of a sudden, became concerned about Williams' chances of becoming a Buckeye.
One of the phone calls that Kopp had during that time of uncertainty was to one of the Stoops brothers. Not the one who is the head coach at the University of Oklahoma and not the one who is the head coach at University of Arizona or the other one who is now the defensive coordinator for his brother at the University of Arizona.
No Kopp called Ronnie Stoops, an assistant coach at Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School, and that Stoops did what any good brother would do: He called John L. Smith, the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans, the team where his son will be a freshman next year, and let him know that Williams might soon be on the market.
So on Jan. 13, when Ohio State assistant coach Tim Spencer told Kopp over the phone for the first time that OSU would no longer have a scholarship reserved for Williams on NSD, Michigan State was one of the schools waiting around for Williams with open arms.
On the ensuing weekend, Williams visited Michigan State and wound up verbally committing to Smith just a few days later.
"It's all kind of confusing but I'm just trying to get through this and sign my letter," said Williams on Thursday afternoon in his high school coach's office. "It's all pretty surprising."
For months now, since he verbally committed to Ohio State back in March, Williams had been under the impression that he would be playing his college football in Ohio Stadium for Tressel and the Buckeyes. And then the tone of things seemed to change all of a sudden in December.
"With Ohio State, I knew something was kind of funny when Coach Tressel came in (Dec. 9)," Williams said. "He was talking about `going to committee' and I didn't know nothing about that. When he said that they'll probably go to committee after signing day, it seemed kind of funny."
The committee Tressel was speaking about, certainly, was a screening committee used by OSU to prescreen prospective student-athletes. Williams was only able to attend one game in the Horseshoe this season but he said that he very much felt like he was, without question, an Ohio State recruit.
"I felt like I was a recruit, I talked to the coaches all of the time," he said. "But then all of a sudden my grades became an issue."
Up to that particular point in December, all that Williams had ever thought about since he originally committed to Ohio State was playing for the Buckeyes.
"It really was," he said. "They were all I really thought about from the day I committed until when they were talking about if they weren't sure if I was going to get accepted into the school."
Williams had thought all of his academic concerns would be behind him when he got an 18 on his ACT back in the spring, even before he was offered a scholarship by Ohio State.
"That felt real good," he said. "My mom was real excited that I got the 18 and I was excited. It was a big relief. And from what I understand now they had to go to committee before they offered me, and I was O.K. then."
Williams had an official visit set for Ohio State on the Dec. 12 weekend but Ohio State cancelled the visit because Tressel wanted Williams to take the ACT instead on Dec. 13. Tressel encouraged Williams to do that when he visited on Dec. 9.
"It was on such a short notice and Miles would have had to have to be put on stand-by," said an Austintown administrator who's also a die-hard Buckeye fan. "He wasn't prepared to go and take it."
One month later, from the day that Tressel wanted Williams to retake the ACT test, Kopp got the news from Spencer.
"Coach Spencer called me and informed me, per (athletic director) Andy Geiger's instructions, that there would not be a scholarship for Miles to sign on signing day," Kopp said.
Maybe the staff was upset with Williams that he didn't take the ACT test when they asked him to retake it. In response to academic problems with players and recruits in past year, OSU has taken a much more proactive stance in screening potential athletes.
However, in this case, it wasn't long until word got out that Williams was indeed an academic casualty with OSU rescinding his offer.
All of a sudden, Williams was being characterized in so many words, mainly in cyberspace, as being academically challenged, injury-plagued, and even a criminal delinquent. All of those are charges that Kopp vehemently denies.
So just why was it so necessary for Ohio State to come down with the death penalty on Williams? Certainly there have been other recruits that Tressel has recruited in the past and is likely even recruiting in this current class who are similar to Williams and maybe even worse off.
According to Kopp himself, in-house academic reasons -- beyond NCAA clearinghouse eligibility issues -- were given to him as the reason why Williams would not have an offer available to him on Feb. 4.
"They were looking at things above and beyond the clearinghouse," said Kopp as he tried to explain the role of the clearinghouse. "If you get rubber-stamped by the clearinghouse, which none of that actually happens until June anyway, once kids are graduated and they have final transcripts and final ACT scores, you're good to go. Even if you sign a letter of intent it's not yet valid because if you don't reach that clearinghouse standard, then the scholarship is null and void. But that's probably contingent with a lot of their other signees and commits, and that's true across the country as well."
By the way that Kopp explained the process that the clearinghouse goes through with each student athlete, they weigh 13 or 14 core classes and take the GPA from that and then you need to have a matching ACT or SAT test score to have clearinghouse eligibility. Fitch actually has one person on staff whose job is to see that they're doing everything they need to be so their student-athletes are ready to properly go through the clearinghouse.
"Right now Miles has an 18 and 71 accumulative if you add the best four parts which matches a 2.4 core GPA which he had in April when they offered him and he had 8-½ cores that we were using on the books," Kopp said. "We're at the semester right now that ends (Friday), and report cards come out the following week which is going to add two more core courses to his GPA.
