Ohio State landed a huge prospect on Thursday when Cleveland Heights, Ohio, 4-star defensive end Tyreke Smith committed to the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes didn’t sign any defensive ends in the early signing period, but Smith’s commitment gives them a huge addition. According to the 247Sports composite rankings, he’s the No. 4 weakside defensive end and No. 60 overall prospect.
To learn what Smith can bring to Ohio State, Land of 10 caught up with Cleveland Heights coach Mac Stephens.
Q: What traits of his allowed him to grow into this type of prospect?
Stephens: No. 1, he’s a really intelligent kid. Secondly, when you’re 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds in high school and athletic as he is and move the way he does, it was pretty apparent that he’d be something special if he bought into the coaching.
Q: Having not played until his junior year, did he take naturally to football?
Stephens: With Tyreke, once he decided he was going to play it was like, ‘This kid can’t miss.’ He’s a good-natured kid who doesn’t get in any trouble. He’s obviously very athletic because he was a basketball player at the time, but looking at his body type I personally felt he had the perfect body for a defensive end or tight end.
Q: Did college coaches immediately realize what type of prospect he was?
Stephens: About a week after the basketball season ended his sophomore year, we asked him to come work out with the football team. We knew there were going to be some college coaches in attendance just watching our workouts. The first week he started working out with us he picked up some offers before he even stepped on a football field. From there on it was a pretty amazing offer to watch unfold.
Q: What was it like watching him go through the recruiting process?
Stephens: As some people know, he grew up on the West Coast up until I believe seventh grade. When the recruiting process started to unfold, he had a legitimate interest in USC. When he got offers from USC and UCLA, he was pretty excited and he really wanted a Stanford offer. Obviously living in Ohio it’s hard not to pay attention to Ohio State, but throughout most of the recruiting process I don’t know if Ohio State was his top school — in fact, I know it wasn’t. He was seriously considering some other schools. As crazy as a recruiting process as it was, in my opinion I think some schools backed off too soon. They just assumed he was an Ohio kid who’d go to Ohio State. But he and his family went into the process wanting to evaluate what everyone had to offer and then see what was best for Tyreke.
Q: Is there a play or performance that stands out and shows what he’s capable of?
Stephens: There are so many games where he did something special. His senior year when we were playing Lake Catholic he was playing tight end. He catches a pass and rumbles for probably 40 yards or so and stiff-armed a couple defensive backs. When you see things like that, you realize what a special athlete he is. When we played Cleveland Benedictine, it was the same situation. He’s playing tight end and scores a great touchdown. I looked at my offensive coordinator and we just shook our heads because he’s probably just as impressive at tight end as he is at defensive end.
Q: What do you see for him at the college level?
Stephens: I think working with a defensive line coach like Larry Johnson will bring the best out of him. They’ve obviously had some great players and I’d never want to diminish any of those guys, but I think Tyreke is one of the more athletic players they’ve got in quite some time. Once it all comes together, I think people are going to see a very, very special defensive lineman.