Ohio State always has been heavily involved with the top high school football players in Ohio every year. Although the Buckeyes have turned toward a more national focus in recruiting during the Urban Meyer era, Ohio still holds a critical place in building a base for every recruiting class and giving the program its identity.
Only seven Ohioans have picked up offers from the Buckeyes to date in the 2019 recruiting class, but a long list of other players are heavily involved with Ohio State or have been hearing from the coaching staff. Land of 10 will take a look at some of the top Ohio prospects in the 2019 class, particularly those of interest to Ohio State.
Here is a look at the top Ohio prospects in 2019 on defense. Make sure to check out the first half of this two-part series, highlighting the top Ohio recruits on offense.
It has been well-discussed how thin the margin of error at defensive end will be on Ohio State’s roster in the 2018 season. Ohio State returns only three defensive ends from the 2017 season — Nick Bosa, Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper — and brought in three more in the 2018 recruiting class — Tyreke Smith, Alex Williams and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. Smith will be expected to contribute early on for the Buckeyes, but Jean-Baptiste is expected to be a redshirt candidate, and Williams may play another position in college. Additionally, New Jersey product Tyler Friday could play defensive end, defensive tackle or even offensive line in college.
Bosa virtually is guaranteed to leave for the NFL after the 2018 season, his junior campaign. It seems likely that he will be the only player to depart the position group after 2018, but even if that’s the case, look for the Buckeyes to take multiple defensive ends in 2019. They’ve already offered two in-state options at the position (and maybe three, depending on how you project another prospect we’ll discuss in the linebacker section) and are pursuing some of the top names nationally.
Of course, the top priority for the Buckeyes in the 2019 class, regardless of position, location or any other consideration, is defensive end Zach Harrison of Olentangy Orange, a Columbus-area high school. Already 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds at 16 years old, Harrison is unanimously regarded as one of the country’s most elite prospects. 247Sports has Harrison ranked as the No. 1 player in the country overall, although he checks in as No. 4 in the composite rankings.
Harrison is an absolutely elite prospect. He has the chance to be as good as any prospect Ohio State has had on the roster during Meyer’s tenure and has collected offers from nearly all of the country’s blue-blood programs: Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Georgia, Southern California, Notre Dame, Michigan and so on. Ohio State’s primary competition for Harrison is Penn State, but the Buckeyes are placing a premium on landing the local 5-star prospect.
The other offered Ohioan defensive end in the 2019 class is Mentor product Noah Potter, the younger brother of sophomore Buckeyes basketball player Micah Potter. Potter is fresh off another visit to Ohio State, and the Buckeyes remain the favorite for the 6-5, 250-pound standout from the Cleveland area. Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Oregon and a slew of other programs have offered Potter as well. Potter is expected to decide before the end of the spring, likely in April or May, and it would surprise me at this point if he landed anywhere besides Ohio State.
Fortunately for Ohio State, it’s an incredibly deep crop in Ohio at defensive end. If the Buckeyes wanted to beef up their numbers at the position, the list of options is robust. Including Harrison and Potter, a stunning 13 defensive ends in the state of Ohio’s 2019 class already hold Power 5 offers. Some of those prospects seem more likely offer candidates than others, and I would point at a group of five players that would be most likely to land an offer from the Buckeyes.
Look for Lakota West product Steven Faucheux, Westerville Central’s Dontay Hunter, Elder prospect Spencer Bono, Pickerington Central standout Karter Johnson and Northmont native Gabe Newburg to receive attention from Ohio State during the next several months and ultimately receive invites to camp and audition for an offer in the summer. Faucheux is the highest-recruited and most polished player of the bunch, but Hunter may have more upside than anyone else in the group.
Defensive tackle recruiting is slightly more complicated than defensive end for Ohio State in 2019. Dre’Mont Jones is expected to leave for the NFL draft following his upcoming junior season, but he is the only player who has indicated plans to leave. There will be no defensive tackles who use up their eligibility after the 2018 season. Davon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell will enter their redshirt junior seasons and are expected to graduate with degrees in hand. Robert Landers and Malik Barrow will be draft eligible after the year, but it would be surprising to see either player jump early for the league.
Ohio State brought in three highly regarded defensive tackles in the 2018 recruiting class: Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai and junior college product Antwuan Jackson. Two of the Buckeyes’ defensive end signees, the aforementioned Friday and Williams, have potential to play defensive tackle at the next level as well. If Friday and Williams make a move to defensive tackle, Ohio State could have as many as 11 defensive tackles expected to be on scholarship for the 2019 season.
Something will have to give, and I would expect that you’ll see the Buckeyes take one defensive tackle in the 2019 class. Ohio State has offered only five defensive tackles nationwide in the 2019 class and just one of them, Jowon Briggs, is an Ohio native. The Cincinnati Walnut Hills product landed an offer from Ohio State early in the process, during the fall of his sophomore season.
Briggs is ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle in the nation, the No. 3 prospect in Ohio and the No. 74 prospect overall, according to 247Sports. He is a tremendous talent in the middle of the defensive line and has garnered offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and many of the other top programs in the country. It always would be a battle with other programs, especially the Fighting Irish, to land Briggs, and it appears Ohio State’s decreased priority on defensive tackle recruiting could lead Briggs out of state. There is still plenty of time for things to change in this recruitment, but Briggs’ 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions read 80 percent in favor of Notre Dame.
For similar reasons, Ohio State has not been as involved with some of the state’s top prospects because of numbers issues. Four-star prospect Rodas Johnson and 3-star recruit DeWayne Carter, the Nos. 13 and 24 defensive tackles in the country, respectively, are Columbus natives and highly recruited players with several Power 5 offers. Both will be hard-pressed to land Buckeyes offers because of the numbers crunch, but Ohio State may well ask them to work out during the summer and see if they can change their mind.
