We continue our series looking forward to what the future of Ohio State football will hold with a profile of Eli Apple (the playmaking artist formerly known as Eli Woodard) in this edition of Bucks to the Future. Apple – aggregately evaluated as the best player in the state of New Jersey from the 2013 class – follows our look at Cameron Burrows and sets the table for what's going to be a very promising secondary in the next 3-5 years. We explore how Apple wound up choosing Ohio State, plus what his particular skill set has in store for fans in the Horseshoe the next several seasons.
(Grain of salt) 40 average: 4.51
High School: Eastern Regional High School, Voorhees, NJ (a township 35 minutes outside Philadelphia)
Eli Apple, then known as Eli Woodard, first burst onto the radar of major programs across the country around his sophomore year in high school. Apple had been playing competitive football since as early as middle school, and had even camped at Ohio State in just seventh grade (providing this absolutely incredible photo opportunity). Apple first got an offer from Ohio State the summer before his junior year after standing out at another Buckeyes' camp:
"It's definitely a relief to get a (verbal) offer from Ohio State," said Woodard. "I've definitely loved watching them play. I've been watching them play since I was in grade school. It's just a real great offer to get."
Woodard was called in to speak with the coaching staff after camp.
"First I spoke with coach (Taver) Johnson because I was in his room," he explained. "Then coach Haynes and head coach (Luke) Fickell came in and talked to me."
The Buckeyes instantly jumped into Apple's top three, joining Notre Dame and Purdue, each of whom he'd also gone to camps at. While he'd also camp at/visit Rutgers later that summer, Apple wasn't shy from the get go that Ohio State was basically his "dream school". Eli took an unofficial visit to Ohio State again later that summer and spoke openly that the decision on where he'd be playing his college football could come as early as after the conclusion of that fall's junior season on the field.
The offers kept coming in for the highly prized defense back, as Nick Saban and Alabama would make an offer early that September. The interest in Ohio State didn't wane, however, as he'd visit multiple more times that fall. When Urban Meyer was hired following a tumultuous year for the program, Apple was understandably excited at the prospects of playing for the multiple national championship winning head coach:
"I believe coach (Luke) Fickell and the coaching staff did a great job with what they had to deal with," said Woodard. "Now, if there had to be a move made, the hiring of coach Meyer certainly is an exciting one and just about as good as it can get. It should be interesting to see how everything pans out and I could definitely see myself playing for him, he's a great coach."
Even after Ohio State's bowl ban was issued for the 2012 season, Apple's strong interest in OSU didn't seem swayed in the least. Apple would spend much of early 2012 continuing to speak highly of Ohio State (Alabama and Notre Dame at times seemed to be the only programs remotely close) before taking a visit with his entire family to Columbus in early February of 2012. While the conventional wisdom at the time was that Apple could commit during that four day trip to central Ohio, he instead started spreading word through recruiting experts that he'd be committing that Thursday and announcing his decision to the world on the social media site, Twitter.
On Thursday, February 16th, 2012, Apple made the decision he'd previously let the coaches know about official:
After much prayer and consideration, I'm proud to commit as a student-athlete to The Ohio State University! #BuckeyeNation— Eli Apple (@EliApple_9) February 16, 2012
Apple's commitment would never waiver after the fact, as he'd stay strongly committed to Ohio State up and through that summer's The Opening 2012. In Eugene, Eli ran a bit slower than desired 40 at 4.63, but this could just as easily been a combination of nerves and more accurate than we're probably accustomed to hearing about laser timing that produces more realistic and less human error ripe results. For what it's worth, fellow former New Jersey product Malcolm Jenkins also was never exactly a burner either.
Apple would go on to draw high marks at the rest of the event (which also produced this awesome photo opportunity with fellow 2013-ers Jayme Thompson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Cam Burrows). It was there that Barking Carnival's Scipio Tex had this to say about the 2013 corner:
Eli Woodard is a different variety of cornerback - built long and lean, but not skinny. Though I didn't get to see as many of his reps, he's a very instinctive athlete who adapted well to the mixed zone/man coverages you need to run against basketball on grass. Made a great plant and pick on a sideline throw in a late round tourney game and can do some things with the ball once he grabs it. Presumably, he can help you on special teams. His wingspan and quickness reminded me a bit of current Longhorn cornerback Carrington Byndom, which may not help you, but it's high praise.
