As part of the redesign of the Bucknuts.com web site, we have added an area where we can publish excerpts from Bucknuts The Magazine. Each week, we will put in a new excerpt from the latest edition of Bucknuts The Magazine.
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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
The Spring edition (Ted Ginn Jr. on the cover) is on newsstands now. Our Summer Issue, the 2005 Football Preview issue, will be available in mid-June. New subscribers will begin their subscription with the first issue after the Summer Issue.
This week's excerpt is a reprint of an entire story from the January 2004 issue. In this story, Duane Long went back through his memory of watching over 15 years of Ohio high school players and picked out his choices for the 25 best players he saw.
This list is not a list of the top all-time prospects in Ohio, just the players Duane has seen. If done today, it might include players from 2005's class like OL Alex Boone.
Headline: Duane Long's All-Time Top 25
By Duane Long
I remember talking to my colleague Chris Pool about Ohio prospects one afternoon. He commented that I had such a great state for recruiting. It really is. We hear so much talk about Florida and Texas and California, but Ohio is year in and year out one of the five most recruited states in the country for football talent.
When I was approached about this project, my first reaction was what fun it would be. That was back when it was a 500 word piece. I soon realized that I could not come up with a top 10 players I had seen in Ohio. By the time we had settled on a number the word count was about four times the original size and the number of players had more than doubled. I just couldn't pare my list to ten.
After much hand wringing and a lot of thought, I managed to cut my list to 25 and could have doubled that if time and space allowed. Here we go with the top 25 players I have seen in Ohio in the past 15 years or so.
1. Robert Smith, RB, Euclid - Before Smith, I had always heard about Ted Bell as the best back in Ohio in recent memory. I didn't see Bell, but I did see Smith. I remember seeing his first game of his senior year, which was against nationally No. 1-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius with super quarterback Joe Pickens. St. Ignatius won handily, but Smith's performance that night is forever etched in my mind. He had little help and was bottled up for most of the night but when he did create some space what he could do was breathtaking. He broke off two long runs for touchdowns and you could see he was something that only comes along once in awhile.
2. Charles Woodson, ATH, Fremont Ross - The most complete and dominating player I saw on both sides of the ball. Woodson was so much better than the players he was competing against that you could see he still had not shown what he was capable of. He was going to get even better. At times, he looked bored as he destroyed one opponent after another. As a die-hard scarlet and gray bleeding Buckeye fan, to this day, Woodson is the one player I most regretted losing to Michigan.
3. Orlando Pace, OL, Sandusky - One thing about Pace that will always stay with me is watching him play basketball in the state tournament. An opposing player made a steal and was headed down the floor with Pace in pursuit. I was ready to applaud him for the hustle. That was until I saw "Big O" was catching him. It took some time and effort to get my chin off the floor and my eyes back in my head as Pace caught him and blocked his lay-up. I only hope I get to see a lineman this complete again.
4. Ted Ginn, ATH, Cleveland Glenville - Until Ginn's senior year I did not think I would see as complete and dominating a player on both sides of the ball as Charles Woodson. What Ginn did this year was one of the four most impressive seasons I have ever seen out of a player in Ohio. Eight interceptions is impressive, but returning five of them for TDs is staggering. Ginn runs 4.3 40s on the football field as well as on the track. I think he had a strong argument for Mr. Football and would have gotten my vote, but what bothers me is that after the vote came in, it turned out he was not even a strong contender. Add his track numbers to his football performance and you have one of the best athletes in Ohio sports history.
5. Maurice Clarett, RB, Warren Harding - The first player I had the opportunity to watch from the time he was a freshman. You could see it back then that this was a special one. Clarett was a man amongst boys from the start, but I have to say I was not prepared for what I saw out of him as a senior. He took it to another level. Like with Robert Smith, Ted Ginn and Charles Woodson, Clarett's senior year was one of the four best I have ever seen a high school player have.
6. Chuck Jones, DT, Chillicothe - This is the first of a couple of names on this list that you may not recognize. Jones was simply the best defensive line prospect I have ever seen. That includes players I have had the opportunity to see in the last few years from other states. He was perfect. He was 6-4 and 290 and ran 4.9 anytime he was put to a stopwatch. Jones was a freak before we ever started calling these really unique athletes freaks. He dominated the line of scrimmage like no lineman I have seen before or since. He committed to Ohio State early on but due to academic problems, Jones never made it out of Chillicothe High School.
7. Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Westerville South - A human wrecking machine. I watched Katzenmoyer do things that made me cringe. At times, I actually felt sorry for the backs he was hitting. We talk about basketball being a contact sport and football being a collision sport, and the way Katzenmoyer played the game underlined football being a collision sport. Fans may recall the hit on Missouri quarterback Corby Jones that turned that game around. One minute he is on his way to a nice gain, and the next he is talking out of the earhole of his helmet. I saw Katzenmoyer do that regularly in high school. I often saw players sprint for the sidelines when more yardage was there to be had in order to avoid running into the Big Kat at the end of that run.
8. Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson, DT, Dayton Dunbar - We started into the current era where we are seeing massive but quick and agile defensive tackles that prompted a move to 4-3 defenses at the time that Wilkinson came along. He was a prototype. Properly conditioned and motivated, Big Daddy was unblockable. Unfortunately, we have not seen that out Wilkinson a whole lot. We only saw it twice -- once before his redshirt freshman year when Coach Cooper told the Big Daddy he would move him to the offensive line if he did not get down from 348 pounds, and then again with his monster sophomore year, from the spring game until the Bengals made him a much deserved No. 1 overall pick. He has had a solid pro career, but given his natural talent, Wilkinson should be polishing up his acceptance speech for Canton instead of playing out the string.
9. Joe Pickens, QB, Cleveland St. Ignatius - I have seen most of the top national quarterbacks in the current class, which is an outstanding one. Pickens would have fit in with this group. He my have even topped the list. I know he was rated by one service at the time as not only the best quarterback, but the best player in the country. He was the complete package. He had arm strength, touch, vision and made good decisions. About the only chink in his armor was he was not the most mobile quarterback. We think about Robert Smith and ex-OSU assistant coach Elliot Uzelac and the problems there were there, but Smith stood his ground and survived it and Pickens did not. The offense and the coaching style that Uzelac brought to Columbus kept fans from seeing how good Pickens was and probably kept Pickens from a pro career.
10. Fred Davis, WR, Toledo Rogers - Davis brings size and rare athleticism to the receiver position. He is a very physical player and could be a linebacker if needed. His track speed is in the low 4.5s, but he carries that speed onto the football field while so many don't. His performance at camps when matched up against the best in the country is what set him apart. Unstoppable is the word for his effort from last year's junior national combine to camps over the summer. Lack of a supporting cast has kept him from putting up the numbers one would expect to see from this kind of unique athlete. This is the standard for receivers in the future.
11. Louis Irizarry, TE, Youngstown Ursuline - There have not been many great Ohio tight end prospects to compare Louis to. For some reason, Ohio does not produce great tight ends. It wouldn't matter. I only hope I see another tight end prospect like this again. He was a receiver in a tight end's body.
12. Louis Willard, RB, Grove City - I remember watching the Grove City-Westerville South game at the end of Louis Willard's junior year. The game was televised locally. It was repeated and I mentioned to my dad that he should watch the game to see the highly recruited Ki-Jana Carter, who was a senior at Westerville South at the time. I asked him after the game what he thought. He said Carter was good, but the kid on the other side of the line was the one who was really special. That runner was Louis Willard. He out-rushed Carter in that game and went into his senior year rated a top ten back nationally. In the first quarter of the first game of his senior year, he blew out his knee. He committed to Ohio State anyway but was never the same after the injury. Ohio produces a lot of great backs, and Louis Willard may be the most underrated.
13. Simon Fraser, DE, Upper Arlington - When I think about Fraser, I think about a special player rising to the occasion. I watched him do it so many times in the Upper Arlington run for the state title his senior year. He was never better than the state championship game when Solon had the ball and the momentum and Fraser single-handedly shut the Solon offense down on the final drive of the game. I was trying to decide on the first Ohio's Future Stars Player of the Year, and despite his outstanding year to that point, there were a couple of other players – Dayton Chaminade-Julienne WR Angelo Chattams being one contender with a 1,400 yard receiving year – who were in the running. After that state championship game performance, it became clear. The great ones find a way.
