Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2017 signees. Land of 10 Ohio State writers Ben Axelrod and Ryan Ginn are visiting the Ohio State incoming freshman class to show you more than 40-yard dash times and recruiting rankings. Each week, Land of 10 will introduce the Ohio State fan base to one of the new Buckeyes. What follows is a sneak peek at our upcoming profile on 3-star wide receiver Ellijah Gardiner.
KEMP, Texas — It’s easy to miss Kemp if you’re not looking for it.
About 45 minutes southeast of Dallas, the town with a population of just over 1,000 has gone overlooked by college coaches for a while. Sitting between the football hotbeds of Dallas/Fort Worth and East Texas, Kemp isn’t an efficient trip for assistant coaches looking to make as many recruiting stops as possible in a day.
Kemp High School hadn’t produced a Division I signee in more than two decades. In 1994, the ultra-talented running back Cedric Hodge — a name locals still remember — signed with Texas A&M but never made it to College Station. Academics forced him to Trinity Valley Community College, and he never played Division I football.
For the next 23 years, the Yellowjackets didn’t send a player to college football’s highest level. A thin talent pool was the primary culprit, but geography probably played a part as well. Look no further than the man who finally broke the drought and how close he came to also being overlooked.
When 3-star wide receiver Ellijah Gardiner signed with Ohio State on National Signing Day, it was a remarkable achievement given that he didn’t have a scholarship offer until halfway through his senior season. Missouri discovered him — coaches loved his 6-foot-5 frame and sprinter’s speed — and Gardiner committed to the Tigers.
“I was starting to get excited about Division II, and then Missouri came in and that changed everything,” Gardiner said.
However, that interest attracted other schools. After the season, offers came from Texas and Ohio State. The Buckeyes were hoping to add one more offensive piece to a class that included two other wide receivers.
With the end of the recruiting cycle rapidly approaching, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson went to Kemp to meet with Gardiner. At a school of that size, the presence of Meyer got people talking.
— Ellijah (@ellijahgardiner) January 25, 2017
“It was a really big deal,” Gardiner said. “He was really straightforward and didn’t blow smoke. It was a really good talk.”
Less than a week later, Gardiner committed to Ohio State. Kemp High School had its first Division I signee since 1994, and it came in the class with the highest composite per-player average in the internet era.