““I promise you this. When I lay my head on the pillow at night, I ask myself one question — coach Meyer requires it: Did you beat Alabama’s corners coach today? If the answer is yes, good. Get up tomorrow and continue. If the answer is no, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ ””
-- Kerry Coombs
““Recruiting is hard. It’s just finding the needles in the haystack. You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when challenged? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answer isn't very important, it’s the meta-data. ””
-- Steve Jobs
Recruiting at Ohio State: long hours, even longer days. The staid smell of the same cabin interior for hours at a time. The jitters and bumps as you ascend and descend even in inclement weather to go to the same school you've been to a half a dozen times before – or one that looks and feels exactly like it.
And yet to a man, when the Gatorade (and maybe even champagne) is toasted later this evening in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, not one of them would tell you it wasn't worth it.
Since Urban Meyer first arrived in Columbus, he's brought with him a relentless pursuit of perfection in virtually all aspects of his program: on the field, off the field, on the road, and even just in the remedial aspects of day-to-day life. Challenging one's subordinates to be the best husband and fathers they can be seems trivial; heck, even in light of the way the previous administration conducted themselves during the Jim Tressel era, it doesn't even seem like a departure from what we've long since grown accustomed to.
But now there's this edge – something not quite the same – that permeates from the holdovers like Luke Fickell (and to a lesser extent Mike Vrabel), and on through the intense professional demeanor of an Everett Withers, or a Ed Warinner.
Meyer and his staff stepped into a situation last year where a 6-7 football team possessed a fringe top 25 recruiting class and sat on the precipice of setting Ohio State back half a decade or more. He didn't just take lemons and turn them into lemonade; he turned them into Antica Distilleria Russo limoncello.
Last season's consensus top-5 class set the table for what would turn into a 12-0 season. This season's even better one seems primed to raise the bar even higher. The really scary thought, however, is that for all the talk of this being the most complete class in Ohio State history, next season's might be even better.
"You're from Ohio and you belong at Ohio State."
The foundation for Ohio State's 2013 class started just over a year ago. During the afternoon of Jan.19, 2012, Trotwood, Ohio defensive back Cameron Burrows took the plunge, becoming the inaugural member of what was to be Urban Meyer's second-ever recruiting class at Ohio State. As a consensus four-star prospect, it certainly seemed like a momentous enough occasion in the moment, but long term, helped to set the tone for what would ultimately evolve into one of the nation's best group of incoming freshmen.
A little more than a week later, (then) 5-star athlete Jalin Marshall from Middletown, just north of the Cincinnati metro area, became the bellwether for the class of 2013. While Marshall stared at Middletown High at quarterback, he projected favorably to the next level at wide receiver. Though the early returns at Nike's The Opening 2012 over the summer in Eugene were a bit on the rocky side, Marshall looked 100% the real deal at the 2013 Under Armour All-American Game, standing out as one of the best receivers at event.
|Ohio State 2013 Football Commits|
|COMMIT||Pos||Ht / Wt||Location||247||Scout||Rivals||ESPN||Video|
|Vonn Bell||S||5-11 / 185||Rossville, GA||*****||*****||*****||****||YouTube|
|Jalin Marshall||WR||6-0 / 190||Middletown, OH||****||*****||****||****||YouTube|
|Joey Bosa||DE||6-5 / 265||Fort Lauderdale, FL||****||*****||****||****||YouTube|
|Eli Apple||CB||6-0 / 180||Voorhees, NJ||****||****||****||*****||YouTube|
|Mike Mitchell||LB||6-4 / 222||Plano, TX||****||*****||*****||****||Hudl|
|Cameron Burrows||CB||6-1 / 195||Trotwood, OH||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||6-0 / 195||St Louis, MO||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Dontre Wilson||WR/RB||5-10 / 173||DeSoto, TX||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Evan Lisle||OT||6-6 / 275||Centerville, OH||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Marcus Baugh||TE||6-4 / 215||Riverside, CA||****||****||****||****||Hudl|
|Trey Johnson||LB||6-2 / 218||Lawrenceville, GA||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|J.T. Barrett||QB||6-1 / 210||Wichita Falls, TX||****||****||****||****||Fox Sports|
|Gareon Conley||CB||6-1 / 172||Massillon, OH||****||****||***||****||YouTube|
|Michael Hill||DT||6-2 / 315||Pendleton, SC||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Billy Price||DT||6-4 / 265||Youngstown, OH||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Jayme Thompson||S||6-2 / 185||Toledo, OH||****||****||****||****||Hudl|
|James Clark||WR||5-11 / 170||New Smyrna Beach, FL||****||****||****||****||YouTube|
|Corey Smith||WR||6-2 / 185||Toledo, OH||****||****||****||****||Hudl|
|Donovan Munger||DT||6-4 / 285||Cleveland, OH||****||****||***||****||Hudl|
|Tyquan Lewis||DE||6-3 / 225||Tarboro, NC||****||****||****||***||Hudl|
|Christopher Worley||S/LB||6-2 / 190||Cleveland, OH||****||***||***||***||YouTube|
|Tracy Sprinkle||DE||6-4 / 245||Elyria, OH||***||***||***||***||Hudl|
|Timothy Gardner||OL||6-5 / 315||Indianapolis, IN||****||***||***||***||Hudl|
|Darron Lee||ATH||6-1 / 205||New Albany, OH||***||****||***||***||Hudl|
National Signing Day 2012 would come and go. The Buckeyes would exit the annual event with that talent repleted to the levels Ohio State fans had grown accustomed during what some had viewed as a sort of gilded age. For all Ohio State's lingering personnel issues from a team that despite the tumult and off-the-field distractions that had in part led to the previous lost season, the ceiling for what Ohio State could accomplish in year one seemed instantaneously heightened.