14. Korey Stringer, DT, Warren Harding - I remember seeing Stringer and wondering what all the fuss was about. He never struck me as a specimen. He was just another big and slightly overweight kid. I had seen Scott Stratton a couple of years earlier, and that was what I judged the great prospects by. That was before I saw Stringer on the field. He had an uncommon agility and was a very focused player. You could see it in how he played the game. Stringer was always pushing to try and become the best he could be. That and his great feet were what separated him. Before his tragic death, I think we were about to see Stringer take his game to another level. He needed to get his weight down, but I saw that focus coming back. He was great person and was such a loss.
15. Mike Vrabel, LB/DE, Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit - A really special high school player. To think that because of a back injury early in his high school career, Mike Vrabel almost never made it back to the football field. He was relentless and athletic. He played with a mean streak that I find to be consistent in great defensive players. Like Simon Fraser, Vrabel asked no quarter and offered none.
16. Trent Zenkewicz, DL/OL, Cleveland St. Ignatius – Zenkewicz came out the same year as Big Daddy and was rated higher. Many argued that it was only because of Wilkinson's grade problems, but I knew those people had not seen Zenkewicz. He was a great high school player. I have seen better defensive linemen, and I have seen better offensive linemen, but if I were going to recruit a lineman with no sure plan about what side of the ball I would play him on, Zenkewicz would have been my top choice. He played on the defensive line at Michigan, but I really thought he might have been a better offensive lineman.
17. Scott Stratton, OL, West Chester Lakota - Stratton was the first super offensive line prospect that I saw. He was an athlete in a big man's body. He was a powerhouse in the weight room and on the field. Until I saw Orlando Pace, this was the standard for what I wanted to see in an offensive lineman. He was 300 pounds and was supposed to weigh 300 pounds. He went to Penn State, and if I were asked which player on this list surprised me most by not being a great player, it would be Stratton. I was sure he would play on Sundays. To my knowledge, he did not even start until his senior year at Penn State.
18. Roy Hall, WR, Lyndhurst Brush - All I needed to see was about three plays and I knew Roy Hall was special. Two of them were of Hall blocking. He is a clone of David Boston – big and physical but has great speed.
19. Ricky Powers, RB, Akron Buchtel – Powers never really got the credit he deserved because he came along in the same year as Robert Smith. He had a very strange career. He went from Big Ten Freshman of the Year at Michigan to not even starting by the time he was a senior. But he was a great high school back.
20. Wilbert Brown, RB, Columbus Brookhaven - Talk about getting overshadowed. Brown shared his senior year with Robert Smith and Ricky Powers. He was not the biggest back, but he was special. He was one of the first players who helped Columbus Brookhaven become a Columbus City League power. Brown never made it to college because of grades.
21. Mike Munoz, OL, Cincinnati Moeller - Munoz could run block and pass block. He had a great body and had superior technique. All he lacked was the nastiness. If he had that, he would be higher on this list.
22. Dee Miller, WR, Springfield South - Miller did not have the physical tools of many others who have come through the Buckeye program in recent years, but he was a great high school receiver. He had great hands and ran great routes. He had football instincts and the ability to adjust to balls in the air like Cris Carter. Even without great size or speed, Miller dominated games. Some rated him higher than Pace when they came out of high school together in 1994.
23. Antonio Hall, OL, Canton McKinley - Another player who came along at the wrong time. Hall shared his senior year with Mike Munoz. Munoz was a tackle and Hall a guard, and that is about the only thing that separated them. Hall played with a mean streak and was as quick and athletic as any lineman on this list.
24. Che Bryant, DB, Canton McKinley - Bryant would have been the best safety ever to play at Ohio State if he would have stayed eligible. That is a big statement considering the distinguished list of players who have starred in the secondary for the Buckeyes. Build a safety from scratch and you would end up with a player who looked like Che Bryant, who is, in my opinion, the best safety ever in Ohio.
25. Gary Berry, ATH, Columbus DeSales – Berry was a super athlete in high school. Playing safety at OSU was not in his best interest. If Bryant and Mike Burden had not gotten themselves ineligible and Damon Moore almost joined them, we would have seen the most athletic defensive backfield in memory. The loss of those two stars put Berry at safety. He was a corner, and while he made it to the NFL as a safety, I think he could have been a star at corner. He was also a great running back in high school, and I think he could have been better there than he was at safety.