Damon Webb to Ohio State is a big deal.
The 2014 Detroit Cass Tech prospect committing to Ohio State is a big deal, for a few reasons.
This was a great weekend for Ohio State. Anytime the Buckeyes beats Michigan in anything, it's reason enough to rejoice, and the men's basketball team dispatched the previously unbeaten Wolverines, 56-53.
But in what is even potentially bigger news, Ohio State football received a verbal commitment from Detroit Cass Tech junior Damon Webb. Webb is arguably the top player in the state of Michigan for the class of 2014, and when recruiting services finish their 2014 scouting reports, it's expected he'll be one of the top 3-4 cornerbacks (some say even the best) in the country.
Not to sound all stereotypical-Ohio State fan, but that seems par for the course – OSU regularly attracts top talent from all over the country. As fans, we're accustomed to getting the cream of the crop from the state of Ohio, and that's still the case under Urban Meyer. But Meyer has a recruiting philosophy that's more national in focus, and leaves no stone unturned. Although Ohio will still be a huge part of OSU recruiting classes, there's been a change in philosophy, and Damon Webb is an example of that.
Although there have been a few noteworthy Buckeyes from Michigan, they are a lot less common than Ohio kids going to Michigan, for a couple reasons. There's just a richer pool of talent in Ohio, and what talent the state of Michigan does produce almost always goes to Michigan or Michigan State. Because of that talent gap, OSU historically focuses on Ohio first, and generally neglected the state of Michigan. This isn't a dig at the state of Michigan, but let's face it: OSU has to work hard just to keep the kids in Ohio they want from going elsewhere, so they have focused their attention within Ohio's borders.
That started to change last year. Urban Meyer targets the best guys at each position, regardless of location, and that might mean a guy from Ohio that would almost be an OSU lock in past years might not necessarily be a lock anymore. Meyer won't get every guy he targets, but he will cede no ground to anyone, and Webb is exhibit A in that.
And the shot across the bow was last summer.
Michigan has an annual Sound Mind, Sound Body football camp, and it's quickly become a premier camp in the state in the eight short years it has been around. The last few years, both Michigan and Michigan State increased their presence at the camp, and just sort of assumed Ohio State would pass. Maybe past coaching staffs, but not this one. Urban Meyer was given an opening last year and took advantage of it, while catching both UM and MSU off guard. A quote from the Free Press by camp director Curtis Blackwell:
The last couple of years, Michigan and Michigan State have been coming down here talking at the camp and Michigan was kind of dragging their feet a little bit about doing some instruction,'' said Blackwell. "So it was open. The new coaches were saying at Ohio State, ‘Hey, we'll come up there and do whatever.' ... We always give (Michigan and Michigan State) the first right of refusal.
"In the afternoon session, we had some spots open where the coaches can do some leading in the classroom and on the field, and we said also the keynote on opening day is open, and (Ohio State) said Urban is going to fly up here and the other coaches will spend the first day here helping at the camp. ... So after that, Michigan and Michigan State are running down saying, ‘We're going to be there.' We said you have to treat it the same every year. The Ohio State coaches said it's a priority to be in this area. They said they know the 2013 class is locked up, but for every year moving forward they're going to be in on it."
(emphasis our own)
Webb goes to high school at Detroit Cass Tech, a venerable pipeline for Michigan, not unlike how Cleveland Glenville seemingly always direct talent Ohio State's general direction. Just in the 2013 class alone, the Wolverines have three guys from Cass Tech (David Dawson, Delano Hill, and Jourdan Lewis) all committed to UM, and they're all 4-star guys. If you're a top prospect in the state of Michigan, and go to Cass Tech, well, then you usually become a Michigan Wolverine, or a Michigan State Spartan. Detroit Cass Tech guys just don't go to Ohio State.
"But wait a minute," you say to yourself, "Vernon Gholston was a beast for Ohio State, and he was a Detroit Cass Tech guy."
You'd be absolutely correct in that, but if you remember Gholston's recruitment, he wasn't a big time prospect coming out of high school. Everyone liked his athleticism, but no one really knew what position he would play. Scout.com had him as their 9th best player in the state of Michigan in 2003, and although he had offers from Michigan and Michigan State, he was considered by many a three-star project.
And anyway, that was back in 2004, so I would argue the statute of limitations on claiming a Cass Tech guy for Ohio State had expired.
Urban Meyer has planted the Ohio State flag in the heart of Michigan recruiting, and it's a big deal. To illustrate, let's make a comparison. Cleveland Glenville is generally considered one of Ohio State's Ohio high school pipelines, and provides quality talent to Columbus on a yearly basis. Troy Smith, Ted Ginn, Jr., and Donte Whitner, among others, have come from there. This would be the equivalent of Brady Hoke recruiting a guy along the caliber of Ginn or Whitner.
"Well, hold on,", you once again say to yourself, "what about Kyle Kalis and Dymonte Thomas, two big time Ohio high school kids that are enrolled at or going to Michigan? Don't they count?"
Well, yes and no. True, they're big time Ohio prospects, but neither one of them went to institutions with the sort of dynamic/preexisting relationships any of those "farm school" programs have. And the situations in which they were recruited to Michigan were pretty different. For Kalis, he was an early commit for Jim Tressel, but wavered and eventually flipped after Tressel was fired and no permanent head coach had been named. For Thomas, Ohio State's interest early on was tepid, and when all the tumult around the program erupted, Luke Fickell had to work overtime just to keep current recruits in the fold. By the time Meyer was even named Ohio State's head coach, Thomas had no interest in Ohio State.
So Meyer was given an opening, and caught Michigan off guard. Now that Ohio State has a foothold at Cass Tech, could it lead to more guys coming to Columbus from one of Michigan's main recruiting pipelines?
That remains to be seen. I'm sure Michigan won't give Meyer an opening like they did last year, and maybe they can shore up their right flank. They've still got a huge presence at Cass Tech and will probably get the lion's share of recruits from there. But it has to be unsettling knowing that your arch rival now has an in in an area you thought was pretty much invulnerable to attack.
And if we've learned anything about Urban Meyer and recruiting, it's to not bet against him.