But much as year two has always represented the jumping off point for Meyer at his previous coaching staffs in terms of success in the wins/losses columns, the second class of incoming high school recruits stood every bit as poised to experience a similar renaissance.
Just more than a week removed from welcoming in 20-some odd new faces to a program in transition, Meyer's staff set out to continuing remaking Ohio State's football program in their image. Youngstown DT/OL Billy Price would give his verbal pledge to further the future of the program, and three days later, Eli Woodard (now Apple), a 4-star defensive back from New Jersey (who shares more than a home state similarity to former Buckeye great Malcolm Jenkins) would profess his desire to sign on as well. Four-star tackle Evan Lisle, a potential anchor on the line from Centerville, would close out February with a verbal commitment to Meyer's movement. The picture was coming together piece by piece, and with Ohio State's spring game becoming nearer and nearer, the jumping-off point for an elite group was becoming more and more tangible.
Electric (and at the time rather underrated) 3-star running back/athlete Ezekiel Elliott from St. Louis will make up for a month without a commitment, by signing on at the beginning of April. Despite the relatively lower standing star-wise, Elliott had outstanding offers from Georgia, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The tape didn't lie; Elliott was perfectly in the mold for skill position players tailor-made for Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman's offense.
But despite being a good diplomat for the program and Meyer's vision of its future for almost 13 months, Elliott ultimately had to keep things interesting right down to the final wire, electing to take a somewhat last-minute visit to the alma mater of his parents, Missouri. Whether the thinking was to make sure he'd exercised his due diligence or merely to soak up every lingering second of a process that would turn from exploratory to business in nature the moment the fax was received on the opposing end, Elliott went as far as to make his decision hours after Meyer's press conference introducing the exciting foundation of the future of Ohio State football.
April overall, though, would serve as a turning point, not just with 2013 as a class itself, but for the future of Meyer's Columbus budding college football power construct. Safety Jayme Thompson, tight end Marcus Baugh, quarterback J.T. Barrett, defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle, and capping things off in style, four/five-star end Joey Bosa all pledged allegiance to Meyer's football factory in the making.
So too did later LSU enrollee Lewis Neal (who'd decommit after just 7 days), and a young man named Alex Anzalone, whose personal plight would include being photographed with what would be revealed to be a registered sex offender, leading to a decommitment to Ohio State and commitment to Notre Dame, and then an absolute last-second flip to Florida early in January. But his loaded arc necessitates almost its own deep dive.
A quiet May would open the door to a bustling end of June. Later NSD '13 decommit Johnny Townsend proved to be a surprising take in a post-Jim Tressel world June 19, only to be followed a week later by the electric, versatile safety Darron Lee, a New Albany native, and son of proud mom and local Columbus news anchor Candice Lee. Michael Hill, an understated (well, as understated as a 4-star 315 pounder can be) but gifted potential anchor in the middle of the defensive line, got on board at the end of the month.
July would see two of the more surprising additions to the class lend their name. Super sleeper 3-star athlete Taivon Jacobs from District Heights, Maryland, in the Washington D.C. metro area would commit July 19, but despite staying committed to Ohio State until National Signing Day, citing an infant daughter in the area and a brother on Randy Edsall's Maryland Terrapins team, would flip his commitment to the Terps. The other, Timothy Gardner, interestingly had changed his Twitter profile to reflect him as an Ohio State commit earlier in the summer, but it wasn't believed he'd even been fully evaluated by Ohio State's coaches then. After seeing all they needed to see at one of their summer camps, the versatile OL/DL's commitment was finally accepted, and he now enters next fall as a potential sleeping giant for the future of the offensive line.
"We make no apologies for winning or for aiming our entire program toward that goal."
With the first annual "Camp Meyer" taking its toll on Ohio State's current players, the recruiting Ferris wheel slowed to a stop, if but for a month and change. Four-star defensive end (and ultimate early enrollee) Tyquan Lewis celebrated Ohio State's 3-0 start on the field, by adding his name to the fold for 2013. Lewis hasn't gotten near the attention of the likes of a Joey Bosa or linebacker Mike Mitchell, but had offers from LSU and his home state North Carolina Tar Heels.
The rest of Ohio State's season would be quiet from a recruiting stand point (though the on-the-field product proved anything but). But something funny happened on the way to a perfect 12-0 regular season.
