A funny thing happened in the world of Ohio State recruiting this morning.
Quarterback Danny Clark, an Ohioan who had been committed to Urban Meyer’s program for nearly three years, renounced his pledge to Ohio State ... and many fans viewed it as a win for the Buckeyes.
The Danny Clark saga is a microcosm of the recruiting super power that Meyer has built in Columbus, and it should make Buckeye fans feel excited, optimistic and uneasy all at the same time.
For the longest time, Clark epitomized the stereotypical boy-dream of a kid who grew up in the shadow of Ohio Stadium. “I truly felt I was born to play for the Buckeyes,” he expressed in his decommitment letter on Twitter.
Out of respect for coaches on OSU staff, I will not be answering any questions on this topic. Ever... pic.twitter.com/KCUR4ZzcaA— 10 Weeks (@DClarkQB) September 27, 2016
Reading that passage, it’s easy to envision a young Clark playing catch with his Dad in the backyard, donned in a loose-fitting jersey of Scarlet and Grey. Only in Clark’s mind, he wasn’t tossing the ball around with his Dad, he was throwing strikes to Teddy Ginn or Santonio Holmes in front of 100,000 screaming fans.
It appeared that Clark’s lifelong dream would be realized when he committed to Meyer in December of 2013. So why was his storybook ending rewritten today?
For one, the 6’4 quarterback isn’t the best fit for Ohio State’s offense. Clark admitted this much. The quarterback run has always been a staple of Meyer’s spread option attack, and Clark is better suited for a more traditional pro-style approach.
But that was the case in 2013 as well.
In truth, the Ohio State program has changed more in the last three years than Clark has. In the late-winter of 2013, the Buckeyes were recovering from a devastating loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 title game. Yes, that was OSU’s first loss in 25 games under Meyer, but the program didn’t have the national cachet it does today.
Everything changed when Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff National Championship in 2015. The postseason wins against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon served as a month-long infomercial for the Buckeyes’ recruitment brand. Blue-chip talent from across the country began to recognize that Columbus was a destination to realize college football glory. That notion was only further emphasized last Spring when five Buckeyes were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Meyer has always been an elite recruiter. Ohio State has always been a prestigious school. Yet the recent success has created an environment that has likely never been seen in the Midwest before; the OSU staff isn’t recruiting talent as much as it’s selecting it.
Unfortunately this means that sometimes even the most devout Buckeye supporters get left behind.
We’ll likely never know what transpired between Meyer and Clark leading up to today. Clark tweeted that he’ll never answer questions about the matter, out of respect for the coaches. The coaches are not even permitted to speak about specific recruits until national signing day in February.
Reading between the lines, it’s fair to assume that Clark didn’t develop into the player Meyer thought he’d be as a high school freshman. Ohio State has never signed multiple quarterbacks in a recruiting class under Meyer, yet the coaches actively pursued other options for the 2017 class well after Clark’s commitment. This summer Tate Martell, the second-ranked dual threat quarterback in the country, verbally committed to the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has a space issue, and this isn’t the year to spend two scholarships on a position where only one player can start. There are 17 prospects committed to OSU at the moment, but only six scholarship seniors set to leave the program after this season.
This means that the Buckeyes will need to shed at least 11 scholarship athletes from the current roster, through transfers or early entrees to the NFL. And that’s assuming Ohio State only signs 17 athletes this February, an unlikely scenario when the Buckeyes are considered to be leaders for a pair of five-stars, per 247sports, and in contention for other top-ranked recruits.
This is not a new scenario for the Ohio State coaching staff. The Buckeyes lost a commitment earlier this year from 4-star running back Todd Sibley, after he was asked to grayshirt in light of the numbers crunch. Sibley happens to be Clark’s teammate at Archbishop Hoban. It’s possible that the option to delay college enrollment for a year was presented to Clark, as well.
Even if Clark were to greyshirt, there was still no guarantee that he would ever play a meaningful down for his beloved Buckeyes. Emory Jones, the top-ranked dual threat signal caller in the class of 2018, is already in the fold for next year. He and Martell both seem better suited to succeed as Ohio State’s quarterback.
“Sometimes the writing is on the wall, and you just have to see through the tears to read what it says,” wrote Clark.
The writing is a list of four and five-star recruits from every corner of the country, destined to bring more championships to Columbus.
It’s OK to celebrate that. But don’t look past Danny Clark’s tears.