It’s time to turn the page on the 2016 Ohio State football season.
After a disappointing finish to what was an overall successful season, the last week has been a whirlwind of emotions for Buckeyes fans. Three separate defensive superstars – safety Malik Hooker, cornerback Gareon Conley and linebacker Raekwon McMillan – declared their intention to enter the NFL draft, forgoing their remaining college eligibility.
J.T. Barrett, perhaps the best quarterback in Ohio State history, announced he will return to Columbus for his fifth year of eligibility, and in a surprising move, so did the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, Tyquan Lewis. While Buckeyes fans are still awaiting official word on Curtis Samuel and Marshon Lattimore, it’s clear that the new normal when it comes to roster turnover includes a steady stream of hello and goodbye in January, not the spring like it used to be.
With that in mind, as a host of Buckeyes are packing their bags to depart Ohio State and prepare for the NFL, another group will be moving on to campus. These early enrollees from the class of 2017 – we’re expecting nine of them – will arrive in Columbus on Sunday and Monday and begin their Ohio State careers.
2016 early enrollees made an impact for Ohio State
Last January, seven recruits from the class of 2016 got a head start on their collegiate careers and a number of them saw minutes with the Buckeyes in 2016.
- Michael Jordan, offensive line: The freshman from Canton (Mich.) started every game for the Buckeyes in 2016.
- Jonathon Cooper, defensive end: One of two 5-star defensive ends in the 2016 class, Cooper played in six games and finished with six tackles and one sack.
- Austin Mack, wide receiver: The first player in the Urban Meyer era to lose his “black stripe” before the end of spring football, Mack played 11 games and helped on special teams throughout the year.
- Antonio Williams, running back: A former Wisconsin commitment, Williams played in one game for the Buckeyes and carried the football six times for 28 yards.
Three other early enrollees redshirted in 2016.
- Tyler Gerald, offensive line: Gerald entered Ohio State recovering from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of his final high school season and is set to compete for playing time in 2017.
- Malik Barrow, defensive tackle: A 4-star prospect from IMG Academy in Florida, Barrow used most of the season to recover from a torn ACL suffered in his senior season.
- Tuf Borland, linebacker: Borland took a redshirt year in 2016 but traveled with the Buckeyes to every road game. Expect him to compete for regular playing time in 2017.
Breaking down the early enrollees in 2017
As noted, nine of Ohio State’s 2017 commitments – 50 percent of its class – will arrive on campus Sunday or Monday. We’ll start with the quarterback, the straw that stirs the drink in any recruiting class.
Tate Martell, quarterback: Martell is the country’s second-ranked dual-threat quarterback. A two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Nevada, the three-time national champion is undefeated (45-0) in his high school career. The 2016 Gatorade National Player of the Year, MaxPreps Player of the Year and USA Today Player of the Year was also a finalist for the U.S. Army National Player of the Year. He’s a former Texas A&M commitment from Las Vegas powerhouse high school Bishop Gorman. At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Martell is a solid – but short – athlete who can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. Martell was recruited by Tim Beck and Zach Smith.
J.K. Dobbins, running back: The sixth-ranked player in the state of Texas, Dobbins committed to Ohio State in March 2016 without ever stepping foot on campus. Had he not been injured on the first play of his senior season, the country’s second-ranked all-purpose running back was on his way to breaking every Austin-area rushing record. A 5-foot-10, 200-pound athlete, Dobbins is a complete back who is just as effective catching the ball out of the backfield as he is taking a handoff. Running backs coach Tony Alford has been his primary recruiter for the Buckeyes.
Josh Myers, offensive line: A 5-star prospect from Miamisburg, Ohio, Myers committed to Ohio State in January 2015 and has never looked back. He’s a physical freak at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds and one of the country’s premier athletes along the offensive line. Myers’ future is almost assuredly – at least when he begins his career – as a guard for the Buckeyes. He excels as a run blocker and will need to round out his game as a pass protector before he can be considered a candidate for early playing time at Ohio State. He was initially recruited by Ed Warinner and Tim Hinton, but in the last year offensive line coach Greg Studrawa has taken over the responsibilities.
Baron Browning, linebacker: If you were to build a linebacker in a lab, he’d likely come out looking like Baron Browning. The country’s second-ranked outside linebacker, Browning is a 5-star prospect from Kennedale, Texas, who committed to the Buckeyes over Alabama on Dec. 1. He made his official visit to Ohio State in late November and was a primary target of the Buckeyes for months. His older brother, Barry, played for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. Browning is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker capable of playing all three linebacker spots and is a candidate to replace Raekwon McMillan in the starting lineup for Ohio State next fall. He looks like a defensive end and runs like a safety, and that’s a pretty desirable combination. Luke Fickell was his primary recruiter for the Buckeyes, though Tim Beck – who was responsible for recruiting Texas – also played a major role.
Brendon White, linebacker: An Ohio State legacy – Brendon’s father William was a Buckeyes defensive back in the 1980s – White even got a head start on early enrolling. Because he did not participate in any of the postseason all-star games, White was allowed to begin practicing with Ohio State in mid-December. A 4-star athlete from Powell (Ohio) Olentangy Liberty High School, White played quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back and punter in high school but will begin his college career as a linebacker. He was one of 15 Ohio State commitments to take part in Nike’s The Opening last summer. A 6-foot-2, 200-pound prospect, White was primarily recruited by former linebackers coach Luke Fickell.
Jeffrey Okudah, defensive back: The most recent Ohio State commitment, Okudah is the country’s top-ranked cornerback and the third Buckeyes early enrollee from Texas. A longtime lean for the Buckeyes, Okudah is an electric athlete capable of being a star at safety or cornerback. He is expected to take his first crack at playing time in Columbus as a cornerback. Okudah is a contender for early playing with the Buckeyes if he’s able to make the transition from the high school level to the college level like talent evaluators think he can. Originally, Okudah was recruited by former Buckeyes defensive assistant Chris Ash and Tim Beck, but in recent months it’s been primarily Kerry Coombs who has been involved in this decision.
Shaun Wade, defensive back: The longest-tenured commitment in Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class, Shaun Wade’s recruitment was a 2-year-long roller coaster. In December, after months of speculation that he’d flip to Alabama, the 5-star prospect from Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy announced via Twitter he was sticking with the Buckeyes. During the U.S. Army All-American Bowl game week in San Antonio, Wade told Land of 10 that Virginia Tech was actually his second-place school. A long, rangy cornerback, Wade stands 6-foot-2 and is the prototypical defensive back for the aggressive defensive system Urban Meyer, Greg Schiano and Kerry Coombs would like to run. Tim Hinton, Tim Beck and Kerry Coombs all played a part in securing, and keeping, his commitment.
Marcus Williamson, defensive back: One of the least-discussed players in Ohio State’s class, Marcus Williamson is the 14th-ranked cornerback in the nation and an Ohio native who spent his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Williamson is a 4-star prospect who started his prep career at Westerville South High School, playing wide receiver and defensive back for the Wildcats. A 5-foot-9, 180-pound cornerback, Williamson excels as a return specialist as well as defensive back and is the fourth-ranked prospect in Ohio. He was originally recruited by Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs.
Isaiah Pryor, defensive back: A surprise commitment from Georgia when he pledged to the Buckeyes, Isaiah Pryor is the country’s fifth-ranked safety prospect who played the last two seasons at IMG Academy. Pryor is college ready from a physical standpoint, standing a very solid 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. Pryor lists 43 scholarship offers to his name and chose Ohio State over Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia and others. He was recruited by Chris Ash and Kerry Coombs.