After playing host to a bevy of high-profile recruits at the game that would see, in dramatic fashion, Ohio State not only unseat their arch rivals, 26-21, but seal a perfect 2012 regular season, the Buckeyes had a budding movement on their hand.
The first spark would rear its head in the form of a Michigan decommitment turned Ohio State flip in the form of 4-star cornerback Gareon Conley. Some have called Conley the best commit in the entire class and pointed to his natural instincts at playing the ball from the cornerback position. Conley, whose cousin is current Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, realized the error of his ways, and instantly converted from ostensible foe to Buckeye evangelist. Four-star Florida State target (and some thought lean) Donovan Munger, another visitor to The Game, came aboard two weeks later.
December would later give way to the first commitment of what's long thought to be the target point for the donning of something really special from a talent sense with the 2014 class, but with the holiday season and the pending high school all-star games, the next moments for potential action wouldn't come until the annual Under Armour and US Army All-American Games.
"Great. I'm excited. Now here's a list of kids I need you to call and get them to come to The Ohio State University."
Four-star linebacker Trey Johnson, a participant at the Under Armour Game, had been a one-time Auburn commitment. Gene Chizik's dismissal would open the door for him to reevaluate his decision. Though Johnson was thought by some to prefer Florida over the Buckeyes, with no real roster spot for him, Johnson announced during the game that he'd be becoming a Buckeye next summer. While Johnson's commitment was celebrated and welcomed by Buckeye faithful, the real target had long been four/five-star linebacker Mike Mitchell, a Texas native and player in the Army game. Mitchell had drawn the attention of recruitniks and Ohio State devotees alike after winning the SPARQ skill position contest at Nike's The Opening 2012. He'd drawn extra attention for cavorting with Ohio State commits Cam Burrows, Ezekiel Elliott, and Eli Apple during the week as well. During the latter portions of the all-star game, Mitchell made his long, poorly kept secret official: he was going to follow in the line of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Ryan Shazier to become potentially the next difference maker-level Ohio State linebacker.
A week's time later would see the famed Cleveland Glenville (home of Ted Ginn Sr) pipeline's reactivation, with the not highly regarded but potential knockout safety Christopher Worley joining the class after finally removing the standardized testing obstacles long thought to be blocking his commitment. While Worley may never be a Donte Whitner type, it's widely expected he'll make an impact on special teams from day one.
"The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win."
Of course leave it to the home stretch to provide the real drama. After almost two weeks of will he/won't he (and some open speculation about how two stops at two different community colleges would impact transcript transferability), junior college star Corey Smith would enter the fray as well. Smith, a more physically mature wide receiver, could follow in the junior college tradition of the likes of Kansas State (or from an Ohio State standpoint, now San Francisco 49er Larry Grant) in terms of his ability to get on the field and make an impact in a hurry. With just two years of eligibility remaining, Smith won't have the luxury of growing into the program that his classmates will.
Perhaps the single biggest salvo fired from the Meyer class came just two short days before National Signing Day '13. After hitting seemingly all of Oregon's four-star and higher commits after Chip Kelly departed for the National Football League, Dontre Wilson would represent the culmination of a month of hard work. The dynamic wide receiver/running back (who can probably best be classified as an all-purpose back), decommitted from Oregon and committed to the Buckeyes on a Dallas/Fort Worth area local news station in one of the most watched moments of the year for Ohio State faithful. Even were the Buckeyes to miss out on their few lingering targets in the class, it'd be no exaggeration to say Meyer ended the class with an exclamation point with Wilson alone.
On Feb. 6, 2013, in the wake of a widely split Ohio State recruitatariat, Meyer solidified his already well-heralded reputation as one of the game's most categorical closers.
To an already top-5 class, the Buckeyes added in the likes of four-star wide receiver (and lightning fast) James Clark. Then, as if to just rub it in, Meyer plucked perhaps the most gifted asset in his entire class, in 5-star safety Vonn Bell. Bell, who'd been all but considered an Alabama mortal lock for essentially all of his recruitment, turned, in a little more than a month's time, from a Bama lock to an Ohio State probable to a Tennessee lean to an Ohio State commit. When asked the motivations behind his Signing Day pledge, to Ohio State, Bell cited "business interests", which is only fitting as Meyer demonstrated time and time again throughout this class that was effectively, at the end of the day, what he was all about.
Meyer and his staff, however, won't even be able to take the 24 hour rules so often afforded of the most stoic coaches in the game to enjoy their accomplishments for that long; much as the coach infamously made a call from Florida's post-national championship locker room in 2008 to a potential recruiting target, Meyer was on the phone this afternoon speaking with 2014 WR Dallis Todd and TE-LB Tyler Luatua. And so too will the staff when the sun rises tomorrow. For all Ohio State's class represents in terms of the future on-the-field product for the Ohio State Buckeyes, it's still only part two in a indeterminately long series in a lingering major reconstruction product. During his 2013 welcoming press conference Meyer spoke of a study indicating that one out of every three recruits didn't make it, another third are just okay or average, and only one of those three's full potential is maximized. "That's not good enough," the Buckeyes coach said emphatically. And betting on precedent, when next year's class is being introduced, he'll have proved it isn't.