Ohio State linebackers coach Billy Davis was all over western Pennsylvania on Monday, Jan. 29 as part of Ohio State’s January evaluation period visits. Davis has taken over recruiting in the Pittsburgh area over the last year after former Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Luke Fickell accepted a position as the Cincinnati Bearcats coach.
Davis made stops at several powerhouse programs during his round of visits. He traveled to Pine-Richland (Pa.) for 2019 offensive tackle Andrew Kristofic (who already holds an offer), Norwin (Pa.) for 2019 safety Jayvon Thrift and 2020 quarterback Jack Salopek, North Allegheny (Pa.) for 2019 athlete Joey Porter Jr., Farrell (Pa.) for 2019 linebacker/athlete Kyi Wright and Aliquippa (Pa.) for 2019 cornerback Marlin Devonshire Jr. (who has also been offered).
I spoke with several of the prospects who Davis stopped to visit throughout the day and it appears the Buckeyes made a serious impression on several western Pennsylvania prospects.
Andrew Kristofic growing close with Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are pursuing a number of western Pennsylvania prospects in the ranks of the underclassmen, but perhaps none has received more attention as of late than Kristofic. Kristofic has spent a tremendous amount of time around Ohio State coaches over the last several days.
On Thursday, Jan. 25, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa made a stop at Pine-Richland to visit with Kristofic and his coach, Eric Kasperowicz. On Saturday, Jan. 27, Kristofic returned the favor and made the drive to Columbus with his father. On Monday, Jan. 29, the trip was capped with a visit from Davis to the Rams program.
“I was at Ohio State on Saturday. Me and my dad left on Saturday morning and drove back home later that night. I was there this summer for a camp and then I went there when they played Penn State this past fall, so it’s my third visit there,” Kristofic said. “We did just about everything there was to do; we had a really busy day.
“We did everything from just meeting and talking with all of the different coaches to hearing all of their presentations — different stuff about their academic support and Real Life Wednesdays and everything like that, their help off the field. We got to tour all around the facilities and the campus. I got to get into some dorms and some apartments and got to see some different parts of campus for a while. Then, to end the day, we got to sit down and meet with coach ‘Stud’ [offensive line coach Greg Studrawa] for a while.
“I think the thing that really stuck out the most was just everything they had at their disposal, all of the resources that they have for all of their guys is just incredible. Even from all the way down to equipment or something like that, to what they do on the field and in academics and other off-field stuff.”
Ohio State is competing with a number of other programs for Kristofic’s attention. Along with his offer from the Buckeyes, Kristofic has scholarship tenders from Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia and nearly a dozen other Power 5 programs. That list also includes Pittsburgh, his hometown team and the school where his father played his college football. Despite his heavily involved recruitment and long list of scholarship offers, Kristofic has taken a strong interest in Ohio State’s program and is closely watching the Buckeyes.
“I think they’ve reached the top. I think they’re one of the very, very top-tier, elite programs in the whole country. They’ve kind of arrived. They’ve got to do whatever they can to stay there and make sure they can keep having the kind of success they’ve been able to have under Coach Meyer since he’s been there,” Kristofic said. “It’s making sure that everything keeps going. Obviously, there’s always room for improvement, but they’re not a program that’s on the rise or rebuilding, they’re one of the programs right now.
“Having success like Ohio State has had is obviously something you take into consideration and look at. Obviously, every team’s goal at the beginning of the season is to win championships and a program like Ohio State has been able to do that for the last several years.”
The Buckeyes don’t just have the benefit of one of the nation’s strongest track records of success over the last several seasons. Kristofic has developed a close and personal relationship with Studrawa throughout his recruitment. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound offensive tackle has grown very comfortable around the Buckeyes program after his multiple visits and face-to-face meetings with members of Ohio State’s team and coaching staff.
“I’ve been talking to Coach ‘Stud’ for a long time now. I first met him in the spring of last year and was talking with him a little bit before I came up to their camp in the summer. I was talking with him throughout the season some and really since coming up to that camp, I’ve been talking with him a lot and for a long time now. I know Coach ‘Stud’ really well,” Kristofic explained. “As the recruiting process has gotten more serious, I’ve started to build lots of good relationships with the other coaches and the recruiting guys as well. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with pretty much all of the guys at Ohio State. I think I’ve met just about everyone that I need to meet and could meet or have had the opportunity to meet so far.”
