Ohio State’s main focus right on the recruiting trail right now appears to be rounding out the No. 1 class in the country for the 2022 cycle. The top-rated recruiting class in the country per 247Sports currently has 17 commits in the fold and is well over half full, so there is likely less than 10 spots still up for grabs.
Already filled up with top players from all across the country, the coaching staff has absolutely dominated this cycle; and what makes that fact even better is knowing that OSU’s 2021 class is just as stellar, giving the Buckeyes back-to-back incredible classes. I’m confident that 2022 will finish the same way, so some more focus can certainly be paid to 2023; by both coaches and fans.
While it is clearly not an issue at this point, the Buckeyes do not yet have a player committed to their 2023 class. While it may be a little odd to not have at least one guy in the fold considering how much momentum this staff has right now, when you factor in the extended dead periods and missing their 2020 summer camps, you can kind of get a picture as to why that might be.
A question right now though is not so much as to who will be the first member in the class, but who is the most important for Ohio State to land? For that question, the answer is none other than in-state five-star safety Sonny Styles. Let’s jump right into why.
Ohio’s 2023 top in-state player
Very simply put, Sonny Styles is the top ranked player in Ohio for the 2023 class and that’s likely not news to anyone reading this. In addition to being Ohio’s top ranked player in the class per 247sports, he is also regarded as the 13th best player nationally and the top safety prospect in the nationally as well.
Sonny has every accolade you would want to see in a prospect and if you watch his film, you will see that they were all well deserved and why the Buckeyes absolutely must have him in their class.
It’s common sense. Keeping the state’s top-ranked player who also just happens to be the best at his position is a must. It isn’t hard to see why he’s so important for Ohio State.
Family lineage and OSU legacy
Moving on. Sonny is a legacy to Ohio State as his father Lorenzo Styles played for the Buckeyes and was a third round pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. This yet another reason why the Buckeyes need to keep him home.
The family lineage points to it being a bit of an inside track of success for this staff, but Sonny’s older brother Lorenzo Styles Jr. did not stay home, despite being a four-star wide receiver in the 2021 class. Instead he will be starting his collegiate career at Notre Dame this fall. Ohio State did recruit Lorenzo Jr., but when their class is filled with the likes of Emeka Egbuka (No. 9 overall), Marvin Harrison Jr. (No. 96), and Jayden Ballard (No. 98), it seems that Brian Hartline just didn’t have room, despite how talented Lorenzo Styles Jr. is.
Importance of an elite safety
Let’s focus on Sonny’s position for a moment. At least recently, Ohio State’s best teams always had elite safeties anchoring the last line of their defense. Take guys like Vonn Bell and Malik Hooker for instance, these two and even Jordan Fuller helped define the term “eraser” in regards to the safety position at OSU; and many times they were the ones who made the biggest plays in coverage while also limiting the big plays down the field.
Not that all of last year’s passing defense problems were because of the lack of a shutdown safety, but with the group’s inexperience and lack of depth, the Buckeyes obviously struggled limiting the big plays. While that doesn’t all fall on the safety position, but having a true ball-hawk at the back of the defense would certainly help.
Adding a player like Sonny would right away give the defense the sense that they have the elite eraser on the back end that can do all that’s asked of him. Of course, there’s no guarantee that he would start right away, especially as the 2021 and 2022 classes had elite safties as well.
But, at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds already, Styles has the length and size to do exactly what the scheme calls for. Whether it’s in the pass game where his speed and length will allow him to be a threat in pass coverage, or thanks to his larger frame that would also come downhill and play in the box to stuff the run game,
Sonny really can do both at an elite level already proven by what he’s done at Pickerington Central High School. Add in Coach Mick’s strength program to him and the sky is the limit for what Sonny could do and who he could be for this Ohio State defense, whether it’s at safety or the bullet.
Battling the Irish
As with many top-players, the recruitment of Sonny has an impact both on and off the field. In addition to landing Sonny’s brother Lorenzo Jr., as we have seen lately, Notre Dame has become a little bit of a thorn in the side of Ohio State and not strictly because of their success, but because thanks to former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman — Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator — the Domers are experiencing somewhat of a recruiting jolt. Thanks to the former Buckeye, the Irish are starting to see some success in Ohio, and even in head-to-head battles with the Buckeyes over several top targets.
Looking at the recruitment of Ohio native, Brenan Vernon, the 2023 prospect just committed to Notre Dame roughly two weeks ago and is ranked as the second best player in Ohio for the 2023 cycle. Losing Vernon to South Bend while not catastrophic, still hurts to some degree of course. Losing any top in-state player is going to be felt, but when it’s to Notre Dame who the Buckeyes will see on the field in both 2022 and 2023, it means that much more.
Specifically with Sonny though, the Notre Dame aspect here is a big one due to the Irish being a major player in his recruitment already, thanks in no small part to Sonny’s older brother Lorenzo Jr.
Now, as I said, all three of OSU’s 2021 receivers ranked higher than Lorenzo Jr., but now that the Irish have come in and poached the aforementioned Vernon, it becomes that much more important to keep Notre Dame from not only taking the second ranked Ohio player, but the top one too.
Yet another reason why keeping Sonny at home is crucial for Ohio State in 2023.
All in all, the Buckeyes have several targets of importance in their 2023 recruiting class, but for every aspect, the most important recruit clearly is Styles. Whether it be his talent, family ties to Ohio State, position of importance, and keeping another Midwest power in the rear view mirror, the Buckeyes need to land the Pickerington five-star safety.
To get just a glimpse of what he would bring to the table, take a look at his highlight film from his sophomore season last year: