In February, as the smoke was clearing from the No. 2-ranked 2017 recruiting class, we began to break down the big board of targets that Ohio State likely would focus on for the 2018 class. It was a daunting, but necessary, task, introducing dozens of names that were unfamiliar to most.
Since those initial forays into the future of Linebacker U, a few things have changed, but the overall goal has not: to find the next big thing.
🔟 first-round LBs
1⃣7⃣ LBs drafted since 2002, most in the nation
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) May 24, 2017
Ohio State landed its top outside linebacker target on May 16 when Toledo, Ohio, 4-star prospect Dallas Gant picked the Buckeyes over Notre Dame. With only one senior linebacker on the Ohio State roster, any addition at the position from this point forward likely comes at a cost: unexpectedly losing a current Buckeyes linebacker.
What we know now is that another of Ohio State’s top linebacker targets will make his decision soon. That is Teradja Mitchell, the country’s second-ranked inside linebacker. He is expected to pick between the Buckeyes and the Florida State Seminoles on June 2, and Ohio State remains a hefty underdog on the 247Sports.com Crystal Ball predictions.
Today, as we look at the remaining options at linebacker for the Buckeyes, we’re going to operate under the assumption that Mitchell chooses the Seminoles over Ohio State next week.
However, there is a proverbial asterisk I feel necessary to implement: If Mitchell chooses the Buckeyes or if he doesn’t, the “number” for Ohio State likely doesn’t change. There are a handful of names left on the list at linebacker, and the majority of them would be a “take” for the Buckeyes come signing day with, or without, Mitchell on board.
Who are the players still worth watching?
Inside linebackers, outside shot?
Palaie Gaoteote | Las Vegas Bishop Gorman | ★★★★★
It feels talks like a pipe dream, and walks like a pipe dream, it probably is a pipe dream. But, if there’s any school in the country that has a chance to sway Palaie Gaoteote from his Southern Cal commitment, it’s Ohio State.
At one point, it was the Buckeyes who were the favorites to land the Las Vegas 5-star, but citing familiar vibes at Southern Cal, Gaoteote surprised many by committing to the Trojans in February. Rumblings that the country’s top-ranked inside linebacker will at least make an official visit to Ohio State this fall have not subsided, and there’s zero doubt that the Buckeyes would welcome him to their class, numbers be damned, happily.
Solomon Tuliaupupu | Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei | ★★★★
Solomon Tuliaupupu, the country’s third-ranked inside linebacker, could be the top remaining prospect on the board at the position for Ohio State.
Better yet, there’s at least cursory evidence that Tuliaupupu feels similarly interested in the Buckeyes program. A quietly planned, but vital, visit to Columbus happened in April, and the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker is considering leaving the West Coast for college, according to his father, and intends to return to Ohio State this summer.
“We really like Ohio State,” Turnbull Tuliaupupu told Land of 10. “We plan to visit a couple more times and that will help the decision process.”
USC, Alabama, Washington and Oregon are all firmly in the mix as well, but the impression made thus far by Bill Davis and the Buckeyes shouldn’t be overlooked.
K’Vaughan Pope | Dinwiddie (Va.) Dinwiddie County | ★★★★
If there’s a player at the linebacker position that is kind of being “slept on” with respect to Ohio State, it’s K’Vaughan Pope.
Pope visited the Buckeyes this spring, and despite the label of “athlete,” the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Dinwiddie standout projects as a prototypical middle linebacker at the next level. He can run, covering the field from sideline-to-sideline, and he’s physical enough to make a ball carrier or wide receiver pay the price for getting too comfortable in the middle of the field.
Florida is the school everyone is chasing at this point, but the Buckeyes are definitely in the mix.
Michael Harris | Tucker (Ga.) | ★★★
If you’re searching for a player to root for in hopes that he’ll eventually play for the Buckeyes, Michael Harris is a good choice.
Now living in Georgia, Harris spent some of his younger years in Springfield, Ohio, where members of his family still reside and where he became a diehard Ohio State fan. A 3-star linebacker prospect, Harris is working on his craft daily to reach one specific dream: playing for the Buckeyes.
If he wants that chance, he’ll need to get to campus soon and visit Ohio State in person. That’s supposed to happen on June 17, and if it does, Harris likely will know soon after whether he’s going to go “home” for college. Auburn, Georgia and a few other southern schools are in the mix, but this one is simple: If Ohio State wants him, Ohio State gets him.
Chase Kline | Chardon (Ohio) | ★★★
Every year it seems as if a random name from nowhere pops up, and as we head into the summer of 2017, one of those names has emerged: Chase Kline.
A 6-foot-3, 225-pound inside linebacker, Kline has caught the eye of a number of big-time programs, including Ohio State, with his physical play and above-average speed. The knock on him is the level of competition he’s playing against, but he’s performed well on the spring camp circuit. Similar showings at the Ohio State camps this summer could result in a major shift in his recruiting profile.
Outside linebackers, inside Ohio
This is where things get interesting. There are two in-state players everyone knows about, but will either one wind up in Columbus?
Christopher Oats | Cincinnati Winton Woods | ★★★★
Christopher Oats is another player who likely will end up at Ohio State if the Buckeyes decide to push for a commitment. Now, though, it’s hard to see exactly how Oats fits into the 2018 class.
He’s got a frame that is perhaps more suited for the defensive line than linebacker, and despite a lot of natural athletic ability, he is a touch raw as a linebacker. Offered by Ohio State in June 2016, Oats has become a top target for Luke Fickell at Cincinnati, and he’s also seriously considering Michigan State, Miami and Oklahoma.
Xavier Peters | West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West | ★★★★
There isn’t a linebacker in America that you’d want to step off your team bus before Xavier Peters.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he looks exactly like how you’d want a linebacker to look. He runs, he hits and he’s just getting started at Lakota West High School after starting his prep career at Middletown High School. Unfortunately for Peters, rumors of academic challenges at Middletown have given Ohio State reason to hold off on an offer. To his credit, Peters isn’t lamenting this delay, choosing instead to use it as a motivation to better himself and his game. That attitude is paying off. He’ll be heading to Oregon at the end of June for Nike’s The Opening and has solidified himself as one of the country’s premier linebacker prospects.
If the academic ship gets righted, it’s very easy to see him in the Ohio State recruiting class.