Ohio State wants to focus on recruiting Ohio. That’s what Urban Meyer – and his right-hand man, Mark Pantoni – said last week.
“(There was) not enough Ohio,” Pantoni said. “That’s something we want our percentage to be much higher on. There’s too much talent in this state. But at the same time, we’re also searching for the best players in the country.
“We always have to keep reminding ourselves Ohio kids are our first priority. They will be.”
We choose to believe them.
So, because of that, we’re taking a little time to showcase the best defensive players in the Buckeyes home state for the 2018 class. Of course, Ohio State doesn’t need our reminder, but we never did know when to stay quiet. The 247Sports.com composite rankings are utilized for this exercise.
We’ll be watching these names in Ohio – and a few others will certainly pop up – as players that could potentially be Buckeyes come signing day 2018.
Dallas Gant • Linebacker • National Rank: 127 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 1
Ohio’s top defensive prospect in the 2018 class is Toledo St. John’s linebacker Dallas Gant. Gant is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker that is capable of playing inside or outside on the defense and has the sideline-to-sideline speed that linebackers all over the country covet.
Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Michigan are likely to end up in a battle for his signature, but as of today, it’s probably a fight the Buckeyes will win. There was a chance Gant would commit at the end of November, but after the departure of Luke Fickell, it appeared his timeline altered just a bit. I still expect a decision from Gant before the summer and expect him to land at Ohio State.
Leonard Taylor • Athlete • National Rank: 145 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 2
You can’t be entirely sure how to evaluate Leonard Taylor right now because he’s a player that is all over the field for Springfield High School. He’s a defensive lineman and a tight end and sometimes a quarterback, but it’s hard not to see all the potential he possesses as a trench player down the road. Taylor is the nephew of former Buckeyes captain Ormonde Ricketts, but that didn’t stop him from briefly committing to Michigan last April.
He has an Ohio State offer and de-committed from the Wolverines after a pair of visits to Columbus (and visits elsewhere), and the thought from many was that an Ohio State verbal would be forthcoming, but that didn’t happen. I believe Taylor will end up a Buckeye, but he could really bolster his stock with an impressive spring/summer camp season in front of the Ohio State coaches.
Tyreke Smith • Defensive End • National Rank: 172 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 3
If you see Tyreke Smith get off the bus, you’ll know that you’re looking at an athlete. He’s a 6-foot-3, 260-pound defensive end out of Cleveland Heights that is new to football (just two seasons) but already has more than 25 scholarship offers, including a recent one from the Buckeyes. He’s originally from California but has been in Ohio for a few years now and was very excited to get that Ohio State offer.
Smith missed a handful of games with a leg injury in 2016, but he’s looking ahead to a big senior year. He’s deciding between Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and a host of other schools, and there’s no timeline set for a choice. I think he’ll end a Buckeye.
Xavier Henderson • Athlete • National Rank: 212 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 4
The only committed player on this list is Xavier Henderson, a 4-star defensive back at Pickerington Central who verbally committed to Michigan State. Henderson was very close to a Buckeyes offer last summer and is a player that Ohio State has watched closely since. He’s a 6-foot, 190-pound athlete that is capable of playing both sides of the ball and could be – outside of Westerville South’s Jaelen Gill – Ohio’s most explosive athlete in the 2018 class.
Though he’s committed to the Spartans, an Ohio State offer could potentially throw a wrench into his recruitment. Will he get one? I say yes.
Christopher Oats • Linebacker • National Rank: 233 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 5
Like Gant, there was some scuttlebutt that Cincinnati Winton Woods linebacker Chris Oats was considering an Ohio State commitment in early December, but that didn’t occur. Was that his decision or was he asked to back off the idea of making a public declaration so early? That’s anyone’s guess. What’s not up for debate is that the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Oats is a special prospect that could play a number of different spots in college.
One of the questions I have is whether or not he gets “bigger” and potentially moves himself out of the linebacker position into more of a defensive end. That’s certainly possible, and I think it could be a reason why he’s only holding 10 offers currently.
Either way, one of those is from the Buckeyes, and I think that’s where he ends up if he’s given then chance.
Malik Vann • Defensive Line • National Rank: 259 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 6
With almost 20 offers to his name, Fairfield’s Malik Vann is one of Ohio’s most-offered prospects but does not have an Ohio State offer as of now. He’s a linebacker currently but is certainly a defensive lineman in college – he’s already up to 260 pounds – and Ohio State is one of many schools waiting to see how that transition will evolve over the next handful of months.
Kentucky, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Louisville are all very involved in Vann’s recruitment at this time. Will the Buckeyes step up?
Aeneas Hawkins • Defensive Line • National Rank: 329 • Ohio Defensive Rank: 7
Aeneas Hawkins is a 6-foot-3, 265-pound lineman out of Cincinnati Moeller High School and has an Ohio State offer despite being the lowest-ranked player on this list. He’s got NFL bloodlines (his father, Artrell, and uncle, Andrew, both have NFL experience) and is a raw prospect that excels with speed off the ball and very good hands for a high school lineman.
A decision date is set for May 10, and the Buckeyes appear in good position to land him.
There is no doubt that other names will arise throughout the next few months, and that the Buckeyes will continue to scour all corners of Ohio for top talent. Who will find their way into the Ohio State recruiting class before next February?