The 20-player class, ranked No. 10 in the nation by Scout.com, and second in the Big Ten behind Penn State, is an equal opportunity employer. It includes 10 players from Ohio, and 10 players from out of state, the most of the Jim Tressel era.
"Our goal always is to start in-state and put borders up around the state and recruit the best players that we can recruit in-state," OSU recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach John Peterson said. "We have guys who recruit regional areas who do a great job. (Wide receivers coach Darrell) Hazell recruits in New Jersey and Florida, and other coaches have geographic areas and they spend a lot of time evaluating players. Our goal is to get the best players we can get anywhere we can get them."
According to Peterson, the Buckeyes did not "bank" any scholarships for next year.
"Twenty was the target that we wanted and we're very happy with the 20 we got," he said.
Peterson was asked if the Buckeyes set out to sign five linebackers, or if it just turned out that way.
"I know that (defensive coordinator Jim) Heacock and (linebackers coach Luke) Fickell are the ones that really target the defensive players," Peterson said. "Whether (the target) was three or four, then Larry ended up in the mix, and we're very happy with the way it ended up."
Peterson assists Jim Bollman in coaching the offensive line. No, the Buckeyes did not get the three or four offensive linemen that many felt they needed in this class, but they did land two pretty good ones in Connor Smith and Bryant Browning.
"We're very happy with the two offensive linemen that we got," Peterson said. "We graduated two and we replaced them with two quality offensive linemen."
Most feel that Smith will be a guard, but Peterson hints that he might get a look at tackle as well.
"Connor is a very talented lineman who has good enough athletic ability to play on the perimeter, and has the power to be an inside guy also," Peterson said.
Peterson was happy to sign a pair of talented tight ends in Jake Ballard and Andy Miller. One of them, or both, could possibly move to the O-line in a few years, but right now the plan is to keep them at tight end.
"Anytime you've got a 6-6, 260-pound tight end, I think he can add a lot," Peterson said. "And we're happy we've got two of them and we can put one on either side and go from there. We believe that when you've got guys that can threaten the defense in a passing manner, but can also be dominant blockers, that can add a lot."
When a question hinted at the Josh Chichester situation, Peterson did not want to comment. (Chichester, a wide receiver from Lakota West, committed to OSU last summer, but OSU backed off last month and Chichester signed with Louisville.)
"Not if he's not part of the class," Peterson said.
There are some academic question marks in the class, but Peterson is confident everyone will qualify.
"We feel very good that these kids are moving forward academically to be here at Ohio State," he said. "I think with an average of above a three point GPA this class is very special in the classroom, along with on the field."
Peterson briefly explained OSU's recruiting strategy.
"Recruiting is just like a game," he said. "It changes every play. Evolution from week to week, day to day. And our needs change as we go through a season and we address those needs. We talk about them and move forward with the direction we have to take to help the program."
Peterson is struck by the maturity of the players in the class. Wells is only 17, but carries himself as a college senior. The same could be said for Homan.
"Well, you saw Ross Homan today, and when a kid wants to enroll in college and bypass a part of that senior year, there has to be a maturity in that person to make that decision and move forward to college when their buddies are still in high school," Peterson said. "So I think it does show a level of maturity with those guys."
Not that it was easy for the Buckeyes to recruit linebackers this year, but it can't hurt when they're losing all three starters, and have a history of producing outstanding players at the position.
"The history of the linebacker corps that has played here is tremendous," Peterson said. "Obviously the group that is leaving, they are big shoes to fill for the guys that are here, and the incoming guys. It will be a challenge to all the linebackers."
Peterson says OSU's coaching staff looks far beyond the highlight films, statistics and rankings when it comes to evaluating players. They want to know what makes the players tick. They want to know how they will react when the pressure is on.
"It's kind of a reference to the inexact science of recruiting," Peterson said. "You never know what those intangibles are. And that's what we try and spend a lot of time developing and researching and finding out about that ‘X' factor. That motivation. That passion to be successful. When you play at Ohio State and you're put in those environments, you better have the passion to get up at 6 a.m. to workout. The summer program, the winter program, the commitment level to play at this level takes a special person."
