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Column: Justin Frye closes on in-state talent, creates momentum in OL recruiting

Justin Frye came into a challenging situation, but by cleaning up on in-state talent he has built a foundation to take the offensive line to the next level

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Utah at Ohio State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to in-state recruiting for the Ohio State Buckeyes, an offer is usually enough to gain a commitment from the best recruits in the state. The Buckeyes have landed the No. 1 recruit in the state every year since 2012 except for 2016 and 2018, according the 247Sports Composite rankings.

The reason those years stand out — besides missing on the best player in the state — is because in both years offensive line coach Greg Studrawa missed on the top linemen in the state who were also the No. 1 players in Ohio. Studrawa lost one of those battles for Tommy Kraemer out Cincinnati Elder, who chose Notre Dame, and the other to Clemson in the recruitment of Jackson Carman. With recruiting being the lifeblood of a program, this puts a clot in the potential ceiling on arguably the most important position group. This is something we are seeing with current depth concerns on the offensive line for the Buckeyes.

When you’re in a talent rich state like Ohio, the emphasis needs to be on building a fence around the border to secure the best players, which should be the utmost of priorities for a position coach. This is especially the case when the state you’re in puts out a high rate of elite players at the position group you coach.

Those two recruiting years makes what happened in recruiting this week that much more important. The Buckeyes received a commitment from the Austin Siereveld out of Lakota East (Middletown, OH). This commitment means that in his first recruiting class, Justin Frye landed the top-three offensive line recruits in the state, building the proverbial recruiting fence. With this hot start, there is a lot to look at when it comes the current state of the offensive line, but for the first time in a while there is major momentum, and the youthfulness of Frye has to be playing a big part in it.

The Buckeyes still have questions left that Frye will be tasked to fix, but his wins recruiting so far have created a lot of momentum for this position group moving forward, including depth, why the recruiting wins stand out and what this means for the position moving forward.


Current Offensive Line Depth

The obvious reason for the importance of recruiting the best in-state offensive linemen is the positional depth. Under Studrawa, the Buckeyes were able to recruit interior offensive linemen at a high clip, and he had quite a few major wins for elite tackles. His best out of state prospect at tackle being Nicholas Petit-Frere, and his best in state prospect being Paris Johnson Jr., who were both top-30 recruits.

The issue isn’t in his wins. The amount of losses began stacking up in his tenure, which is a significant reason a change was needed. After missing on some major tackle recruits in the last few classes, the depth at the tackle positions is not where it needs to be. The combined average player rating for the tackles on the roster who aren’t Paris Johnson Jr. is a 0.88 which is a three-star recruit. Now, Dawand Jones has developed into starter, but that is not always going to happen with every recruit in that range.

This is a significant reason there is concerns when it comes to offensive line depth on the roster. From a recruiting stand point, this means Studrawa was living with secondary options and taking flyers in hopes of elite development of lower ranked in-state prospects. That recipe was not successful as we look at the depth situation that was noted.

In this class, the average player rankings of the in-state offensive linemen is 0.937. This says two things – the talent in Ohio on the offensive line is better than the past two cycles, and Frye did his job establishing a foundation with in-state prospects in this class. By landing one elite tackle prospect in-state, this will allow Frye to reach out more nationally and find the depth this offensive line is currently missing.


Lost Battles In Recent Years

Ohio State does not lose often when it comes to in-state offensive line recruits, but there were some big names over the last half-decade that decided to go elsewhere. In 2016, the Buckeyes lost the top-two in state offensive linemen in Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer to Notre Dame. This would start a trend of less than acceptable recruiting losses on the offensive line.

Losing an offensive line recruit to Notre Dame isn’t unforgivable given their track record of putting offensive linemen in the NFL, but an unacceptable loss is losing a player to a southern school with no history recruiting in Ohio. This happened when Jackson Carman – a five-star recruit — chose to head to Clemson in 2018. By missing on these players it created an additional need for elite linemen in the following season.

A class with Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jackson Carman looks a lot different depth wise for the Buckeyes. This is why these losses added up, instead of having multiple elite players at the position, Ohio State would be lucky to grab one and hopefully a few players who developed into legitimate starters.

Moving forward, Ohio State won’t win every battle and that shouldn’t be the expectation, but lack of consistent in-state recruiting success is unacceptable. This is why what Frye accomplished in gaining commitments from the top-three in state offensive linemen this week is nothing to scoff at. By doing this, there is less pressure in landing an out of state prospect and more freedom to be selective with who they go after to finalize the 2023 class.


Justin Frye’s Recruiting Success So Far

In Siereveld’s recruitment, the final three teams were Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. When those two schools are trying to come into your state, that means the player is pretty special. By closing on this recruitment that gives Frye multiple wins over Notre Dame in his short tenure, and establishes him as a serious player in the Midwest. His first three commitments were Carson Hinzmann, Luke Montgomery, and Austin Siereveld — all of which will add immediate depth to a roster in need of it.

In those three battles, Frye beat out schools like Michigan, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Alabama, among others. All five of those schools have a history of sending elite offensive linemen to the NFL, and have all won battles against Ohio State for offensive line recruits. This is no small task, especially with Frye only being hired in January, and by winning these recruiting battles early he can continue to build momentum.

With these wins, Frye showed he has the chops to recruit against some of the larger programs that will be constant challengers when it comes to Ohio talent. The success of fending off other powerhouses is already a significant jump recruiting wise for the Buckeyes. Winning these battles is a way to measure success in the immediate. Frye beat out huge names to secure all three of his 2023 commitments, and that should be something that gets Ohio State fans excited for what’s to come.


Conclusion

Even with the wins so far, the job is not done for Frye, but closing on the top three offensive linemen in-state is an incredible start in his first full recruiting cycle. With the current state of the depth on the line, the interior offensive line is actually in a really steady place. The main concern is tackle depth. Both Dawand Jones and Paris Johnson Jr. are draft eligible this next season, and behind them on the depth chart is little certainty when it comes to who may be next. This has led to many people predicting that Donovan Jackson will move outside next season.

For the players who came in as tackles, not every one of them will share the same success as Dawand Jones – who was a lower-rated recruit that has developed into a potential first round pick. This is why Frye cannot afford to miss in this class. Frye will do his best to help the current players on the roster turn into the next Jones, but the future of the offensive line needs to rely less on long term development and get back to relying on elite recruiting plus development. By recruiting at a high level with in-state recruits, Frye will give himself an opportunity to look at national recruits like Alaus Olinen, Chase Bisontis, and Samson Okunlola. These are the type of players that can potentially replenish the room in one class.

Overall, landing all three Ohio recruits is an incredible start for Frye, especially in comparison to his predecessor who lost the top two offensive line recruits in his first season as the offensive line coach. Moving forward, the question will be if these three recruits are the new ceiling or a potential stepping stone to the level of recruiting we’ve seen at other positions. Time will tell, but the Buckeyes under Frye are off to a great start. Now it’s time for Frye to build on that momentum and take this room to the level expected by the Buckeye faithful.