Can Jim Tressel recruit at this level? That's the question all well-meaning critics pondered when it was announced that a Division I-AA coach was hired back in January 2001 to become the new head coach of the Ohio State football Buckeyes. And the answer, less than two years later? No, Coach Tressel can't recruit at this level. No, he's taken it to a whole new level.
Woody said, "You win with people" and for OSU recruiting, that starts with super long-time recruiting coordinator Bill Conley. But Coach Tressel wanted something more than the traditional All-Star recruiting class. He wanted kids who would buy into his system. He wanted kids with class. He wanted kids who wanted to become Buckeyes!
And he started fast. Tressel had about three weeks from his hire date before that first recruiting class closed. Who were his first two commitments? How about Chris Gamble and Mike Nugent. Gamble – now a sophomore – has become the best "two-way" player in college football since Jim Thorpe enrolled at Carlisle. And Nugent? Just announced as a first team All-American in his second year in college. Pretty good gets…
But these are also pretty good kids. Gamble's mom has told him he's staying four years and graduating from Ohio State. That's some good news, and Nugent wanted to be a Buck since he was a young option quarterback at Centerville High School. Mike was on his way to Pitt for a recruiting trip when Tressel called him in the car and offered an OSU scholarship. Mike went through with his committed trip then committed to the Buckeyes. And a good athletic family? His younger brother was Ohio's player of the year the next year after Mike graduated: in soccer. He's at OSU now, too.
The kids that Coach Tressel started bring in might have bought in at some point, but the critics were still skeptical. How would Tressel do in his first full year of recruiting nationwide? Well, he delivered the #2 rated class in the nation. (I actually rated it #1 over Texas because OSU recruited a full offense and defense; Texas had eight defensive linemen). And of the 25 players that OSU brought into our Class of 2002, 24 qualified and the 25th (Derek Morris) actually qualified but the coaching staff determined, ultimately, that he just didn't fit in…
Standouts from that particular class include Maurice Clarett and three linebackers who are already in the two-deep on a national championship-caliber team. Ten true freshmen played this season. But the true test of this class might lie in the 14 players who were red shirted this year. You are going to hear a whole lot from guys like Justin Zwick, Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, Roy Hall, Joel Penton, Quinn Pitcock, Stan White, RJ Coleman and their classmates.
So, how are we doing, now, for the Class of 2003? Just fine, thank you.
The first commitment was from Tony Gonzalez, the speedy receiver and DB out of St. Ignatius. Tony won at least three games for his school with heroics on both offense and defense. When we interviewed Gonzalez, he said that there is still a lot of pressure in Cleveland to go to Michigan, but he always wanted to be a Buckeye. And then there's North Canton Hoover's Curt Lukens, a tough big-time athlete who will play safety at the next level. As soon as he was offered, he accepted. He wanted to be part of this special program.
Todd Boeckman came aboard next, a coach's son, who started four years at quarterback for the storied St. Henry team. It was implied that Todd wasn't the staff's first choice for a QB recruit, but he bid his time and bit his tongue. When OSU finally called, Todd answered quickly. Then Devin Jordan, a fast possession receiver from Massillon committed to OSU. Devin was Justin Zwick's prime target last season (100 catches!) and he wanted to rejoin his teammate. Another early commitment, of course, was Louis Irizarry from Youngstown Ursuline, a tight end that recruiting guru Duane Long called "the best TE I've ever seen".
That's just your first five. We caught up with the latest two recruits who committed only last week to the Buckeyes. On Tuesday, it was David Patterson, a national Top 100 defensive end. He spurned the Miami Hurricanes and a litany of other programs for OSU. Duane Long calls David a "student of the game" who will outwork and outplay the opposition. How good is he? Duane, again: "A larger Warren Sapp". Then on Wednesday, Kirk Barton from Massillon Perry took his turn. As an athlete? Well, he's 270+ and runs a 4.8 40. He told me he has the same vertical leap as his friend Curt Lukens. And how bad did he want to become a Buckeye? Kirk told us that he plays the Ohio State