Bollman on the O-Line
Bollman is not concerned that Smith, the outstanding run blocker from Cincinnati Colerain, has not had much experience with pass protection.
"I think that generally speaking, every high school offensive lineman needs to learn how to pass block at this level," Bollman said. "It's usually much more difficult than anything they've seen with the speed of the rush, especially at our caliber. And usually the amount of repetitions that they've had… not too many high schools throw the ball to that extent where they've had that kind of repetition in pass protection."
Most feel the 6-5, 300-pound Smith will be a guard, but Bollman says it's too early to make such assertions.
"No, no, no. We don't recruit guys with those ideas," he said. "There are very few people that are recruited at a particular position. There may be a guy who is a tackle, etcetera, but no. When you have five Nick Mangolds, or five LeCharles Bentleys, it doesn't matter. It didn't matter where those guys were playing. You're going to have the best line you could possibly have. So, what position will those guys play? You let that evolve. Doug Datish is an example this year. Playing guard, playing tackle, playing center, it doesn't matter."
Bollman is also optimistic that Browning will develop into a starter. He comes built for the Big Ten at 6-4, 330 pounds.
"Oh, he's a big guy," Bollman said. "He's going to be a powerful guy. He's a very smart guy. He and Connor both have very good intelligence and that's a big thing for offensive linemen. Those guys, neither one of them have to work at adding size at all. They don't have to grow into the position; they're already big enough. They just have to keep on working at getting stronger and learning."
Say what you want about Bollman, but he sends his players to the NFL. It's a fact that can't hurt when he's out recruiting.
"I suppose," Bollman said. "You'd like to think that. That some people would take note of that. We've had a lot of them and we've been fortunate. Rob (Sims) and Nick will make seven out of the five years I've been here. So, that's been good."
Bentley, Tyson Walter, Alex Stepanovich, Shane Olivia, Adrien Clarke are the others.
And we couldn't let Bollman go without asking him about the center position. Last year, Bollman said that Jim Cordle was likely the center of the future. So, does Cordle have the job locked down, or is the situation still very much up in the air?
"Little too early to say that because spring football will be a big time for him," Bollman said. "Doug Datish is another guy that could possibly be our center. Doug will be coming off a shoulder surgery. So yeah, this spring will be a big time of work for Jimmy."
Daniels lands a Smith clone in Henton
The argument could be made that landing quarterback Antonio Henton was the best piece of recruiting by Ohio State's coaches this year. Not only did they get one of the nation's best quarterbacks, they invaded SEC territory to do it. And they discovered Henton early.
"He had a really good junior year," OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said. "He was hurt and missed the first three ballgames (as a senior in 2005) and of course they lose the three. What he is is really, really an exceptional athlete who can really throw the football. There are some great athletes playing quarterback around the country. But there's an awful lot of them that can't throw the ball like he can throw the ball. And I think that's what separates him. A lot like Troy (Smith). You know, Troy can really throw the football, and people are understanding that now. And so is he."
Henton was matched up with some of Ohio's top quarterbacks at OSU's football camp last summer. But there was no question that Henton was the most impressive player on the field.
"Antonio, he showed us when he came to camp that he really can throw, because when we saw him on tape we thought the kid had a great arm and could really throw the ball well," Daniels said. "And when you get a chance to work with him, wow, he can really throw the football."
When comparing Smith and Henton, you'd have to say Henton is ahead of where Smith was coming out of high school. Upon graduating from Glenville, Smith was considered an athlete. Odds were not good that he would eventually beat out Justin Zwick.
Henton, on the other hand, had two outstanding prep seasons in a pro-style offense.
"Probably the only thing I could compare it to is that Antonio ran a little bit more of a throw offense," Daniels said. "Troy, at the time, was not involved in a pass-oriented offense to the extent that Antonio was. And he does a lot of things that we do, as far as formations and groupings. So, I think he's got a little bit of an advantage there."
Daniels talked more about the early recruitment of Henton. The Buckeyes were one of the first big schools to come after him.
