Is the fence around Ohio keeping players out?


For the dozens and dozens of you who read my columns regularly, you already know that I am in the minority opinion in that I really like this most recent recruiting class. We didn't need "numbers" and we didn't get them. We needed help at individual positions and we got the help. We needed kids with character who would "buy in" to the program. And we got them.

One thing stood out, however, as I ruminated on the composition of the most recent recruiting class: the continuing absence of out-of-state kids as a proportion of the total. One could argue the reciprocal; that is, we are doing a better job of keeping Ohio recruits in the state. And that is the famous Tressel Fence scenario. There is no question that the Fence argument is a valid one.

Last year, no one other than Ashton Watson sneaked over that fence. We weren't that high on DeShawn Wynn and pretty much left the gate open for him. You could argue that Brian Andrews was a fence sitter, but I will tell you there were other reasons that he isn't a Buckeye (see "Derek Morris" and link to "parents"…). With the exception of DeShawn last year, how many of the Top Ten Ohio kids did we get? All of them.

And this year, we got six out of ten. That's not so bad for a class of only 15 recruits. In celebrated style, Burgess and Crable defected to the enemy. Brady Quinn was a late bloomer who always wanted to go to Notre dame. And Ernie Wheelwright was simply too much of an academic risk for the Buckeyes. Was I a trifle disappointed? Sure. Can I live with the results? Absolutely.

But let's track back to my earlier thesis. How many out-of-state kids came aboard? Just three: Youboty and Schlegel from Texas (one by way of the Air Force…) and Guilford from New Jersey. And all of the whiffs on signing day (with the exception of Crable) were all on out-of-staters: McClover, McBride, Bush, Stearns, Sears and Lee.

To press a point (one that I hope to eventually stumble upon), let's take a look at the composition of last year's national championship team and the geography involved. Here goes:

Starters From Ohio

Maurice Clarett
Branden Joe
Alex Stepanovich
Ivan Douglas
Adrien Clarke
Ben Hartsock
Kenny Peterson
Tim Anderson
Matt Wilhelm
Cie Grant
Dustin Fox
Mike Doss
Donnie Nickey
Andy Groom
Mike Nugent 

Starters From Out-of-State

[Lydell Ross]
Craig Krenzel
Michael Jenkins
Chris Gamble
[Chris Vance]
Bryce Bishop
Shane Olivea
Will Smith
Darrion Scott
Robert Reynolds
[Richard McNutt]

To make an objective analysis out of the exercise, that's 26 positions that have seen starter service this past year. Fifteen (or 58%) are from Ohio and eleven (or 42%) are from out-of state. Not that bad of a balance. 

Now, for grins and giggles, here is the Mr. Bucknuts Projected Chart of starters in 2004, to contrast a similar analysis:

Starters From Ohio

Maurice Clarett
Brandon Joe
Justin Zwick (or Troy Smith)
Roy Hall (or John Hollins)
Louis Irizarry
Doug Datish
Adam Olds
Nick Mangold
Rob Sims
Jay Richardson
Mike Kudla (or Mike D'Andrea)
Quinn Pitcock
David Patterson (or Joel Penton)
AJ Hawk
Bobby Carpenter
Dustin Fox
Curt Lukens
EJ Underwood
Donte Whitner
Mike Nugent

Starters From Out-of-State

[Lydell Ross]
Chris Gamble (or Santonio Holmes)
RJ Coleman
Anthony Schlegel
[Nate Salley] (or Ira Guilford

So, plus or minus a punter, you get the idea. Out of 25 positions, twenty (or 80%) are from Ohio and only five (20%, natch…) are from out-of-state.

Now, before the e-mails start piling in, I am not suggesting that this is necessarily a trend or that this possible trend even has some irremediable impact. If the pattern continues, of course, then we have the very definition of a trend. But if we can win national championships with mostly in-state kids - then who the hell cares?

But while we are in mid-speculation about the out-of state kids, let's look more specifically at the etiology of offensive linemen recruiting at Ohio State. Why? Because this position represents, in a microcosm, the "trend" we are discussing.

OL recruiting took a big hit four years ago when Ohio had the best crop of OL guys that had been produced in a long time. Antonio Hall, Anthony Munoz and Andy Christopfel were Big Time guys and all of us smug prognosticators assumed we would land two of the three. At least. Well, we got none. Anthony followed his sister to Tennessee (she, of course, transferred to OSU just to make the pain a bit more ironic…), Hall stunned the world by pursuing music (and maybe some other things…) at Kentucky and Christophel migrated to Michigan. That triad of tragedy had long-term negative ramifications for the Buckeyes as both quality and quantity issues arose at the OL position.

This past year, we had so little depth that two walk-ons were in the two-deep. We recruited out-of-state kids hard to fill in this 2003 class but lost every one of them to schools that already had lots of O-line depth. Go figure. Hey – James Lee goes to Georgia where they already had 6 O-line commitments. And Joel Holler, Aaron Sears, Sam Baker, Cyrim Wimbs/Andrew Bain, Kyle Thornton, Jerry Sevin and Dan Mazan all went elsewhere, as well. Not to mention Kenyon Buford, which I won't…

We have an excellent opportunity to turn around the offensive linemen trend but it won't turn around the out-of-state trend because – for the first time in three years – we've got some great talent right here in the Buckeye state. The coaches are especially high on Brandon Braxton, Ben Person and Chase Clowser. There are 3-4 others who can prove themselves, either at the OSU camp or during their senior seasons, including Steve Rehring, Brandon Armstrong, and Ryan Stanchek. You've got to believe, though, that Tressel and Co. would like the Big Three and then fill in with two nationally dominant names. Man, that would reverse some trends!

Even though it's not in my nature to be optimistic, I feel real good about this next class and about the work that is being put in to get more back on the national scene. Hey – this year was the first in memory that we haven't had a recruit from Florida. And none from California, either. And 0-for-Pennsylvania, as well. Those are three of the top five states in the nation for recruiting and the oh-fer stands out in contrast to previous years.

Let's take the most exhaustive peek possible at the early chart of out-of-state recruits. This is a Mr. Bucknuts specialty, don't forget, to be presumptuously early!

                                                OUT-OF-STATE RECRUITS


Charlie Jones RB
Xavier Carter WR
Jim Tartt OL
Calvin Darity OL
Pat Sims DL
Brandon Siler LB
Kyle Jackson DB


Anthony Morelli QB
Greg Harrison OL
AQ Shipley DL
Dave Weber OL


Bobby Tatum CB
Adrian Peterson RB
Chris Ogbayanna WR


Jackie Bates RB
Willie Glasper DB
Cameron Colvin WR


Roger Allison LB
Jalen Parmele RB


Brian Brohm QB (KY)
Thomas Brown RB (GA)
Mark Bonds RB (IN)
Adrian Arrington WR (IA)
Eric Andino RB/LB (IL)
Greg Coleman RB (IA)
Tony Temple RB (MO)
Brandon Barrett WR (WV)
Sam Carson LB (IL)

So, ahem, how shall we leave this position? Slowly, I suggest, by unwinding from previously held misconceptions. If Ohio State takes 24 kids in this next recruiting class and less than eight are from out-of-state, then this is an issue we will re-visit. Because then it is a trend. If we get less than two of the Big Three in-state offensive linemen, then we have another problem. And if we can't land an out-of-state OL guy for the first time in three years (we did get Derek Morris, but just as a tease…), then that's a third problem.

Give the coaches the benefit of the doubt, however. I feel that these trends – just like the absence of a national championship – will be short-lived!

  And the gate will swing again on the fence that has been built around Ohio…

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