Ohio State is also pushing the depth charts in the 2019 class, showcasing Kristofic’s potential to come in and compete for immediate playing time. During the offseason, Ohio State lost offensive tackle Jamarco Jones to graduation and Kevin Feder to transfer. Rising seniors Isaiah Prince and Malcolm Pridgeon will run out of eligibility after the 2018 season and leave the program. The Buckeyes have zero offensive tackles committed in the 2018 class and regardless of whether they can reel in either of their two remaining targets at the position, offensive tackle will be a critical need in 2019.
“Coach ‘Stud’ had mentioned that they have two tackles now that more than likely will leave after this coming season. They have two incoming or underclassmen there now, so as of right now, they have four true tackles. That is a big position that Coach ‘Stud’ said he wants to put an emphasis on in my class and to kind of add depth to that group,” Kristofic said. “Obviously, we’ve seen people be able to make switches from guards or tight ends to play tackle and vice versa, so you never know, though. Just because someone is on a depth chart at one position one day, it can always change very quickly.”
Kristofic is beginning to seriously consider the process of whittling down his list and eliminating potential contenders. He’s taken a significant amount of college visits already and has criteria in mind that he’s using to evaluate his top programs. Kristofic hopes to decide before the beginning of his senior season.
“There’s not going to be just one thing that I look at to make a decision on. It’s going to be lots of things, with how comfortable I am with the coaches, the players and the university as a whole. I want to consider stability and that home feeling that a university gives you. Academics are very important, because someday football is going to be over,” Kristofic said. “I’ve also always had dreams of playing at a top-tier program at the highest level of college football.
“All of those different things will factor into it. But right now, I’m thinking that I really don’t want to go into senior year without having made a decision. If I don’t feel comfortable deciding before then, I’m not going to just pick a school to pick a school to commit to. Whenever I do pick a school, that’s going to be my school and there won’t be any changes. I’m also not going to wait around once I feel like I know for a fact where I’m going and where I want to spend the next few years. I won’t hesitate to make it official.”
There is one factor that Kristofic will discount — the idea that he’s a shoe-in recruit for Pitt because he’s a local recruit and his father played for the Panthers. Pitt was Kristofic’s first offer and the Panthers certainly are a contender for the Pittsburgh-area offensive tackle, but he’ll make his decision on his own terms, the same way his father did when he was in high school.
“Whenever my dad picked his school, it was his decision. Just like it was his decision to pick Pitt, I’ll be making my decision to pick whatever school that I feel fits best for me and is where I want to spend the next three to five years at. I’ll never write off a team or a school or a coach or anything like that. But definitely just because this is where I’ve grown up and this has been my home since I can remember — but you know, I’ve enjoyed going out to these other places and all these different schools to see what they have to offer,” Kristofic relayed. “Growing up it’s always been ‘Pitt, Pitt, Pitt’ and Pittsburgh everything, so it’s kind of nice to go out and see for myself and learn about these other schools. It’s deeper than just kind of the perceptions and the reputations of those schools, and it’s been nice to learn about them.”
Kristofic seems likely to be one of Ohio State’s most relevant offensive tackle options in the 2019 class along with Devontae Dobbs, Darnell Wright, Quinn Carroll, Harry Miller, Michael Tarquin, John Olmstead, Xavier Truss and Ohio native Ryan Jacoby. The Buckeyes already hold a commitment from West Virginia native Doug Nester on the offensive line. Kristofic’s recruitment will be one of the intriguing sagas to follow among Buckeye recruits.
Jayvon Thrift receives Buckeyes’ attention
Norwin (Pa.) safety Thrift has earned the nickname “Hitman” for good reason. The 2019 defensive back is a destructive force for the Knights, striking fear into wide receivers or tight ends who would dare risk coming over the middle of the field against him.
“I feel like I’m a playmaker as a safety. I’m definitely a good tackler. When it comes to hitting, I try to be the most aggressive person on the field and I try to make the best plays that I can to help my team,” Thrift said.
Thrift has earned offers from West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Temple, Toledo and Buffalo to date and several more programs are showing interest, including Ohio State, Notre Dame and Penn State. On Monday, Jan. 29, Thrift received a visit from Davis.
“The coaches can’t talk to us really, but Coach Davis did bump into me and [2020 Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek] while he was up here,” Thrift said. “He told my coach that he wants me to come down to a spring practice so I can see how they move, the pacing of their defense and stuff like that live in practice. He wants me to see for myself how real it is there.”
The 5-10, 187-pound safety hasn’t yet landed an offer from the Buckeyes, but he is growing more familiar with Ohio State and would be thrilled to add that scholarship offer to his list.
“I went up there for a camp in the summer. To me, I feel like Ohio State is a really good program, extremely good,” Thrift said. “They do everything they need to do to handle their business when they play their games. I feel like it’s just a hardworking place and it would definitely be near the top of my list if I got offered by them.”