"The first play of his tape, he returned a punt all the way," Daniels said. "That was the first play of his highlight tape. They were like, ‘OK, we want you to look at this quarterback,' and you put it on and he's wiggling and splits them and goes all the way. Then the more we watched the tape, he not only has that kind of athletic ability, but this kid can throw the football. He can just flat throw the football.
"And then he had an interest in us. His coach really does a great job coaching, and also looking out for his players. So through his coach, he got him up here for our camp. And then you really have a chance to evaluate him as a quarterback and you can coach him on the field and see what he can actually do as far as throwing it. When he walked away, there wasn't any doubt in our minds. Who's recruiting him? We don't know. We don't care. We want him. And thank goodness that was the way he felt too. He wanted us."
And Henton is more than just a mobile QB with a big arm. He is a natural leader and hard worker.
"Exactly what his coach said," Daniels said. "He said he's a student of the game. He really works at it. He will spend as much time as you're willing to give him. He'll stay for long after practice. He understands the game. He is truly a leader. He's a very determined young man. Doesn't say much. But you can also see that he's a young man that listens to everything you tell him. You can tell that he's really keyed in and paying attention and he's really going to try and do what you tell him to do."
Heacock Talks Defense
Heacock's sense of humor is always refreshing. And he's going to need it losing nine starters on his side of the ball. But if he's worried, he's not showing it. Sure, the Buckeyes will be young on defense at certain spots, but they will have a veteran defensive line, as well as a few veteran linebackers.
"I think our guys – especially our seniors – are going to get tired of hearing you guys talk about how bad they're going to be," Heacock quipped. "I think it's going to be exciting. Now, can we be as good? We've got to see. I don't know. … They know that there's some openings and they're working extremely hard. The guys here know there are some good guys coming in, and the guys coming in know there's some good guys here. So, that creates nothing but great competition."
Heacock was pleased to land Grant, the No. 1 JUCO linebacker in the country.
"Well, probably the advantage that he might have is that he's going to be here for spring ball," he said. "He and Ross are going to be here for spring ball and that gives them a little bit of a jump on things. It's going to be exciting and fun, I think. There is no A.J. Hawk. There's a position wide open and the best players will play."
Heacock says Grant will likely line up at the Sam linebacker position.
"Probably," he said. "He's going to be an outside guy. Larry can play in space. He kind of played a nickel back in junior college. They called it a linebacker. He has nice versatility and can play in space a little bit, as well as coming off the edge and getting sacks. I just think he's a versatile guy. He had six punt blocks, couple field goal blocks, six interceptions. He's just productive and I think that's the thing we really like about him."
A major concern for OSU's defense in 2006 will be pass rush. Mike Kudla and Bobby Carpenter were excellent in 2005 off the edge. One player that could step up is Lawrence Wilson.
"Lawrence is going to be a good player," Heacock said.
Mark Johnson can play all three linebacker positions, and many think he will be an inside linebacker, but Heacock says he could be a player used off the edge.
"He had 17 sacks if I'm not mistaken," Heacock said. "I've never heard of 17 sacks, but I read he did. Even if you pad that, still, 13 is pretty good. So, whatever he had. But I think when you recruit a guy like him in our scheme, you can't compare him to Bobby Carpenter, but he's a guy that we feel we might be able to bring off the edge, and also drop him into coverage."
Thaddeus Gibson and Tyler Moeller are two additional players that could line up all over the field.
"We're trying to be as flexible and versatile as we can on defense," Heacock said. "We gave different looks all year long. We'd like to maintain that, and obviously we've got to recruit for it. We feel that we recruited five different linebackers that all fit in our scheme. We're looking forward to that and hopefully that will pan out. You can't compare them to what we've had, but they certainly have that kind of ability."
D'Andrea at MLB?
Heacock says it's anyone's guess as to who will be the starting middle linebacker in 2006. It was suggested that Mike D'Andrea could get the first crack at the job in the spring, but Heacock is not certain.
