National Signing Day marked the end of the 2014 recruiting cycle, but the Ohio State coaching staff has already gotten quite a start on the 2015 class. With the Buckeyes going back to 85 scholarships in 2015 it will be important for them to take advantage of returning to full strength.
Much of the focus for 2015 recruiting thus far has been on the northeast, Texas and Florida, and for good reason. Ohio State has offered a whopping 35 prospects from the state of Florida, 13 from Texas and 15 from northeast states. There is undoubtedly a ton of talent in these regions for Ohio State to tap into. That being said, in order for the Buckeyes to be as successful as possible they must put up a fence around Ohio.
“We want to sign as many kids in Ohio as we can. That’s our ultimate goal," said Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni. Ohio is the football hotbed of the midwest and historically whoever has controlled Ohio recruiting has controlled the Big Ten.
The 2014 class was an ideal example of what the Buckeyes would like to do in Ohio on a consistent basis as they landed each of the top six prospects in the state. Ohio's 2015 class might be a bit stronger than its 2014 class, boasting six Top 100 prospects in the 247Composite (as opposed to three in 2014). However, snagging the top 5-10 Ohio prospects looks to be a bit tougher.
So far Ohio State has offered six Ohio prospects and boasts one commit from the state in Eric Glover-Williams. Let's take a closer look at the top prospects in Ohio that the Buckeyes are chasing for 2015.
Of the six offered, Eric Glover-Williams has already committed to Ohio State while Hjalte Froholdt has committed to Arkansas and Shaun Crawford is a Michigan commit. Ohio State hasn't really had any contact with Froholdt since he committed, but they are still recruiting Crawford a bit.
1. Justin Hilliard, LB, St. Xavier H.S. (Cincinnati)
Hilliard is a consensus 5-star and the top player in Ohio. He's also ranked as the No. 3 outside linebacker in the nation by the 247Composite. Let's see - big time player, plays a position that Ohio State is still trying to build and he lives less than two hours from campus - he is a huge target for the Buckeyes.
Hilliard's recruitment is already shaping up to be a dogfight between the Buckeyes, Michigan and Iowa, with Notre Dame and others being factors as well. Michigan has been recruiting Hilliard really hard and he's definitely interested, while the Iowa connection is a bit more obvious - Hilliard's brother C.J. will be a freshman playing for the Hawkeyes this fall. Notre Dame has also had some success with St. Xavier recruits and quite frankly, Ohio State hasn't had a ton of success recruiting Cincinnati.
The Buckeyes are in a good place with Hilliard however for a few reasons: first, the local factor. He's the top kid in Ohio and a short drive from campus, plus Ohio State usually does pretty well with their top targets in Ohio. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, Hilliard's teammate Nick Tensing accepted a preferred walk-on spot in the 2014 class. While having Tensing doesn't compare to having Hilliard's brother, it should help at least a little. Thirdly, Hilliard is incredibly familiar with and comfortable at Ohio State. He has visited campus as a recruit four times - two games, a camp and another unofficial visit - and will likely spend at least a couple more weekends in Columbus before it's all said and done. Lastly, Ohio State has stepped up the recruiting efforts in Cincinnati and Kerry Coombs, Hilliard's primary recruiter, has done an excellent job.
Right now he's up for grabs and Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa are all in good shape, but when it's all said and done you have to like Ohio State and Urban Meyer's chances with the top kid in Ohio.
2. Jerome Baker, RB/LB, Benedictine H.S. (Cleveland)
Baker is a close second to Hilliard in terms of ranking the top kids in Ohio and in many other years he would probably be the top kid in the state. The good news for the Buckeyes is at this point they are the overwhelming favorite to land the Cleveland product.
Baker is a phenomenal athlete that could play either running back or linebacker, but is more likely a running back at this point. He has great size (6-1, 205 lbs) and speed (4.50 forty) that makes him the ideal style of back for Ohio State's power-spread system. He has visited Penn State and Illinois as well, though at this point it would be a pretty big surprise if he ended up anywhere other than Columbus.
3. Shaun Crawford, CB, St. Edward H.S. (Lakewood)
Crawford committed to Michigan in August but that hasn't stopped him from entertaining pitches from Ohio State. Coombs has been recruiting Crawford pretty extensively, and Crawford has talked about making a visit to Columbus. Whether a visit happens will remain to be seen, but with the trouble Michigan is having holding together its 2015 class it is certainly a possibility.
Crawford is a bit on the small side (5-foot-9), but is quick and has good ball skills as he also plays wide receiver. He is a consensus 4-star, the No. 8 cornerback in the 247Composite and is a player Ohio State would love to have. It will be interesting to see how new secondary coach Chris Ash impacts Crawford's recruitment and who Ohio State targets in the defensive backfield in 2015 moving forward.
