Ryan Donnelly/Land of 10
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson speaks with the media at a Buckeyes spring practice.

Relationships, record make Larry Johnson an elite recruiter at Ohio State

During the week, Land of 10 reporters following the Buckeyes address pressing questions on the minds of the Ohio State fan base with our daily feature. To ask Ryan Donnelly a question on the Buckeyes recruiting, follow along on Twitter and suggest a topic right here. Check back Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as we dive into the Ohio State Recruiting Question of the Day. Go here to see all of our previous answers.

This is a strong question to end the week, and thanks for contributing!

Jerm is clearly well-read in recruiting and knows his stuff. In case you haven’t followed the day-by-day blows of recruiting, the reason he added the “not in the state of Ohio” qualifier is that Ohio State’s top two defensive end targets — 5-star Olentangy Orange product Zach Harrison and 4-star Mentor standout Noah Potter — hail from the Buckeyes’ home state.

Beyond those two, Ohio State has been involved with a number of out-of-state defensive end targets. It’s a little difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, at this early juncture, but I think three names have managed to break from the pack.

The Buckeyes are going star-hunting for 5-star defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit who plays at IMG Academy in Florida. Smith originally hails from the Savannah, Ga., area and is one of the most coveted recruits in the country. In the 247Sports composite rankings, he’s the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2019 class.

Despite being committed to Georgia for well over a year — he pledged in January 2017 — Smith continues to flirt with other programs, including Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson. Bulldogs fans will be on the edge of their seats until Smith enrolls in classes, as he’ll continue to take visits elsewhere. He even faked a de-commitment on April Fools’ Day and let the joke ride for a couple of hours.

The other two primary out-of-state targets for the Buckeyes in 2019 are Nashville, Tenn., product Ani Izuchukwu and Wichita, Kan., native Marcus Hicks.

Izuchukwu has a top 3 of Ohio State, Alabama and Mississippi State. The third spot has seen several programs rotate in and out, but I’d be surprised if the 6-foot-4, 230-pound rising senior ended up anywhere besides Columbus or Tuscaloosa. Izuchukwu last visited Ohio State in October, but is expected back on campus this spring.

Hicks has a larger top group of 12 schools, which includes the Buckeyes, but they’re very much a contender for the 4-star defensive end from Kansas. He’s made recent visits to Nebraska (March 31), Ohio State (March 22), Michigan (March 21), Notre Dame (March), and Texas (February 3), all finalists for Hicks. I think Oklahoma is in the driver’s seat for Hicks, but I’d say the Buckeyes are right there contending for No. 2. There’s a long way to go in this recruitment and Ohio State is a serious contender.

Now, to move on to your Larry Johnson question: What makes LJ a top-notch recruiter?

In my opinion, based on conversations with recruits, their parents, high school coaches and Johnson’s peers at the college level, it’s all about relationships for the Buckeyes defensive line coach.

That can become a cliche in the recruiting game, because relationships are ultimately critical in nearly every recruitment. However, I do genuinely feel that Johnson is just better at connecting on a personal and human level with the recruits and families he spends time around than most people. You can argue about what the reason for that may be — most parents describe a nurturing father figure they’re comfortable entrusting their kids to — but parents and kids just trust Johnson.

When you can back up your charisma and trustworthiness with a long track record of college success and NFL production — more than a dozen of Johnson’s former pupils at Ohio State and Penn State were selected in the NFL draft — recruits will flock to you. Amazingly, seven of Johnson’s former defensive linemen have been selected in the first round. That number looks to grow with Nick Bosa, Dre’Mont Jones, Chase Young and others flourishing under Johnson’s tutelage.

Johnson has guided two sons and countless players to college and professional success, either in football or other ventures. He remains an active participant in the lives of many former pupils. His relationships with high school recruits and those close to them are second to none. The school where he coaches has a rich tradition of success and the ability to contend for national championships annually. All these factors, combined with Johnson’s own charisma, have made him one of the game’s very best recruiters.

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