I saw lot of DBs at the event, and though I liked a couple of other corners as much, i can't imagine a better 2013 combo headed to one school. Given their physical specs and general demeanor, if they don't pan at cornerback for whatever reason, you've got productive assets at safety.
After the event, Apple would receive a fifth star from ESPN, though remain a four star average amongst the four major recruiting services through his senior year.
Following a solid fall senior season at Eastern, Apple's last shot at a New Jersey state championship would come up just shy, when in the state semifinals, his team would lose 30-27 to a school featuring Joe Flacco's kid brother Tom at quarterback. Apple played both ways and had four catches for 64 yards (including a 31 yard TD) in the losing effort.
The final high school game of Apple's career would come in the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but just prior to taking part in the prestigious honor, Apple had the sort of uplifting announcement we don't get as often as we should in sports:
"A wise man once stated, 'Fatherhood is not biology. Fatherhood is responsibility.' From the time I was two years old my dad, Timothy Apple, has been my father. He's nurtured, provided, and protected our family. I am the man I am today because of his tireless love, and commitment to our family. So it is with great pride and honor to carry his last name. I am truly blessed to be Eli Apple. Go Bucks!"
In an effort to get into the mix in the defensive backfield for playing time as soon as possible, Apple had also taken classes the summer before his senior year in high school. This allowed him to both graduate from high school before his peers and enroll early at Ohio State, where he's been taking classes since the first week of the 2013 spring semester.
While the semester head start on the rest of his 2013 classmates can only work in his favor, here's what we know in a nutshell about what Eli Apple brings to the table for the Buckeyes:
- Apple's already proven he's solid in run support. While adjusting to the speed and physicality of some of the wide receivers in the college ranks may come with a bit of a natural learning curve, particularly in the Big Ten, his skills against the run could help him get on to the field sooner rather than later.
- At 6-0, 185 (especially with room to grow in his first Camp Marotti), Apple falls on the big-ish side for a cornerback. While it's no sure thing he winds up more in the Malcolm Jenkins' class when everything's said and done, those that scouted both in the New Jersey High School ranks feel very strongly that he may prove to be a real home run get for the Bucks when everything's said and done.
- Apple's showcased the ability to both play on the outside and mark the slot receiver when necessary. This may help offset some of the trepidations about a not exactly mind blowing 40-yard dash at The Opening 2012.
Does all of this mean that Apple will be able to beat out the likes of Doran Grant, Adam Griffin, or the combination of Najee Murray, Devan Bogard, Tyvis Powell, and Ron Tanner for early playing time? Not definitively. The upperclassmen will get the edge from a competitive standpoint and even though a number of the second year players mentioned missed time their freshman year with injury or otherwise, they'll have had a year ingrained in the system to the several months Apple will have to his name.
It's pretty reasonable to expect that Apple will contribute on kick coverage, at worst, and given his relatively advanced feel for coverage, while it'd be unrealistic to expect he could be an impact corner from day one, not unlike Jenkins, it's not impossible he sees the field in nickel scenarios early.
Highlight Jam Session
One of These Things is Blatantly False
- Eli Apple can be followed on Twitter at @EliApple_9
- Eli won't be able to wear his high school jersey of #9, at least not right away, due to it belonging to secondary mate Adam Griffin.
- All obvious plays on the number nine are taken too (#18 Najee Murray, #27 retired, #33 Nik Sarac – though as a walk-on I imagine could become available if a stud like Apple really wanted it, #45 retired). Whatever number Apple rocks in 2013 will almost assuredly be something new/different.
- Apple was named first team all-conference, first team all-South Jersey, and first team all-New Jersey after his senior year at Eastern.
- Apple most assuredly does not sleep with a stuffed bear in the quad he shares with fellow early enrollees Cameron Burrows, Tracy Sprinkle, and Tyquan Lewis.