4. James Daniels, OL, Warren G. Harding H.S. (Warren)
Daniels is the only offensive lineman Ohio State has offered in Ohio thus far and he is an excellent center prospect. He is a Buckeye legacy as his dad, LeShun, played offensive line at Ohio State. Meanwhile, his brother LeShun II will be entering his second year playing football at Iowa this fall. Coincidentally, LeShun II is a running back at Iowa like Justin Hilliard's brother. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out as LeShun II and C.J. Hilliard will be getting to know each other pretty well over the next year while their brothers decide where to attend school.
While it would be nice, Daniels said it isn't that important for him to play with his brother: "It would be really nice to play with him, but I have to look at and choose the one that is best fitted for me."
At this point Ohio State is probably the clear leader for Daniels, though Iowa is absolutely in the mix as well. Daniels has a good relationship with Ed Warinner and Mark Pantoni, while Urban Meyer, Chris Ash and Luke Fickell all went to visit him in January.
1. Nick Conner, LB, Dublin Scioto H.S. (Dublin)
There has been a lot of talk on the site recently about Nick Conner. He is scheduled to visit Ohio State next Tuesday and an offer could very well be in the works. Ohio State really likes Conner, who is a bit under the radar but has drawn interest from Michigan State, Pitt, Kentucky, Northwestern, West Virginia and others.
Urban Meyer has personally recruited him a bit, which tells you what they think of him as a prospect. If he gets an offer next week it might not be long before he becomes Ohio State's third commitment for 2015.
2. Rashod Berry, DE, Lorain Digital H.S. (Lorain)
Berry doesn't have an offer but is very high on Ohio State. Berry will likely do almost anything he can to earn an offer from Ohio State, which he says would be a "dream come true." Berry is a phenomenal athlete - he plays both defensive end and wide receiver. While he likely projects to a weak-side defensive end, the athleticism he has to play receiver will only help him be a better defensive end.
Berry has camped at Ohio State and I would imagine he'll be back to camp this summer. Mike Vrabel was his primary recruiter but his departure shouldn't have too much of an effect on Berry. If Berry gets an offer he will be a Buckeye almost guaranteed. He holds offers from several MAC schools and he has a lot of potential if he bulks up. He's absolutely a guy to watch and he could earn an offer at some point.
3. C.J. Conrad, TE, Keystone H.S. (Lagrange)
Chris Clark has been Ohio State's top tight end target for a while now, but after not taking a tight end in 2014, taking two in 2015 could be a real possibility - especially if the Baugh situation is not worked out. While Ohio State has offered a few tight ends for 2015, they have a bit of interest in Conrad as well. Conrad camped twice at Ohio State and visited for the Penn State game, so he is certainly on their radar. He boasts offers from Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana and others and may try to earn a Buckeye offer at camp again this summer.
Clark and others are higher on Ohio State's board, but Conrad is a guy that the Buckeyes probably feel they could snag if they missed out on their top target or wanted to take a couple of tight ends in the class.
4. Rob Dowdy, OL, Westerville South H.S. (Westerville)
Dowdy is a big offensive tackle prospect right in Ohio State's backyard. With a big offensive line haul in 2014 it won't be as big of a priority for the Buckeyes in 2015 but Dowdy could become an option for Ohio State down the road. Dowdy visited Ohio State twice during the season - for the Florida A&M and Penn State games.
Right now, Dowdy is favoring Arkansas but that could change if a Buckeye offer came his way. Ohio State currently has 12 offers out to uncommitted offensive tackles but the Buckeyes aren't heavy favorites for any of them. The Buckeyes are in great shape for Drew Richmond but if they miss on a few of their offensive tackle targets Dowdy could become a possibility. Noah Listerman, George Brown Jr. and Larry Wells could be local offensive tackle options as well down the road.
5. David and Andrew Dowell, St. Edward H.S. (Lakewood)
David (WR) and Andrew (RB) Dowell have both received a bit of interest from the Buckeyes. Both attended Friday Night Lights and visited Ohio State for the Wisconsin game. David is probably closer to getting an offer than Andrew is, and they may both be a little ways away from getting offers. That being said, they have a relationship with Ohio State and they are names to keep an eye on going into the summer/fall. Additionally, if things start to get interesting with Shaun Crawford the Dowell brothers will likely get some more attention.
6. Anthony McKee, LB, Walnut Ridge H.S.
McKee is a slightly undersized but athletic outside linebacker. Ohio State is showing him a good bit of interest as he visited Ohio State three times this fall and Luke Fickell visited him a couple of weeks ago. As the Buckeyes continue to build linebacker depth, McKee could be a good local prospect to fill the voids.
McKee holds offers from Tennessee, Pitt, Arkansas and others. He is ranked as a 4-star and 14 best outside linebacker in the nation by the 247Composite. McKee is favoring Arkansas, Pitt and Tennessee right now but a Buckeye offer would likely change that.
Putting it together
Like 2014, the 2015 class probably won't feature too many prospects from Ohio but it will be crucial for Ohio State to lock up the top local kids. Winning battles to keep guys like Justin Hilliard and Shaun Crawford will be priorities for the staff who knows that while out of state recruiting is incredibly important, building a fence around Ohio is critical as well.