After the 2018 season, the Buckeyes will lose only fifth-year senior Dante Booker to expired eligibility at linebacker. However, Justin Hilliard and Nick Conner will be concluding their fourth years on campus, have yet to crack the starting lineup and are expected to have degrees in hand. Malik Harrison, who came on strong in 2017 and earned a starting spot at times after injuries to Booker, will be draft eligible after his junior campaign.
The uncertainty surrounding the numbers at the position group will create an interesting dilemma for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have offered one linebacker in Ohio for the 2019 class and fewer than 20 players at the position nationally. I don’t think the numbers will be close to settled until Ohio State gets through spring football and has a better idea of how the depth chart could play out and if all of the rostered players remain with the program.
The only Ohioan to earn a Buckeyes offer at linebacker so far, Mansfield Lexington product Cade Stover. Stover is an intriguing prospect physically at 6-4 and 215 pounds. Although currently slotted as an outside linebacker, he has the potential to grow into his frame and become a defensive end at the next level. Regardless of position, Stover was too talented to ignore for Ohio State and landed an offer in March 2017. He is ranked as the No. 8 outside linebacker in the country and the No. 112 player overall, according to 247Sports.
Stover is essentially unanimously expected to commit to Ohio State at some point in the not-too-distant future. He has added offers from Notre Dame, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and many other Power 5 programs (20 offers in total) and is widely regarded to be among the Midwest’s best prospects. It seems to be a matter of if, and not when, Stover joins the Buckeyes class.
The question at hand is if any other Ohioans could join Stover in Ohio State’s class or if the Buckeyes will choose to offer any more players in the state at the position. Nine Ohio linebackers hold Power 5 offers in the 2019 class already, and many of them have been in contact with Ohio State.
Massillon Washington sent Thayer Munford to Ohio State in the 2017 class. After the freshman success of Munford, the Buckeyes may want to double-dip at Massillon with 2019 linebacker Jamir Thomas, the No. 12 inside linebacker in the country. Thomas has offers from Michigan, Michigan State and five other Power 5 programs.
Joining Thomas as the state’s top inside linebackers are Cleveland St. Ignatius product Tommy Eichenberg and Youngstown Cardinal Mooney recruit Luke Fulton. Eichenberg is the younger brother of Notre Dame lineman Liam Eichenberg, and many expect the Irish to offer the younger Eichenberg soon. He already holds offers from Iowa, Duke, Kentucky, Purdue, Boston College and other programs. Fulton holds offers from Michigan State, Kentucky, Iowa and other top programs — eight Power 5 scholarships in total. He is ranked as the No. 17 inside linebacker in the country.
We discussed Mershawn Rice on Monday in the look at the top Ohioans on offense in 2019, but it’s worth bringing up the athletic Reynoldsburg product again because his potential may be even higher at linebacker than it is at wide receiver. Joining Rice as intriguing, athletic, long outside linebackers in the state are Clayton Northmont product Jestin Jacobs and Reynoldsburg’s Dezman Cooper. Cooper holds an offer from Miami (Ohio), but that will change soon for the productive 6-2, 215-pound linebacker. Jacobs’ offer list is considerably longer, including Iowa, Northwestern, Kentucky and several other Power 5 programs.
Cooper and Rice are teammates. Likewise, Jacobs is a teammate of aforementioned defensive end Newburg. Fulton is the teammate of tackle target Kyle Jornigan, who was discussed during the Ohio offensive preview. Expect all of these linebackers and several others to be invited to camp with the Buckeyes in the summer as Ohio State closely monitors their growth and builds relationships between now and then.
Only five Ohioans have landed Power 5 offers at defensive back to date in the 2019 class. That is not convenient for the Buckeyes, who are likely to lose as many as three defensive backs after the 2018 season. With the way Ohio State has churned out top defensive backs to the NFL year after year under Urban Meyer, it seems likely that returning starters and draft-eligible players such as safety Jordan Fuller and corners Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette could depart the team for the pros.
If that trio leaves and no other players matriculate from the program, only 12 scholarship defensive backs would be expected to be on the roster for the 2019 season. Ohio State rostered 14 scholarship Buckeyes defensive backs in the 2017 season, and I would bet that Ohio State takes two to four players at the position in the 2019 class.
By far the most likely candidate in Ohio to earn an Ohio State offer as a defensive back (none have to date) is Springfield’s Moses Douglass. A 4-star prospect, Douglass is ranked as the No. 20 safety in the 2019 class and has intriguing measurables at 6-2 and 186 pounds. He is the son of Maurice “Mo” Douglass, a Kentucky alum, NFL veteran and one of Ohio’s most prominent high school football coaches.
Douglass already has an elite offer list whether Ohio State joins the fold, but there is no doubting it would be sweet for the Dayton-area prospect to add an offer from the Buckeyes. To date, he has more than two dozen offers, including Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin. I think Ohio State is ultimately going to end up offering Douglass at some point, likely during camp season, but that is not written in stone. Douglass last visited Ohio State in September 2017.
The four other Ohio defensive backs with Power 5 offers, while talented in their own right and bound for bright futures, have received less interest from Ohio State to date. Only Huber Heights Wayne cornerback Justin Harris holds more than one Power 5 offer. Harris has collected scholarship offers from Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa State, Cincinnati, Bowling Green and Toledo. The other three — Columbus Walnut Ridge safety Julius Wood (Kentucky), Lakota West safety Jeremiah Ross (Kentucky) and Toledo Central Catholic safety Jase Bowen (Minnesota) — hold one Power 5 offer apiece. I would be surprised if Ohio State offered any of those four, but they may have a good chance to earn an offer at a summer prospect camp.