SAN ANTONIO – It’s one of the best moments of any high school football player’s life … you hope. The moment that you decide, after months of emotional wrangling, where you’re going to matriculate and take the next step in chasing your football dreams: college.
For the young men gathered in San Antonio this week to play their final high school game, it’s the decision that put an end – in most cases – to endless harassment from media, college coaches and family members. For seven of these players, it was the moment they decided they would attend Ohio State.
The stories are each, of course, unique, but they are not all overwhelmingly exciting. The reality is that for prospects of this caliber, the gap between Team A and Team B is usually pretty thin. It’s a small thing, a little detail or a gut feel that generally means a yes or a no.
This week at the U.S. Army All-American game, I was curious whether the Ohio State commitments here would be willing to share the moment they knew Ohio State was the place for them. The answers are sort of all over the map, but the consensus seems to be this: there is no one moment. Recruiting is a game of relationships, a game of comfort. That winning moment is usually forged over months of conversation and communication.
I started with Shaun Wade. The 5-star cornerback out of Jacksonville, Fla., had committed to Ohio State on Jan. 12, 2015. He’s the longest-tenured commitment in the Buckeyes’ second-ranked 2017 recruiting class and a player who was rumored for much of the last year to be considering a flip to Alabama, Florida, Virginia Tech – or anywhere, really. He obviously never flipped.
“I knew it was Ohio State the first time I was up there with my parents,” Wade told Land of 10. “I think the deal was sealed about halfway through my senior season. After my official visit. It was really just about getting to know my defensive backs coach.”
About two weeks after Wade committed to the Buckeyes, 5-star offensive lineman Josh Myers did the same. Ranked as Ohio’s top prospect in the 2017 class, it wasn’t a major surprise when Myers picked Ohio State. He says that he knew his moment and didn’t wait long to announce his choice.
“It was January 25th, 2015,” Myers said. “I was sitting in (Urban) Meyer’s office and I don’t know exactly what it is about this moment that made me know. I was on a visit with my dad and my brother and we were watching the hype video from the Team Up North game. It was real loud, on the projector, there was just something about it. I knew when I left that was it. It just felt like the place I needed to be.”
In a lot of cases, a specific interaction with a coach is what sealed the deal for Ohio State, whether at a camp or in a living room. Two of the Buckeyes’ 5-star defensive commitments – linebacker Baron Browning and defensive end Chase Young – fit that bill.
“It was after we did one-on-ones at Ohio State during the Friday Night Lights camp,” Chase Young said. “Some guy camping there called me out and wanted to go at me. I guess he knew who I was, and Urban Meyer and Larry Johnson came over to watch the matchup. I dominated the guy in two straight reps, and Larry Johnson grabbed me and said ‘Let’s get started right now, Chase. Let me get you to the next level.’ I knew he was being honest and genuine with me, and it was just that special connection between me and the coaches.”
For Browning, it was not on the field, but at his home in late November. Urban Meyer, Luke Fickell and Greg Schiano visited Browning, whose decision had come down to Alabama and Ohio State. That night was when he knew for sure where he wanted to go to school.
“I had my in-home visit with Urban Meyer and them,” Browning said. “The entire visit was just talking about real life, not football, and that was the biggest thing for me. We all want to play great football, but it was really great to see them just be real and my parents felt the same way. That’s when I knew.”
In very rare instances, a player makes a decision on college without ever stepping foot on campus. That’s what happened with 4-star running back J.K. Dobbins. He was offered by Ohio State in February and committed just three weeks later. From the moment he heard from the Buckeyes – from his first conversation with running backs coach Tony Alford to the day he was offered – he never lost his excitement about Urban Meyer’s program.
“I just had a feeling in my heart,” Dobbins said. “It was the right place. I called coach Meyer three weeks after they offered and it happened. I waited for like two months after I committed for that feeling to go away, and it never did.”
It’s not always one big moment, it seems. Sometimes it’s as simple as understanding the rich tradition and history of the school you’re choosing. That’s what won the day with Wyatt Davis.
“I knew it was the move for me after being up there once,” Davis told Land of 10.”After spending time with the coaches and players, it just felt like home.”
For Tate Martell, who had been committed to two different schools before choosing the Buckeyes, it was talking face-to-face with Meyer. Martell’s experience was simple: a meeting presented an opportunity.
“I knew in my meeting with Urban Meyer back in March that I wanted to come to Ohio State,” Martell said. “I had dreamed of being a Buckeye since I was a little kid. That was the only moment I needed.”