Welcome to an ongoing series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. The summer months are here and we anxiously await the beginning of preseason camp, when this year’s crop of Buckeyes will be back hard at work preparing for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, we are nearly finished introducing you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus has highlighted one of the newest Buckeyes, and has hopefully provided a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
I miscounted last week and said there was only one position player left after Michalski, but there are actually still two left, including this weeks subject: Sam Hart.
Ohio State only brought in one tight end in its 2021 class, and that came in the form of the three-star prospect out of Aurora, Colorado. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Hart comes to Columbus as the No. 16 tight end and No. 3 player out of his home state in the cycle. The Buckeyes really wanted to grab two guys at the position in 2021, but things just didn’t wind up working out that way. Luckily, they really like what they got in Hart despite not being one of those standout blue chip prospects the program has made a habit of landing.
Hart has been a member of this freshman class for quite some time now, committing to Ohio State all the way back in December of 2019. He drew a ton of interest from all around the country during the recruiting process, collecting over 20 offers for his services including from the likes of Colorado, Iowa, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon, Texas and more. Hart had actually received a Crystal Ball to the Irish in the summer of 2019, but instead chose to join the Buckeyes later that winter and remained firm in that decision right through Signing Day.
Showing out on both the football field and the wrestling mat for Cherokee Trail High School, Hart played both tight end and defensive end for the Cougars. Over 24 games played in his career, he hauled in 62 receptions for nearly 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns on offense. On defense, he racked up 33 total tackles to go along with 8.5 sacks and three pass breakups. He was named second-team all-state as a junior in 2019 after putting up a career-high 562 receiving yards and seven TDs over 11 games that season. As a wrestler, Hart was the state champion last winter, finishing with a 38-0 record in the 200-pound weight class.
As you can tell by his accolades, Hart is an excellent athlete at the tight end spot. His wrestling chops certainly aided with his strengths in the blocking game on the football field, and he is a very capable pass-catcher as well, as can be seen in his highlight tape:
Colorado isn’t the most fertile recruiting state in the country by any means, and Hart really made some guys look silly after the catch as he was simply faster and stronger than most of his opponents. It is a rarity that Ohio State looks to Colorado for talent, but it isn’t the first time the Buckeyes have brought in a player from the Centennial State. You’ve got to go back quite a ways, however, to find another, as it hasn’t happened since offensive lineman Joey O’Connor committed to OSU back in the 2012 class. Hart and O’Connor are the only two Ohio State commits out of Colorado in the modern recruiting era.
Hart probably thought Jeremy Ruckert would go pro following the 2020 season, opening the door for early playing time as a freshman. However, it certainly can’t hurt for him to learn behind a guy that he has been compared to in the past, and a tight end that Hart looks up to as someone he can emulate at the next level.
“That’s pretty special to me because when I get there, that’s who I’m gonna look up to,” Hart said to Eleven Warriors of the Ruckert comparisons. “He’s a great role model to look up to. He’s an upperclassman and he’s done a lot of great things with the program, and he’s got a bright future ahead of him. That’s kind of my goal right now.”
Ohio State isn’t exactly a place known for its tight end usage, but the Buckeyes were always at the front of Hart’s mind during the recruiting process.
“I kind of had them in my mind. I went on visits at the end of June and in July, and I went on some game day visits to Notre Dame and USC. Those were my other top-two choices,” Hart said. “But I kind of knew Ohio State was my favorite throughout that, and then that Penn State game it was like, ‘This is my home. I’m ready.’ A few weeks later, I called up Coach [Tony] Alford, Coach Wilson and Coach [Ryan] Day and committed, and I’ve been so happy with my decision.”
Ruckert is far and away the clear No. 1 tight end on the roster as we head into 2021, but behind him things get a bit murky. With Luke Farrell now a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, its leaves the options for the second TE between converted defensive end Cade Stover, converted wide receiver Gee Scott Jr., and a handful of other unproven talents. It isn’t entirely out of the question to say that Hart could see some early playing time in year one in Columbus, and it would not be at all shocking to see him get significant snaps late in blowouts as he earns the coaching staff’s trust to see additional minutes earlier in games.
Ruckert will be an early-round NFL Draft pick at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, and Hart could become the heir apparent to Ohio State’s No. 1 tight end spot. Scott and Stover will be legitimate challengers as they get their feet wet in the role, but as the only natural tight end of the trio, Hart will have a leg up on the competition if he can show some things as a freshman.