"You know what, we've been out recruiting and we've talked, but I'm not sure," he said. "I think what we'll end up doing at linebacker is the same thing we'll do up front, and in the back end: Find our three best linebackers and then say, ‘OK, now where to do they best fit? How do they fit into our scheme of things?' I'm not sure right now. I couldn't even venture a guess. We'll move them around and see who can make plays."
Doc and Beanie
The linebackers as a group might be the highlight of the class, but the crown jewel is Wells, a bruising 6-1, 230-pound running back with wheels. It's been well documented that he's the No. 1 overall prospect in the country by Scout.com.
And no one is happier about the situation than OSU running backs coach Doc Tressel. Well, maybe his younger brother is happier, but the former Division III college head coach was all smiles talking about Wells.
"The opportunity to have a guy with that kind of talent is going to do a couple things," Doc Tressel said. "It's going to create competition among the group that we have. It's going to allow us to identify and utilize their various talents. And another thing is that it's going to bring the talent of our offensive line up. All of a sudden they are going to be better players and will be more excited to develop their talents and get the whole thing working together. They play off each other. And they started to at the end of last year. I think that there's no question that the line got better, and the backs got better. The backs got a little bit better; the line got a little bit better."
Amid all the hype and hoopla surrounding Wells, it can be easy to forget that OSU is returning a 1,331-yard back in Antonio Pittman. And the good news for OSU fans is that it doesn't look like there will be a personality clash between Pittman and Wells. In fact, the two Akron natives are friends and seem willing to share the ball.
"He has a great attitude," Tressel said of Pittman. "But I don't know that Antonio Pittman is planning to share the ball with anybody. He's not going to say, ‘Hey Coach, I'm tired, send the other guy in. I don't want to carry it anymore.' No, Pit loves carrying the ball and he's very good at it. It's going to be our task to make sure that we're putting him in the absolute best situations to carry the ball effectively. And if that means in certain situations Mo Wells is in carrying it, or Beanie Wells is in carrying it, or Erik Haw is in carrying it, or we're handing it to the fullback and really surprise people, or whatever it is, they all have to realize that it's a team game.
"The wonderful thing that we had last year was only one running back got hurt. Brandon Schnittker got hurt. That in itself I hope will be duplicated, but you can go back two or three years when tailback was a rotating deal at Ohio State. One guy would get through a game, then the next guy it was his turn to do it the next time. So, you need some people to share the hits, you need some people to share the carries and you cross your fingers that your ‘A' players are playing in the ‘A' games."
Tressel also discussed the recruitment of fullback Aram Olson from Columbia, South Carolina. It was an interesting situation as the Buckeyes initially recruited Olson, and then backed off and told him they did not have room for a fullback in the class. But a few weeks later, they changed their mind (or maybe Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner changed it for them) and offered Olson a scholarship.
"It's a function of, you can't always take everybody that you want or need," Tressel said. "And when we started out we thought we would need 18 spaces. Then all of a sudden you see the potential of having more scholarships and you expand your scope. As soon as we thought about expanding our scope, fullback was a critical need. We didn't have a fullback in the class before, and next year we will have a senior (Stan White) and a junior (Dionte Johnson) and a freshman on scholarship at fullback.
"There was a time when we thought we might not need one, but as soon as there was a possibility… (Olson) was the only fullback we ever offered a scholarship to. So, we were very fortunate to have a quality guy like that. And really, the other schools were on the same timetable. They offered him around the same time we did.
Head coach Jim Tressel on the inexact science of recruiting -- "We know that we've made mistakes. There's a guy that we thought was going to be outstanding, or maybe there was a guy that we thought, ‘He's going to be OK,' and he became outstanding.
"I remember one of our former guys on our staff, when we made a decision to say, ‘Hey, we're offering AJ Hawk a scholarship,' he said, ‘Oh man, that would be like a I-AA fullback coming here.' And that I-AA fullback is going to be able to buy a little bit in a few days. But you don't know. And every one of us has made erroneous statements about how good someone can be."
Tressel on which incoming freshmen could make an impact in 2006 -- "Who will do it? I have no idea. I don't know if any of us in the room a year ago said Malcolm Jenkins was going to start five games at corner. But he did, because of the type of person he was."