COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer took the podium on National Signing Day, he opened his press conference with a special shout-out.
“One guy I do want to point out is a guy named Shaun Wade that committed to us, I believe, on the national championship day,” Meyer said. “I didn’t know him. I know his school very well, and traditionally players in that area will change schools about seven times with their commitments, etc. Randy and Gwen, his mom and dad, we’ve become extremely close throughout the process, and I can’t be more proud that he stuck with his commitment with a lot of pressure in that part of the country and to hang in there.”
Wade, a 5-star cornerback from Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, spent more than two years committed to the Buckeyes. Such early commitments from out-of-state players are difficult to maintain for a couple of reasons. First, players tend to want to look around and rarely go back to their original choice if they de-commit. Secondly, and even more importantly, opposing schools have two years to chip away at a singular target.
For more than 24 months, Wade heard from the likes of Alabama and Florida State and Virginia Tech. Unlike with an uncommitted prospect, each of those schools could focus solely on prying Wade away from the Buckeyes. The distance, the depth chart, the coaching turnover … opportunities to negatively recruit abounded.
And yet Wade stayed.
“Shaun Wade specifically, we have not had a great track record down in Jacksonville with kids who have committed to us, so give him and his family a lot of credit for sticking firm,” director of player personnel Mark Pantoni said. “We took a lot of trips and we even encouraged him to take his trips, but at the end of the day we said pick what you feel is the best and he picked Ohio State because of that. We’re really proud of his family and Shaun for sticking with us.”
Wade’s story would be even more spectacular if it hadn’t been such a common theme in this class. Nearly one-third of Ohio State’s class — six of 21 players — were committed for 18 or more months. That list included Wade, 4-star offensive guard Josh Myers, 4-star defensive tackle Jerron Cage, 4-star safety Isaiah Pryor, 4-star cornerback Marcus Williamson and 3-star kicker Blake Haubeil, who was the No. 2 kicker nationally.
Meyer has never had that many players committed for that long at Ohio State. He had also never signed a class with five 5-star prospects while in Columbus.
Myers spent much of his recruitment as a 5-star prospect and was ranked among the top 10 recruits in the country until the final rankings were released. He visited Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Even though he grew up in Miamisburg, Ohio, he didn’t enter his recruitment with the idea of Ohio State as a leader. However, the Buckeyes quickly won him over.
Players like Myers helped solidify Ohio State’s class. Like Wade, he committed in January 2015 — more than two years before he signed. His commitment meant Ohio State didn’t have to worry about recruiting one of the best prospects in the country going forward.
“I had already made up my mind that Ohio State was where I wanted to be,” Myers said. “I went to all the schools that I felt there was a chance I could go to and might like. After all those trips, I just knew. The recruiting process is stressful for players and for coaches, in my opinion. I didn’t want to waste anyone else’s time. I didn’t want to waste Ohio State’s time, and I didn’t want to waste my time.”
In addition to those half-dozen players, three more had committed by March 2016. One of those was an in-state legacy commit, 4-star athlete Brendon White. However, 4-star defensive tackle Haskell Garrett played at Las Vegas Bishop Gorman and 4-star running back J.K. Dobbins is from La Grange, Texas.
Neither Garrett nor Dobbins had ever visited Ohio State before committing. Both still signed with the Buckeyes a year later.
With the out-of-state players, in particular, the Ohio State staff still recruited them as hard as uncommitted players. They wanted to make sure the players felt the love and the bond stayed strong.
“Any time a kid commits, you almost have to remind yourself to recruit as if they are not committed,” Pantoni said. “You always want to make sure you’re showing love because you know the other schools aren’t backing off.
“Any time you get out of our eight-hour radius, the percentages (of holding on to a player) go way down. So those are the guys that we really have to focus on and you know we’re going to be in a fight until that name comes through the fax machine on signing day.”
Ohio State kept those talented players in the fold. It turns out Meyer’s best recruiting class on paper was also his most loyal.