Welcome to an ongoing series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. Spring practice is officially underway, and this year’s crop of Buckeyes is already hard at work preparing for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, now is a great time to introduce you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus will highlight one of the newest Buckeyes, and will hopefully provide a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
Today’s freshman: Mike Hall.
An Ohio native, Mike Hall comes to Ohio State as the nation’s No. 5 defensive tackle and the No. 52 player overall in the 2021 class. The Buckeyes have become a defensive line factory for the NFL in recent years, and although most of their production has come at the end spots, we have seen in the past more than a handful of guys excel on the interior, including most recently Tommy Togiai in 2020. Hall will look to be the next big name as the anchor in the middle of Ohio State’s front four.
A high four-star prospect, Hall collected 17 scholarship offers for his services, including from the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Penn State, Tennessee, and more. Once the Ohio State offer came in, the local program instantly became the school to beat. With Larry Johnson at the helm of his recruitment, it was going to be near impossible for anyone to edge out the Buckeyes, and Hall made his commitment official on Feb. 1, 2020 before signing his LOI this past December.
While defensive tackle isn’t usually a position that gets a ton of love or fills up the stat sheet on any given night, Hall was a true star at Streetsboro High School. Playing both offensive line and defensive tackle for the Rockets, Hall helped lead the team to its first ever playoff win as a junior, as Streetsboro finished with an 11-1 record and an Ohio Division III regional semifinal appearance. He racked up 72 total tackles in that campaign, with a whopping 17 tackles for loss and five sacks. His senior season was cut short after breaking his hand three games into the year, but he still managed to register 24 tackles and nine TFLs in his final prep season after returning and playing seven games in total.
Standing at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Hall also functioned as the team’s situational short-yardage back, compiling three TDs on three total carries his time with the Rockets. However, his biggest contributions obviously came from the defensive tackle spot, and from looking at his tape, you can clearly see why:
Hall is one of six Ohio commits in this class, and is the second-highest ranked among the group behind only fellow defensive lineman Jack Sawyer — who we previewed earlier in another edition of Freshman Focus. Winning the in-state recruiting battles is priority No. 1 for Ryan Day and his staff, and they certainly locked down the borders in this most recent cycle having hauled in five of the top six in-state players in 2021. Hall was a can't-miss prospect for Ohio State in this class, and Johnson and company got it done.
One of those prospects that really came on late in the recruiting process, it seemed as though with every additional update of the rankings Hall shot up multiple spots. As a result, he may be one of the most underrated guys in this entire group for the Buckeyes. Already drawing second-round NFL Draft grades, here is what 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu had to say about Hall’s abilities:
“Looks lighter and leaner than listed size. Carries his weight well and should comfortably be able to add more in college. Explosive player who gets off the ball quickly and has good lateral agility. Plays fast and plays hard. Always looks like he is going his absolute hardest on the field. Closes quickly and runs down plays. Shows good awareness of where the ball is and gets to it quickly. Plays with good strength and leverage. Still can improve with his hands and overall technique though. Ideal three-tech who will be disruptive and as a penetrator in college. Should be a multi-year starter at the high Power 5 level and have a good chance to play on Sundays.”
As previously mentioned, Ohio State is losing a big piece at defensive tackle this season with the departure of Tommy Togiai to the NFL Draft. The man affectionately dubbed “Big Tom” was an essential part of the Buckeyes’ defense both in the pass and run game, putting up 23 total tackles over seven games with 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Ohio State sorely missed him in the National Championship game when he was forced to sit per COVID-19 protocols, and they will miss him once again this season as he takes his skillset to the next level.
On a positive side for the Buckeyes, they will be returning his starting mate at defensive tackle in Haskell Garrett. Putting together a storybook season as a senior, overcoming a gunshot wound in the offseason to become one of the team’s best defensive players in 2020, getting Garrett back to take over the No. 1 role from Togiai is a huge boost, and the team will also hope to finally get a full healthy season from former five-star prospect Taron Vincent as well as the team’s most likely staring tandem on the interior. However, don't count out Hall from seeing significant snaps in year one.
Ohio State has a bunch of interesting prospects behind the clear starters, including names like Antwuan Jackson, Ty Hamilton, Jerron Cage, Jaden McKenzie and Jacolbe Cowan. While all of those guys have the bonus of having at least one previous year already in the program, with the exception of Jackson and Cage none of the rest have really seen much in terms of real game action. Hall is an explosive athlete with a good build and is sneaky quick for his size, something you really love to see from the defensive tackle spot. You likely won’t catch him lining up with the ones this season, but he could definitely earn a spot in the rotation up the middle and will almost certainly be a multi-year starter down the road.