It’s easy to think that the lack of Ohio flavor in Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class shouldn’t bother Urban Meyer. After all, the Buckeyes signing-day haul finished second in the country, behind only Alabama, and well ahead of rivals like Michigan despite having nine fewer signees.
But Ohio State signed just 33 percent of its class from Ohio, the lowest number and percentage in Meyer’s tenure by far, 30 percent less than than the 10 Ohioans signed in 2016, the previous low. And it does bother Meyer.
“Do we like that? No, we don’t like that,” Meyer said on National Signing Day. “We had another spot saved if we wanted to go after an Ohio guy, and it just didn’t materialize. But I’m on purpose keeping those spots because there is going to be someone show up, and it happens Darron Lee is the easy one to recognize, but the Tyvis Powell, the Darron Lee — who did we sign this year? Jaylen Harris. He was a guy that we just kept watching and watching and watching, and he kept developing, kept developing. So it’s an interesting dilemma that we deal with every year.”
Choosing an Ohio prospect over a national name
Where a player comes from is far less important than how well he fits your program, and the Buckeyes are certainly never going to choose a prospect simply because he’s from Ohio.
Still, if all things are equal, an Ohio-born player may get the nod. It happened in 2015 when Ohio State was looking for a quarterback. California prospect Travis Waller (now Jonsen) had serious interest in the Buckeyes and a loftier recruiting “ranking,” but all things were equal in Ohio State’s eyes, so they opted for local product Joe Burrow.
“I do know when we did recruit Joey Burrow, (he) was not a very highly recruited guy,” Buckeyes director of player personnel Mark Pantoni said. “But there was a lot of emphasis placed on him versus the other one or two kids played in Ohio, he’s played in the cold, he knows what the rivalry means, and so that really helped Joe’s stock in our eyes.
“So in that case, him versus a kid who maybe we saw as an equal talent in Texas or wherever it was, Joe got extra bonus in our eyes because of those reasons.”
Ohio State’s recruiting machine has a number in mind when it comes to signing Ohio natives. And seven signees isn’t enough.
“(There was) not enough Ohio,” Pantoni added. “That’s something we want our percentage to be much higher on. There’s too much talent in this state. But at the same time, we’re also searching for the best players in the country.
“We always have to keep reminding ourselves Ohio kids are our first priority. They will be. Sometimes we probably overevaluate them because those are the kids we get to camp so many times, we know all about, versus a kid out of state. Trust me, we place so much emphasis on the state of Ohio and we’re going to continue to and do our best to get the best players out of the state of Ohio.”
Ohio State at home: ’50 percent is kind of the mark’
Why would they worry about a specific number? They know how important it is to continue cultivating relationships because schools like Kentucky and Michigan State – and now Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati program – are on the prowl and working to prove they “value” Ohio kids more than the too-nationally-focused Buckeyes. How can Ohio State strike a balance, especially as it seems the in-state talent level is falling to never-before-seen lows?
Ohio Class of 2017 commitment numbers right before signing day. pic.twitter.com/In7On2F7yr
— Mark Porter (@Mark__Porter) January 30, 2017
If the start to the 2018 cycle is any indication, things may not get easier for Ohio State. The reality is that – as Pantoni said – the Buckeyes may be overevaluating players, and in a quickening recruiting calendar, the average prospect feels slighted as the hometown school delays on offering while dozens of others view them a “priority.” As of Sunday, Ohio State has offered just eight of the state’s top 20 players for 2018.
In a recruiting class that will likely end up near 25 players, to get to that magic 50-percent mark Ohio State will have to do some serious evaluation – and quickly. Three of the state’s top 10 players (No. 6 JoJo Scates, No 8. Xavier Henderson and No. 9 Trenton Gillison) are already committed to Michigan State, and two others in the Top 20 (No. 5 Leonard Taylor and No. 17 Antwuan Johnson) were committed to Michigan as of last summer. This isn’t Jim Tressel’s Ohio where players are waiting patiently for an offer from the dream school: They’re growing chips on shoulders and picking rivals.
What are the challenges in recruiting Ohio?
Ohio State has to get back its roots, and part of doing that may mean overhauling how they evaluate local talent. When a player from Florida commits early, it’s almost expected that he’ll look around and potentially even de-commit, allowing the Buckeyes a chance to evaluate him while still being proactive in searching for a replacement.
That’s not the case in Ohio. As we saw in the 2017 cycle with players like Danny Clark and Todd Sibley, if a prospect from Ohio makes an early decision, the process of continued evaluation of him and other talents can be a little confusing and difficult to go through. If the Buckeyes offer a player early, they’re almost assuredly going to commit. If they don’t, that player and his coaches and his parents find reasons to be offended and use that perceived “slight” as proof that Ohio State doesn’t have “the love.”
It’s quite a predicament.
Whatever the answer is, one thing is clear: Ohio State wants to recruit Ohio the way they always have. However, in today’s new world of college football recruiting, you’re not going to get a free pass for a Buckeyes scholarship offer just because you were born nearby. You’re going to have to earn it. Conversely, the Ohio State staff is going to have to work to earn a commitment from players that aren’t as enamored with the dream of playing in Ohio Stadium as their predecessors were.