COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Feb. 5, 2014, Ohio State’s staff was still celebrating a class that finished No. 3 nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten.
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, the Buckeyes and head coach Urban Meyer had signed one 5-star and a whopping 16 players with a 4-star ranking. The class included recruits from Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Kentucky, New York, Michigan, Virginia, Texas and Indiana, in addition to Ohio.
It was an impressive showing in terms of both talent and scope. However, director of player personnel Mark Pantoni was quick to point out that Ohio State still had to pick its battles out of state.
“I’m probably the pessimist of the staff,” Pantoni said that afternoon. “To say we recruit the state of Texas is false. To say we recruit the state of Florida is false. We have to make sure there’s some sort of tie, otherwise our percentage of getting them is probably very low. With Johnnie Dixon, his high school coach, we had signed four players (while Meyer and Pantoni were at the University of Florida) and we have a great relationship. With Raekwon McMillan, two of his high school coaches are from Ohio. There’s connections there.
“To say we’re going to get a kid from Fort Lauderdale with no connections there, it’s very hard because you have to beat the three in-state schools, Georgia, Alabama. And that’s a long way and it gets cold here, so …”
Pantoni wasn’t just downplaying the Buckeyes’ success. He was right. Take, for instance, 4-star offensive guard Demetrius Knox. He played high school football in Fort Worth, Texas, but had family in Ohio and grew up with Ohio State signs on his walls. Leesburg, Ga., 3-star quarterback Stephen Collier had grown up in Northern Kentucky, just a couple hours from Ohio State.
Even Darius Slade, who had never even visited Ohio State when he signed with the Buckeyes on National Signing Day, had long been recruited by Larry Johnson Sr. He had a great relationship with the Buckeyes’ newly appointed defensive line coach. That connection — fostered while Johnson was at Penn State — made Meyer comfortable enough to take someone sight unseen.
Three years later, however, the Buckeyes are a well-oiled machine. In recent years they’ve taken players from Utah, Arkansas and South Dakota. Their out-of-state reach has grown bigger and bigger as the success of the program has grown. Texas natives have seen J.T. Barrett flourish. Georgia high schoolers saw Raekwon McMillan morph into a star.
The 2017 class featured just seven Ohioans in a 21-man class. The Buckeyes went literally coast-to-coast to grab the rest: California, Texas, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, Indiana and New York.
Ohio State pulled multiple players in 2017 from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. Neither had a connection to Ohio State previously. One of those players, defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, committed without having ever visited. The same was true of La Grange, Texas, 4-star running back J.K. Dobbins. Ohio State held on to both commitments.
Five-star defensive back Shaun Wade committed two years before signing, and despite hailing from notoriously fickle Florida,he stayed true to the Buckeyes.
“I know his school very well, and traditionally players in that area will change schools about seven times with their commitments, etc.,” Meyer said this National Signing Day.
Ohio State’s recruiting is on such a roll that they’ve even been able to overcome recruits’ strong ties to other schools. Take, for instance, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco 5-star offensive guard Wyatt Davis. He happened to live next to USC head coach Clay Helton, which gave the Buckeyes quite a scare.
“I didn’t realize until recently that USC’s head coach lives in the same neighborhood,” Meyer said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ And I already used up my (in home) visit out there, so I made (offensive line coach Greg Studrawa) go out there on Friday and sit from sun-up until sundown and make sure no one goes by that house.”