COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s tough to question anything Urban Meyer has done on the recruiting trail since arriving at Ohio State.
Doing so would be nothing more than nitpicking.
In five years, Meyer has signed four top-five classes and currently lays claim to the nation’s No. 1 class in 2017. The results have followed, with the Buckeyes amassing a 56-4 record in the past 4-1/2 seasons, including 2014’s run to the College Football Playoff championship.
And yet despite his success on the field, even Meyer would admit that his program has yet to reach its potential on the recruiting trail. Specifically, Ohio State still isn’t taking advantage of what should be one of its natural recruiting resources: its proximity to the talent-rich state of Pennsylvania.
The only scholarship player currently on the Buckeyes’ roster to hail from the Keystone State is safety Malik Hooker. For Meyer, that’s not enough.
“I didn’t realize that,” Meyer answered when informed Hooker was the only Pennsylvania product on his team. “It certainly is [a place we’d like to recruit more] . . . Malik’s doing great for us, but I didn’t realize that was it.”
Perhaps that’s because in past years, there was a more prominent Pennsylvania presence on the OSU roster.
In fact, the Keystone State flair Meyer first inherited from Jim Tressel’s roster could even be found in some of his players’ nicknames. Corey “Philly” Brown served as the Buckeyes’ leading receiver from 2012-13, while Corey “Pitt” Brown was a starting safety in 2013. Former 5-star defensive end and Harrisburg native Noah Spence was one of Meyer’s prized prospects in his initial Ohio State class and running back Jordan Hall was slated for a feature role in the Buckeyes’ spread offense when Meyer arrived in Columbus.
From 2008-10, one of the top prep players in Pennsylvania history, Terrelle Pryor, played his college career in Columbus, as well. But in the time since Meyer first arrived in Columbus five years ago, the number of Pennsylvania products on his roster has steadily reduced by 75 percent.
It hasn’t been because of lack of effort, according to Meyer. “I love the Pittsburgh area and the Philadelphia area,” the coach contends. “It’s not because we haven’t tried.”
And for good reason. According to SportsOnEarth.com, Pennsylvania tied with Michigan to produce the 10th-most top-300 players in the 2016 class with nine. That’s only three fewer top-300 players than Ohio produced this past year.
From 2013-17, Pennsylvania has produced 43 combined 4 and 5-star prospects—the 11th-most of any state in that span, according to SB Nation. It may not be as fertile recruiting ground as Texas, Florida or even Ohio, but Pennsylvania is a valuable recruiting resource nonetheless.
That rings especially true for a program in a bordering state, like Ohio, which is why Meyer has attempted to maintain a pipeline into Pennsylvania for his program.
In 2016, the Buckeyes’ extended eight scholarship offers into Pennsylvania, including one to 4-star cornerback Damar Hamlin. Yet despite his efforts, Meyer has signed just two prep prospects from Pennsylvania in the past five years — Spence in 2012 and Hooker in 2014.
According to Meyer, one of the biggest problems the Buckeyes have faced in attempting to infiltrate Pennsylvania has been the presence of not one, but two Power Five programs. Since arriving at Pitt in 2015, Pat Narduzzi has managed to keep local products like Hamlin and 4-star cornerback Jordan Whitehead away from Ohio State while the Buckeyes’ upcoming opponent this weekend, Penn State, has had similar success under the direction of James Franklin.
In 2015, 11 of Pennsylvania’s top 15 prospects — including every one of its top 5 — wound up at either Pitt or Penn State.
“You’ve got two good schools,” Meyer said. “We lost a guy to Pitt right out of Pittsburgh [Hamlin] and they’re good places and they do a good job.”
That won’t stop the Buckeyes from trying. They currently remain in the thick of the recruitment of 2017 4-star cornerback Lamont Wade, although the 247Sports Crystal Ball currently projects the Clairton, Pa., native as a Penn State lean. Ohio State has also offered RB D’Andre Swift, the state’s top player and a current Georgia commit, as well as 4-star DE Donovan Jeter and 4-star safety Paris Ford.
According to the projections, however, the Buckeyes are likely to sign a third consecutive class without any Pennsylvania presence in 2017. That would mark the longest Ohio State has gone without signing a player from its neighbor to the East since recruiting websites began tracking classes in the early-2000s.
As the on-field results show, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and Meyer’s more national approach on the recruiting trail has played a role in the reduction of the Pennsylvania presence on the Buckeyes’ roster as well. It’s also worth noting that while still ample, the top talent available in the Keystone State has declined in recent years, according to a 2013 report in Philadelphia Inquirer (via Business Insider).
Whatever the reason, it’s still surprising — even for Meyer — to look at Ohio State’s roster and see just one player from Pennsylvania.
But again, all of this is just nitpicking.
Be sure to stay tuned to Land of 10 on Thursday for Jeremy Birmingham’s breakdown of the Ohio State-Penn State recruiting rivalry.