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Don’t sleep on Virginia as an important recruiting ground for Ohio State football

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The Buckeyes will go anywhere to grab elite talent. But Virginia may be more important than you think.

In college football recruiting, relationships, pipelines, and familiarity are everything. The more familiar and comfortable a recruit is with your school, the better of a chance you have to ultimately land that recruit. Outside of maybe Nick Saban, no coach in college football understands that more than Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Urban is widely considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country, and it shows, both in his recruiting class rankings, and in his results on the field.

One of the things that Meyer is excellent at is identifying states he wants to hit hard, and bringing in assistant coaches that he knows can help accomplish his goals. The main pipeline states are well known by Buckeye fans, and have been for years. Ohio, Florida and Texas are the three largest, with Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey frequently being hit hard as well. However, there’s a crucial state that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for how important it is to Ohio State: Virginia.

Ohio State has landed five recruits from Virginia since the 2014 class, with the most recent being 4-star linebacker Teradja Mitchell on Friday night. Of the states Ohio State recruits, only three have produced more Buckeyes than Virginia: Ohio, Florida, and Texas, with five of the six Texas recruits signing in the 2017 cycle. Only six states have produced five or more Buckeyes since 2014.

Here's what the recruiting breakdown, by state, looks like under Urban Meyer.

Florida Georgia Maryland Ohio Texas Virginia
2014 1 2 0 16 1 1
2015 3 1 1 12 0 2
2016 3 0 3 10 0 1
2017 4 0 1 6 5 0
2018 4 2 0 2 0 1
Total 15 5 5 46 6 5

Obviously the 2018 class is nowhere near being complete, and some of the states on that list, especially Ohio, are set to add more future Buckeyes in the coming months, but it’s easy to see that these six states have been the main priority for Ohio State in the last few years. It hasn’t always been that way. Under former head coach Jim Tressel, when looking at his five "prime years" in recruiting, 2007-2011, the priority states were very different.

Here's what that recruiting breakdown looked like under Tressel. Again, by state.

Florida Ohio Pennsylvania
2007 2 14 1
2008 4 10 2
2009 2 24 3
2010 2 11 2
2011 3 15 1
Total 13 74 9

First of all, there are only three of them. Only three states produced five or more Buckeyes from 2007-2011. Those three states combined to produce 96 recruits, or 78% of the classes in that time period. Under Meyer, six states have combined to produce 82 recruits, or roughly 71% of the classes. So not only are the states different, but Ohio State is less dependent on them.

Speaking of being less dependent on certain states, the dependency on Ohio has dropped under Meyer as well, from a whopping 60% to 40%. This stems from a few things. Many people point to Ohio State being a more national brand under Urban Meyer (although I disagree), but the other cause is pretty simple. Urban Meyer likes to land the best recruits in the country, and he likes to hire coaches that he knows can do that for him, whether it’s in Ohio or not. Ohio State will go anywhere, from Utah, to Nevada, to South Dakota, to land an elite recruit.

So what does Urban Meyer’s approach to recruiting have to do with the sudden influx of Virginians heading to Columbus? Well, it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Meyer’s hiring of two assistant coaches: Zach Smith, and Larry Johnson. Over the last five recruiting classes, Urban Meyer has combined Larry Johnson’s familiarity of the area with Zach Smith’s energy, and recruiting acumen, to create a nearly unstoppable recruiting duo in the state of Virginia.

When looking at the five recruits that have committed to Ohio State by way of Virginia since 2014, each one of them lists at least one of those two as their primary recruiter. In 2014, Zach Smith was credited for the recruitment of Jalyn Holmes. In 2015, both A.J. Alexander and Matthew Burrell were recruited by Larry Johnson, as well as their respective position coach, as is customary. Smith was again credited in 2016 for pulling in Wayne Davis. After a relatively down year in Virginia last year, Smith got back on track just a few days ago, in landing the commitment of aforementioned linebacker Teradja Mitchell.

This trend is nowhere near ending; in fact, it’s just getting started. Smith is targeting another linebacker from Virginia in the 2018 class, K’Vaughan Pope, while Johnson is after 2019 running back Devyn Ford.

There are no signs of Ohio State slowing down in Virginia. It’s one of the most talent-rich states in the country, and as long as Ohio State wants to win, and Virginia keeps churning out top talent that has eyes for the NFL, it’s a match that makes a lot of sense. While it may come at the cost of some lower level Ohio players Buckeye fans were accustomed to seeing under Jim Tressel, the expansion into places like Virginia, Georgia, and Texas, just improves Ohio State’s chances at seeing the kind of success that only Alabama can currently match.