Thrift visited Notre Dame on Saturday, Jan. 27 as a number of juniors made their way to South Bend to meet with the Fighting Irish coaches. In particular, coach Todd Lyght spent time with Thrift and indicated that an offer from the Irish would likely be on the way for Thrift.
“I was up at Notre Dame and they’re close to offering. Coach Lyght was talking to me and he said after they wrap up with National Signing Day, they’re thinking about throwing me an offer because they said it’s coming soon,” Thrift explained. “I like Notre Dame. It’s small, it’s a hardworking school, and they showed us what they do and what they’re made of it and just what they’re all about it. It made an impression on me and I really liked it.”
In addition to his hopeful summer trip to Ohio State, Thrift will be checking out several other Power 5 programs over the next several weeks.
“I’m going to Syracuse this Saturday actually, on Feb. 3. I want to go try to go to Pitt’s junior day coming up. Memphis is trying to get me to come down to their junior day and I think Kentucky is trying to get me to come down as well,” Thrift said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff coming up, I’m not quite sure yet where I’m going, though.”
Thrift’s aforementioned teammate, Salopek, has not yet landed his first scholarship offer. However, the 6-2, 175-pound quarterback in the Class of 2020 has interest from some heavy hitters, including Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Buckeyes check back in on MJ Devonshire
We’ve spoken about 2019 cornerback Devonshire Jr. recently, discussing the Aliquippa (Pa.) product’s December trip to Columbus and his interest in the Buckeyes. In light of that, I won’t go too deep into Devonshire’s interest in Ohio State and will refer others to my previous interview with the standout corner. Ohio State followed up with him on Monday, Jan. 29 with a visit to Aliquippa to check in on Devonshire following the departure of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs from the Buckeyes program.
“It meant a lot for him to visit. They’re showing that they are still recruiting me, even with coach Kerry Coombs supposedly leaving. So, it was good to know that they’re still interested in me and to see Coach Davis,” Devonshire said.
Despite Coombs’ departure from the Ohio State coaching staff, Devonshire will remain as a serious target for the Buckeyes in the 2019 recruiting class. The Aliquippa program has a long tradition of elite defensive backs and Devonshire is the next in line.
New linebacker target emerges for Buckeyes
Many of the country’s top programs are beginning to show interest in intriguing 2019 linebacker Wright. Although the Farrell (Pa.) product often plays against and physically dominates lower-level competition in his small school division in western Pennsylvania, Wright has already drawn offers from Pitt, UCLA, Michigan State, Syracuse, Maryland, Toledo, Temple, and Youngstown State. The 6-2, 230-pound prospect has potential at outside linebacker and tight end at the next level and many programs have checked in on Wright during the January evaluation period.
“Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Maryland, Indiana, West Virginia, Temple, Miami of Ohio and Youngstown State have all come to check in on me so far this month,” Farrell said. “Ohio State had a coach here this morning and he talked with my coach about coming to a junior day and a camp this summer as well. He said they’ll send more information to my coach, but I’m more than likely coming to camp this summer.”
Wright is one of the more intriguing players in the class. His immense physical talent as a linebacker or tight end makes him an intriguing option for many schools, but the level of competition he plays against means that many programs will want to evaluate him in person. Ohio State will be among the schools to see Wright in person.
North Allegheny receives stop from Buckeyes
Although the players at Wexford (Pa.) powerhouse program North Allegheny were not available for comment on their visit from Ohio State, Land of 10 confirmed a trip to the school from Ohio State assistant Bill Davis. Davis checked in on 2019 athlete Porter Jr.
As you may have guessed (no bonus points), Porter is the son of former All-Pro linebacker, Super Bowl champion and longtime NFL standout Joey Porter, who now coaches the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers. Although his father had to rise out of relative anonymity after being a third-round pick from Colorado State, the younger Porter is already involved in a high-level recruitment.
Porter Jr. has picked up offers from Pitt, Maryland, West Virginia, Boston College, Syracuse and multiple lower-level programs. Most schools have evaluated Porter as a defensive back or potential future linebacker, as he’s longer, lankier and seemingly larger than his listed 6-1, 165-pound frame.
He is expected to take a visit to Ohio State during the camp season to be evaluated by the Buckeye coaching staff. Like many of the other prospects on this list, Porter trains and plays with the Evolve 7-on-7 program and works with DeWayne Brown of 2-10ths, a training organization in Pittsburgh. Devonshire, Thrift and Porter all play together on the team with many of the Pittsburgh area’s other top prospects and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a large contingent of recruits from the training organization take a visit together.