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Ohio State freshmen will have sizable role on Chris Holtmann’s squad

The four-man class looks to play a big part in Holtmann’s second season.

Ohio State v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

“It was a great feeling (that night) knowing that every shot you take is going to go in. That’s one thing coach Holmann likes about me: I’m a confident player, I’m a confident shooter and I never doubt myself.”

-Ohio State basketball recruit Justin Ahrens, via Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

Chris Holtmann is just a few weeks away from getting his first recruiting class on campus in Columbus. The four-man class of Justin Ahrens, Luther Muhammad, Jaedon LeDee and Duane Washington Jr. reports for school June 19. The quartet figures to play an increased role on Holtmann’s young team next season after the loss of a number of key players from the 2017-18 squad.

Muhammad, a shooting guard, comes to Columbus as a four-star recruit from New Jersey. According to Holtmann, he will have an immediate role on the team, along with Washington, a combo guard. With the loss of Kam Williams, Andrew Dakich and Keita Bates-Diop, three of Ohio State’s top-four three-point shooters, the Buckeyes are lacking when it comes to threats on the perimeter. The pair of Muhammad and Washington looks to fill this gap.

Muhammad is the highest-rated member of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class as the No. 73 player in the country. An intense defender, the incoming freshman still has some work to do in tuning his play on the offensive side of the ball. Washington, meanwhile, was a clutch shooter in high school in California. A three-star recruit, Washington transferred to high school on the west coast to be closer to his uncle, NBA veteran Derek Fisher.

While immediate roles are less clear for Ahrens and LeDee, both will have the chance to contribute this season. LeDee is a four-star power forward from Houston who began his high school career as a point guard. By his senior season, he had sprouted to 6-foot-7, 230-pounds, but maintained his strong shooting from range. Ahrens, a three-star small forward, is the only member of his class from Ohio. After opening his senior season with a 42-point performance, teams started adjusting their defenses to accommodate. Ahrens still contributed as a solid shooter for his team, showing his ability to score against many defensive looks.

“We don’t have to go back too far to find the most impressive freshman season of any player Urban Meyer recruited at Ohio State. That honor goes to J.K. Dobbins.”

-Kevin Harrish, Eleven Warriors

While Woody Hayes almost never played freshmen on varsity, Urban Meyer has not shied away from using freshman talent on his teams. Though few freshmen, especially true freshmen, go on to be starters in their inaugural season in Columbus, many have the opportunity to see the field in their first year, giving them much-needed experience before becoming greater contributors as upperclassmen.

Some players, however, have been outstanding from the outset. Chief among this group is running back J.K. Dobbins, who made waves last season as a true freshman when he started in place of the injured Mike Weber. What made Dobbins’ performance particularly intriguing was that it came on the heels of Weber’s own well-above-average, 1,000-plus yard redshirt freshman season in 2016. Dobbins finished his freshman year with 1,364 yards rushing on 181 carries, earning freshman All-American honors from ESPN.

One of the key blockers for both Dobbins and Weber during their debut seasons was Michael Jordan, who himself started as a true freshman in 2016. Jordan became the first true freshman starter on the offensive line in more than two decades, following in the footsteps of Orlando Pace in 1994.

Not surprisingly, given the lineage that Meyer has managed to create on his defensive lines, both Joey and Nick Bosa logged outstanding seasons as true freshman and made immediate impacts for their respective teams. Neither were starters from day one (Nick, in fact, did not start at all in his first season), but both earned freshman All-American honors following their freshman seasons.Similarly, linebacker Raekwon McMillan never started as a true freshman in 2014, but still recorded 54 tackles and a pick-six. Though starting the season backing up Curtis Grant, he ended the season taking more snaps than his elder as a key player on a team that won a national title.

“While Penn State does not have as deep a roster as Ohio State does, and the top end talent is not equal yet either, the Nittany Lions are now recruiting at an elite level.”

-Marty Leap, Black Shoe Diaries

Meyer has lost just four conference games in six seasons as head coach in Columbus. While Michigan State holds the best record against Meyer-led Ohio State teams (2-4), Penn State has emerged in recent seasons as the Buckeyes’ greatest threat in the stacked Big Ten East. Especially as the Nittany Lions return to having the full allotment of scholarships available, head coach James Franklin has proven to be a threat to Meyer and Ohio State on the recruiting trail, too.

Meyer’s recruiting engine has been well-documented. The more games Ohio State wins, the more NFL Draft picks it produces and the more high-profile players choose to come to Columbus, thereby continuing the cycle. Franklin has been closing in on that kind of success. First, Penn State has beaten Ohio State in 2016--something, again, that few teams have managed--and played the Buckeyes very close last season. The Nittany Lions’ Big Ten Championship in 2016 certainly helped their cause as well. Second, Franklin has managed to woo players who would otherwise have gone to Ohio State, like five-star linebacker Micah Parsons, whom the Buckeyes had offered back in 2016.

Penn State has finished with top-20 recruiting classes in each of Franklin’s four seasons, with his most recent, 2018 class finishing in the top-10 nationally. In 2019, Franklin will have less room on his roster for scholarship players, so it is likely that his overall class ranking will be lower, but the quality of the players he brings on should remain competitive on a national scale. When it comes to Ohio State, Penn State, like Michigan or Michigan State, provides a geographic threat in terms of recruiting players from the region, as well as an on-field threat as Ohio State will have to play, every season, those players whom they lost out on in recruiting.