Ohio State has been the beneficiary of a ton of momentum on the recruiting trail these past few weeks. Ryan Day and his staff have filled out nearly the entirety of the offense in the 2024 class already, but the defensive side of the ball has been lagging behind. However, the Buckeyes continue to trend with a handful of highly-touted defensive prospects in the cycle, and on Tuesday they landed one of those big names.
Four-star linebacker Payton Pierce has announced his commitment to Ohio State. The Texas native picked the Buckeyes over his five other finalists, which included Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Texas A&M.
BREAKING: Four-Star LB Payton Pierce has Committed to Ohio State!— Hayes Fawcett (@Hayesfawcett3) April 11, 2023
The 6’2 225 LB from Lucas, TX chose the Buckeyes over Texas, Oklahoma, & others.
“I’m coming to Ohio State because I want to be the best, play with the best, and win a national championship!”… pic.twitter.com/OD0J1kFJUS
Pierce is the No. 15 LB and the No. 151 overall player in the 2024 class. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker out of Lucas, TX held over 40 offers to his name before trimming his list down to six and ultimately ending up at Ohio State. In speaking to On3’s Hayes Fawcett, here is what Pierce had to say of the Buckeyes ahead of his commitment:
“Ohio State came into my recruitment a little later but they have recruited me just as hard as any other school. Their culture and the type of players on their team really stick out to me. I have close relationships with the coaches on the staff and I believe that they are some of the best of the best.”
Jim Knowles is listed as his primary recruited, and the two reportedly hit it off well. The pair had dinner together during Pierce’s visit, and Pierce attended several of Knowles’ linebacker meetings as well. Knowles was also the one to officially extend the Ohio State offer to Pierce in January, traveling down to Texas to deliver the news personally and watch the multi-sport athlete compete as a wrestler.
However, it seems as though a large reason for Pierce’s commitment was a result of James Laurinaitis’ addition to the OSU staff. Pierce had already formed a strong relationship with Laurinaits when he was at Notre Dame, and was super excited to see him join Day’s staff in Columbus.
“I talk to him on the phone a lot,” Pierce told Eleven Warriors of Laurinaitis. “To see him in person and being around my family is awesome. It was great seeing him out there on the field coaching and leading the linebacker meetings. Watching him and coach Knowles interact, it’s really good seeing how they can coach together. I’ve got a feeling having coach Laurinaitis now as a coach for Ohio State will just make their defense even better.”
Pierce put up big numbers this past season for Lovejoy, totaling 131 tackles with 21 TFLs, six sacks and five forced fumbles as a junior in 2022. This comes on the heels of earning Texas District 7-5A-II Defensive Newcomer of the Year as sophomore in 2021. Pierce has been playing at the varsity level since his freshman year at Allen (Texas) High School. With his size and play style, he likely projects at the Mike position at the next level, but has enough versatility to slide over to the Will as well.
Ohio State has really done a good job taking advantage of the talent-laden state of Texas. With the Longhorns and Aggies failing to capitalize on in-state recruiting, the Buckeyes have swooped in and stolen a ton of talent from the Lone Star State in recent years. Pierce becomes already the second player in this class out of Texas, joining RB James Peoples, and is the seventh prospect from the state to come to Columbus over the last four cycles — with this one still not even finished. Five of the seven have been top-100 national players.
Pierce is just the second defensive commit for Ohio State in the 2024 class thus far, with the other being fellow four-star linebacker Garrett Stover. The addition gives the Buckeyes an even 10 commits at this point in the process, and with 210.08 total points among the group, it bumps the OSU class all the way up to No. 2 in the country, behind only Georgia (12 commits, 243.08 points) and ahead of Michigan at No. 3 (11 commits, 200.66 points).
Pierce is likely just the start of what could be a flood of defensive commitments to come for the Buckeyes in the next several weeks. As things currently stand, the Ohio State-heavy Crystal Ball predictions continue rolling in for four-star corners Bryce West and Miles Lockhart, as well as in-state safety Reggie Powers. OSU also remains in great standing with four-star corner Aaron Scott out of Springfield, in addition to four-star tight end Damarion Witten and four-star receiver Jeremiah McClellan on the other side of the ball.
It is an exciting time for Ohio State on the trail, and with the spring game coming up this weekend as another massive recruiting tool, expect more good news to come in the near future.