WESTERVILLE, Ohio — For 15 seconds that felt more like 15 minutes, the auditorium at Westerville (Ohio) South High School fell silent. Jaelen Gill, 247Sports’ No. 32 prospect in the 2018 class and arguably the school’s best player since former No. 1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter, had just announced where he’d be spending his college career.
And he was heading more than 2,200 miles west.
Or so it seemed.
Moments after indicating he had committed to UCLA, Gill’s commitment video featured a second act as the nation’s third-ranked all-purpose back removed his blue and gold Bruins shirt to reveal a black Buckeyes tee.
The once-stunned auditorium erupted as hundreds of Gill’s classmates cheered. The 4-star prospect will be going to school 15 miles away at hometown Ohio State.
“UCLA, I would say was my second decision if I were to not go to Ohio State,” Gill said after. “I just wanted to freak some people out.”
That he did. And even though a celebratory atmosphere ensued, the lasting memory from Gill’s announcement remains those 15 seconds where it appeared he would be taking his talents to Westwood — and what it would have meant for the Buckeyes had the initial reveal not been a ruse.
Urban Meyer has missed on top-40 kids at Ohio State before, but never one from his own backyard. To have lost Gill two months after the Buckeyes’ 31-0 defeat vs. Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl would have raised red flags and prompted potential questions of what’s wrong inside the OSU program.
More importantly, however, it would have deprived the Buckeyes of arguably the most important prospect in their 2018 class.
The reality is that Gill, the second-ranked prospect in the state of Ohio, was never heading west. He even told his grandfather nearly a year ago that he planned on playing for his favorite school. His grandfather passed away last April.
But now that Gill is officially on board, he becomes the Buckeyes’ best recruiter in a particularly deep 2018 class in the state of Ohio. Ohio State’s 2018 class now features four commitments. Gill is the first from the Buckeye State.
“Since I love so close, about 20 minutes from campus, my house is always welcome to anyone if they’re visiting,” Gill said. “It’s just a family at Ohio State and they stress that.”
While he may have officially committed on Wednesday, Gill said he’s already been recruiting on behalf of the Buckeyes for the better part of the last week. In particular, he has targeted Fairfield (Ohio) 5-star OT Jackson Carman, the nation’s No. 8 overall player.
“He’s one of the priorities, hands down,” Gill said of Carman. “He’s the No. 1 tackle in the country. We’re excited and trying to get him obviously and I think we have a great chance to get Jackson. I speak with him about three-four times a week at the least.”
Gill has high hopes for his class, which will follow a 2017 Ohio State haul that featured the highest player rating average in 247Sports history. Along with Gill, the Buckeyes have already received 2018 pledges from 5-star QB Emory Jones, 4-star S Jaiden Woodbey and 4-star RB Brian Snead.
It’s only March, but given his proximity to campus, Gill is the least likely of the quartet to look elsewhere through the course of his remaining recruitment. Factor in that he also happens to be a pretty darn good football player, and the 6-foot-1, 182-pound H-back becomes one of the most important pieces of an Ohio State recruiting class that already possesses plenty of expectations.
“I’m excited,” Gill said. “The 2018 recruiting class, if it’s not as good as the 2017 (class), I think it might be better.”
For 15 seconds on Tuesday, that hardly seemed possible.
But as he so often does, Meyer got his guy. And in the process, the Buckeyes’ 2018 class got its signature prospect.