COLUMBUS, Ohio — The commitment of Jaelen Gill to Ohio State was huge for the Buckeyes, but it was equally impactful for recruiting rivals.
Teams trying to sway elite Columbus talent away from the inevitable were once again left empty-handed. Gill in particular, though, surely left them with one big question: If not now, when?
It will always be an uphill battle to sway Columbus natives from Ohio State, and most such recruitments are sure things. Players such as linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry were never going to go anywhere but Ohio State once they got offered. That goes double or 2017 linebacker signee Brendon White, whose father, William, played for the Buckeyes.
In Gill, though, other teams had hope. The Westerville South star is a national talent, and his actions suggested a national recruitment. Over the course of his recruitment, he took visits to Kentucky, Pitt, Penn State, Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Michigan, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame. He’s not yet finished his junior year in high school, so all of those trips were of the unofficial variety on his own dime.
He’d just returned from the California trip to see USC and UCLA when he competed at a camp put on by former commit Danny Clark’s father in April 2016. While watching his son from the sidelines, Gill’s father, Rod, said schools were so insecure about Gill’s proximity to Ohio State that they needed him to visit in order to issue a scholarship offer.
“A lot of the SEC schools will talk to us, but they won’t offer him because they think he’s an Ohio State lock,” Rod said. “They talked to us before he got the Ohio State offer, but as soon as he got the Ohio State offer they backed off.”
So they went. They traveled throughout the Big Ten, flew to the West Coast and dipped into SEC country. Gill visited Tennessee and Virginia Tech multiple times. The trip to Los Angeles is something Ohio prospects rarely do — especially as an unofficial — but Gill felt it was necessary.
“Why not go out to California? Why not go down south? You don’t know what’s out there until you go out there,” Gill said last year. “I was impressed with UCLA and USC. It definitely opened my eyes. I didn’t know how good of schools they were until I went out there. You kind of need to do stuff like that.
“When they first start talking to me, they asked me if they’re wasting their time by recruiting me. I tell them, ‘No, not at all.’ I’m open to anywhere.”
He offered the best chance these schools have ever seen to pluck an elite talent from Columbus. For a second, it looked like one had succeeded. At his commitment ceremony Gill initially said he was committing to UCLA. But it was a ruse. He ripped off the blue shirt to reveal a black Ohio State one.
A couple of decades ago, before Ohio State strengthened its in-state grip, things may have been different. Take, for instance, Ki-Jana Carter. The future No. 1 NFL draft pick also attended Westerville South. Instead of choosing Ohio State, though, the high school All-American went to Penn State.
Those days are over, at least as long as Urban Meyer is at the helm in Columbus. Gill said the staff prioritizes central Ohio kids above all else even though they are often the surest bets to commit. Gill was the most open to leaving, and Ohio State still locked him up nearly a year before signing day.
Schools out west and down south took their best shot at their best chance and still came up empty.
“I would say 95 or maybe 100 percent, if you’re from central Ohio and you have an Ohio State offer, you’re most likely going to go to Ohio State,” Gill said.
For proof, look no further than his recruitment.