"Right now he is signed up to take (the ACT) again in February and if he brings his score up to a 19 or a 20 then with the sliding scale matches to a 2.2 core which would make him real solid. If he stays with the 18 then it's based upon him continuing to do B or C work which he has. But any of this is conjecture and obviously all of it has to wait and be finalized and cleared by the clearinghouse."
Looking back on it, what is clear to both Kopp and Williams however is that Williams' status with Ohio State changed in December. For them now, hindsight is 20/20.
"We became a little apprehensive I guess is the best way to put it after the December school visit," said Kopp, who was in his first season at Fitch as the head coach last year. "So I just tried to pressure Ohio State to let us know (what was going on) because when we verbaled to them on Miles' and on Miles' mother's approval, I cut off communications with other schools. Miles had no intentions of making other visits."
Fortunately for Williams, his former head coach, Carl Pelini, had stayed in touch with him. Pelini joined his brother Bo at Nebraska last season and Kopp was promoted from his defensive coordinator's post.
"Nebraska came in on that Thursday after Tress did and said that if we get word that things don't go well then we had a tentative visit lined up there," Kopp said. "So I wanted to know yes or no just so we could obviously contact other schools."
When Bo Pelini was fired from Nebraska, that tentative date to visit Lincoln in the first weekend in January became a moot point. But fortunately Williams wasn't without options when Spencer delivered the news because of the work that Kopp had been doing on his player's behalf.
"It ended up working out that the day Michigan State came in, I got the call from Spencer and (MSU) jumped on the opportunity," Kopp said. "We gave them all of his academic information and they cleared him for a visit. At which point so did the University of Pittsburgh and so did the University of Iowa."
And when the word really got out on Wednesday, the next day, there were a lot more inquiries from other schools regarding Williams. No fewer than 37 universities buzzed Kopp's cell phone on Wednesday evening. Kopp had chosen to inform the local media about William's situation on Wednesday and his comments were on the 6 o'clock news on all three affiliates in Youngstown that night.
"I made a statement to the media last night because there were comments being made on the Internet which I felt were very unfair," said Kopp on Thursday afternoon. "Comments about Miles being a non-qualifier or Miles being some sort of troubled kid or even to put it blunt, a thug. It wasn't right."
Kopp wanted to make it clear what the Ohio State coaching staff said about Williams, even though he doesn't necessarily see eye-to-eye with their reason for taking away the scholarship offer they had previously extended to Williams.
"The remark they made to me is it's nothing against Miles personally, and Miles is a good kid and all of the coaches do think a lot of him; but it was strictly academics," Kopp said. "Miles has never had one brush with the law and I've been his coach for four years. He's a well-behaved kid, he's got a lot of character and he's a great young man. That's what I think prompted us to make a statement."
Kopp, and many people at Fitch, have a lot of direct ties to Tressel who obviously was the head coach at nearby Youngstown State for 15 years. One of Tressel's former players is on the staff at Fitch. It's not a happy situation there but everyone is trying to deal with it positively and move on.
"Miles is ready to go with a great opportunity in front of him now," said Kopp, referring to his commitment to Michigan State. "He knows that he's good enough to play at the next level. It's been a tough month, he was very disappointed when we found out for sure but now he feels welcomed. In a weeks time I feel that Miles is back to himself and now he feels what it's like to someone who doesn't early-commit."
After visiting Michigan State over the Jan. 16 holiday weekend, Williams did indeed verbally commit to Smith on the following Tuesday evening (Jan. 20). But he still may possibly visit Pittsburgh on the weekend of the 23 and Iowa on the following weekend to see what's out there.
"At this point he's already under the gun from being thrown into the frying pan here at the 11th hour with people calling non-stop and people coming to the school," Kopp said. "We set up three visits with three quality schools that he was interested in. At this time it's obviously a numbers game with just two weekends to go before signing day.
"Let me say this again Miles had no real visits lined-up whatsoever until we got specific word that Ohio State was pulling the offer. He was shielded from all of this because he was satisfied with Ohio State and didn't feel that he needed to shop around."
Now they just want to put this behind them.
"Here we are already moving ahead and now we're being flooded with questions concerning Ohio State," Kopp said. "I know I'm ready, he's ready and this is not an issue he wants to talk about any more. He's ready to have an issue where the media is coming to cover him as he is signing with another school. So that's where we're at."
Williams said he's pretty firm in his commitment to Michigan State.
"I had a great visit at Michigan State," he said. "I liked the campus. The coaches were real cool. My host was Kyle Brown and he was real cool. When I was there I felt like I was already in college and I felt like I was a part of the team. I just felt real comfortable there.
"I want to play in the Big Ten and I like the way they pass the ball, I like their offense. I feel like that's a good place for me to go."
Although he was very disappointed initially, Williams says that he's not mad. He hasn't spoken to Tressel since his December visit.
"It doesn't really bother me," he said. "I guess they had to do what they had to do and take the scholarship away. It kind of hurts because that's where I wanted to go to school at but I've put it behind me now and I've just got to move on."
With less than two weeks now until he signs his letter of intent, it looks like he's happy to become a Spartan.
"I just hope I make the right choice where I want to go," he said. "I'm just waiting for all of this to be over with basically."