A lot of the buzz this week has been surrounding the loaded recruiting weekend Ohio State just put on. The Buckeyes had many of their top targets in town for their Student Appreciation Day practice, and the atmosphere seems to have been very well received by those in attendance. While we will certainly continue to keep an eye on those guys, the latest development for Ryan Day’s recruiting class is unrelated to those festivities.
Making his announcement on CBS Sports HQ on Wednesday, four-star 2023 safety Malik Hartford has committed to Ohio State.
Hartford’s decision does not come as a huge surprise, as the Buckeyes were the odds-on favorite to secure his commitment for quite some time. As of Tuesday night, Ohio State was in possession of all five 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions for Hartford, most of which came at the end of March and the earliest being from Ohio State insider Bill Kurelic back on March 11. Even right here at Land-Grant Holy Land, our own Caleb Houser predicted Hartford to be the next in-state commitment for Ohio State back in late February. Expected or not, this is a huge get for the local team.
As previously alluded to, Hartford is one of Ohio’s very best, hailing out of West Chester, OH and attending Lakota West High School. A 6-foot-3, 175 pound safety, Hartford is a top-100 player by 247Sports’ own rankings, coming in as the No. 5 safety and No. 2 in-state prospect in the 2023 class. Conversely, as the No. 4 in-state player in the 247Sports Composite rankings, Hartford’s commitment gives Ohio State three of the top four players within state borders in this cycle, joining Luke Montgomery (No. 1) and Joshua Padilla (No. 3).
Even though he’s an Ohio kid, his committing to Ohio State was no guarantee, at least early on. Hartford racked up over two dozen offers during the recruiting process, and had cut his options down to a top seven back in early February that included Cincinnati, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and West Virginia in addition to the Buckeyes. The Bearcats were a big player in this one until the very end, as they were Hartford’s first official offer. However, one of the new additions to the OSU staff — secondary coach Perry Eliano — seemed to play a role in winning over Hartford and earning Ohio State an important recruiting win.
Lakota West head coach Tom Bolden had nothing but good things to say about his star safety.
“He’s athletic as all get-out, there’s no question about that,” Bolden told 247Sports. “He’s 6-foot-3, maybe just a tad under, he’s long, he is so fast and athletic, covers a lot of ground, and he is so smart. He is really an intelligent kid, takes high-level classes, takes AP course loads, but from a football standpoint, like special teams he’ll come off and either by watching film or pace of the game, he’ll say I’ve got the nuance in terms of the long-snapper, his head-bob, whatever, he blocked so many kicks this year. It’s just small things like that that make him really, really good. He covers a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
247Sports analyst Chris Singletary is also a fan of Ohio State’s newest defensive back.
“Hartford is an instinctive player that has the range to make plays all over the field,” Singletary says. “He possesses better than average speed. Nice acceleration where he is able to cover a lot of ground to make numerous plays sideline to sideline. Lines up all over the field and is comfortable in any alignment. Whether it is in the deep middle, half-field or lined up on the end of the los as a blitzer it doesn’t matter. Patience in his peddle and doesn’t just run out of there. He keys the receiver and plays with good eyes and technique to determine how he needs to play the player along with whatever coverage they are playing. Sure tackler in either close quarters or coming from depth to make the play. He has a good change of direction and flips his hips with ease while being very smooth in his transition.”
Hartford played his high school ball alongside incoming Ohio State freshmen Tegra Tshabola and Jyaire Brown at Lakota West. Last season for the Firebirds, he recorded 58 tackles, two interceptions — one of which he returned for a touchdown — and a sack. He helped Lakota West to an 11-2 season, and was named First Team Greater Miami Conference for his individual efforts. He has also been invited to play in the 2023 All-American Bowl next January.
The Buckeyes now have six commits in the fold for the 2023 cycle as their momentum begins to really pick up on the trail. Despite its small class thus far, Ohio State still ranks No. 5 in the team recruiting rankings, and has one of the best average player ratings of the bunch. Hartford is also the first official commitment earned by Eliano as a member of the Ohio State staff, as the questions about some of the new hires’ abilities to recruit at the highest level continue to be answered emphatically.
For a more visual component of what Hartford will bring to Columbus when he arrives on campus, check out his highlight tape from his junior season at Lakota West.