Ohio State and Penn State have separated themselves from the rest of the Big Ten in recruiting, and the two rivals now are going head-to-head with one of the top recruits remaining in the 2018 class: 4-star OT Rasheed Walker.
Walker, the No. 65 recruit in the class per the 247Sports composite, lists Ohio State and Penn State as two of his finalists. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive tackle from Waldorf, Md., has visited both schools and will decide soon as the Feb. 7 National Signing Day approaches.
Here’s the latest on Walker, courtesy of Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue and Ohio State recruiting analyst Ryan Donnelly:
What’s the latest you’re hearing on Rasheed Walker, from the perspective of the school you cover?
Tyler Donohue, Land of 10 Penn State: Walker and the Penn State staff have eliminated any unknowns in their relationship at this point. The addition of Tyler Bowen, who previously pursued Walker on behalf of Maryland, provides another edge. Several trips to campus, including the Lasch Bash BBQ last July and an official visit in December, surrounded him with potential future teammates. He was joined by 15 future Nittany Lions signees during the official visit, so camaraderie with this group is strong. Penn State prospects such as defensive tackle PJ Mustipher and running back Ricky Slade continue to lead the charge with peer recruiting, and Slade may soon make the one-hour drive from his home in Virginia to spend time with Walker in person. The Penn State staff delivered again with a successful in-home visit days before his final trip to Columbus.
Ryan Donnelly, Land of 10 Ohio State: It seems as though Ohio State closed a significant amount of ground on Penn State during Walker’s Jan. 19 official visit to Columbus. There’s no doubt that the Buckeyes have been playing catch-up on Penn State for the last several months, but they’ve worked to consistently chip away at that lead and turn this into a two-school duel.
During Walker’s official visit, the coaching staff used the weekend as a showcase for the off-field benefits of playing at Ohio State. Walker spent time with rising senior offensive tackle Isaiah Prince (also a Maryland native) and recently graduated and NFL-bound offensive linemen Billy Price and Jamarco Jones. The three linemen all discussed their experience with internships and the “Real Life Wednesday” program that Ohio State has set up for them, as well as familiarizing Walker with the people, players and coaches that are around the program.
Ohio State’s biggest disadvantage to Penn State in this recruitment appeared to be Walker’s level of comfort and familiarity with Penn State’s program and the time he’s spent in State College. Ohio State tried to overcome that gap in relationships with this official visit.
What are Rasheed Walker’s chances for early playing time? How would he fit into the depth chart?
Donnelly: Walker wouldn’t be expected to compete for playing time as a freshman (few offensive linemen can), but would have a significant opportunity to play and start in Year 2 and beyond. Ohio State has graduated its starting left tackle (Jones) and Prince is expected to flip from the right side to take over his role. Beyond Prince, however, Ohio State has few (read: none) proven long-term options at offensive tackle. Freshman Thayer Munford flashed promise in limited reps during his first year on campus and redshirt sophomore Joshua Alabi has seen mop-up duty, as well. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Bowen started at right guard last season before breaking his leg, but many have pointed toward the 6-foot-8 standout as a player who could kick out to tackle. With the relative dearth of offensive tackles on the roster and zero players currently committed at the position beyond Prince, Walker would be expected to compete for a spot on the 2-deep immediately and could be a starter the year after that. That’s the exact scenario that occurred for Prince — now a three-year starter — and the Buckeyes coaching staff pointed toward that possibility for Walker’s career during his visit.
Donohue: Redshirt freshman Will Fries and sophomore Ryan Bates look like long-term solutions at tackle for the Nittany Lions. Bates’ midseason absence because of injury made a noticeable impact on the offensive front, while Fries emerged as a potential force at left tackle. Beyond them, however, it’s fair to say reinforcements would be a boost. Considering Walker’s athleticism and aggression, he would give Penn State coaches plenty to consider with a strong first camp. Penn State signed fellow blue-chip tackle Nana Asiedu in December, and Bryce Effner is an underrated newcomer who could contend at the position. The best-case scenario for Walker in 2018 would probably be entering the conversation as Penn State’s first tackle off the bench, but much of that outcome will depend on the development of returning veterans.
Are there any unique connections between your school and Walker?
Donohue: There is nothing that particularly stands out in terms of concrete “connections” with the school but Walker has a good relationship with a few of the Maryland and Virginia products who’ve signed with and/or currently play at Penn State. The Nittany Lions annually prioritize the DMV region, and Walker is the latest target in those cross-hairs.
Donnelly: There aren’t any particularly unique connections. As noted, Ohio State has tried to emphasize the timeline that Prince’s career followed and has pointed to him as a model player for Walker. Both are Maryland natives, both are players for whom Ohio State trailed the majority of their recruitments, and both have a level of athleticism and size that could see them in the NFL one day.
Let’s role play for a second. You’re Urban Meyer and James Franklin. Make your final pitch to Rasheed Walker, from their point of view
Donnelly (as Urban Meyer): At Ohio State, our coaching staff emphasizes the idea of theory versus testimony. Other schools will tell you about the chances they’ll give you to compete for a spot on the depth chart, the opportunities they may give you for life after football, how they’ll prepare you for the NFL, and the championships that you could compete for. We’ll show you our record and what we’ve done in each of these categories and hold them against anybody in the country.
You want to go to the NFL? We’ve had four offensive linemen taken in the last four NFL drafts. We have six former Buckeyes starting on offensive lines around the NFL.
You want to play for championships? We’re one of only three programs to win a national championship in the playoff era. We’ve been in the playoff discussion every single season it’s existed. We’re 11-1 against Penn State and Michigan since I arrived on campus and we’ll compete for conference and national championships every single year.
You want to compete for early playing time and get on the field? Talk to Isaiah Prince, who came to our team, waited one season, and will start the final three years of his career as an offensive tackle before he goes to the NFL. Talk to Thayer Munford, who just saw reps as an offensive tackle against Michigan as a true freshman. Talk to Billy Price, who started every game of his career for the Buckeyes.
You want to have a successful life after football? Talk with Jamarco Jones, Billy Price or Nick Bosa about the internships that our program established for them. Speak to any of our players about the Fortune 500 CEOs, captains of industry and successful leaders that come to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center every Wednesday to prepare them for the future and the business world.
We can put our record in any category against any program in college football. We want you to be a part of that. Come to Columbus, win national championships, build great relationships within the Buckeye brotherhood, and get a degree at a top-notch university before you move on to success at the next level, whether that’s in the NFL or in business.
Donohue (as James Franklin): As you can tell from our recent conversations, this recruitment goes beyond football. We’re looking to expand our family this year, and we’re down to our final spots to be able to do that. There’s a reason we’ve made you the priority to be one of those guys. We’re fans of what you do on the football field, and just as important we’re fans of what you do in the classroom and how you go about your business on a daily basis. We’re also fans of your family, and want them to become a part of our extended family. We’re just getting started at Penn State. Our goal is to compete for championships, that’s plural, consistently until some day far from now I’m ready to retire at Penn State. But don’t commit to me; commit to this university. It will provide every tool you need to be successful as football player and as a man long after your athletic days are done. I can’t stress enough how selective we are over the course of a recruiting cycle, and you’re someone we’ve identified as a must-get. We’re ready to invest in you, put our trust in you. I hope you’re ready to do the same!
Finally, give your prediction on where Rasheed Walker picks, as it stands now. How confident are you?
Donohue: Walker has been quite tight-lipped throughout this process, picking his spots for the occasional interview that doesn’t go too deep into which way he’s leaning and rarely sharing information on social media. That’s quite a contrast to what we see from many recruits of his caliber. The thinking here is that if Walker didn’t return from his official visit sold on Ohio State, then Penn State is in the driver’s seat down this final stretch. There was some sentiment this summer the Nittany Lions were actually going to land his commitment before the season. Obviously that didn’t happen, and the confidence level doesn’t feel nearly as high at this stage. But I’d still give Penn State a slight nod as signing day approaches.
Ryan Donnelly: Penn State has led for the majority of this recruitment and I think even the most optimistic of sources on the Ohio State side of things views this as a coin-flip at best. There’s been a growth in confidence to the point that the Buckeyes feel that they have a very real chance to win this recruitment, but I don’t believe anybody currently feels they’ve yet pulled ahead of the Nittany Lions. Could an in-home visit from Meyer, Larry Johnson, and Greg Studrawa change the tide of this recruitment late in the process? It seems entirely possible and I don’t think this recruitment is over, but it still feels like the Buckeyes are playing catch-up against Penn State here. If Walker were to commit at this moment, I’d be inclined to expect Penn State to be his choice.