It’s a busy weekend at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. No, the Ohio State Buckeyes haven’t started fall camp two months early. Nike has taken over the home of the Buckeyes for its summer camp series and the Elite 11 quarterback camp.
It’s a who’s who of high school talent, with Damien Harris, Justin Hilliard and Danny Clark among the hundreds of attendees. Hilliard, from Cincinnati St. Xavier, is one of the nation’s top linebacker recruits and the No. 2 overall recruit in the state. He recently narrowed down his list of choices to Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, Iowa and Michigan.
In a month, he will don one of those five schools colors.
“I’m kind of waiting it out,” Hilliard said Sunday. “When I make a decision, I want to be 100 percent sure, because I don’t want to de-commit. It’s pretty structured now because I narrowed it down from a top 15 to a top 10 to a top five. So, hopefully, I keep visiting all these schools and make a decision in late June or early July.”
Two main factors are involved in the equation: no distractions for his senior season and the ability to recruit fellow Class of 2015ers to his college choice. Hilliard’s main goal in the next month is to get his mother on each campus – and to avoid making a rash decision.
“Whenever I see someone commit right after a visit, I feel like they’re making [an emotional decision],” he said. “I don’t believe in that. After every visit, I’ll have that moment, ‘This could be the school I want to go to.’ So I try and wait a couple days to think everything out and talk to my parents.”
All five schools are on even footing right now, Hilliard said. But an undisclosed top two are where his decision will be made. The remainder of his summer will be spent attending camps, including the Rivals Challenge and “hopefully, The Opening,” according to Hilliard.
Friday Night Lights could also be on his itinerary. Hilliard, listed at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, said defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell wants to work him out. At this point, Hilliard is settled and calm about the recruiting process. He and his dad have visited the top five schools multiple times and developed relationships with coaches and possible future teammates.
“We have a lot of information,” Hilliard said. “I know the coaches very well at every school. Now it comes down to building relationships with some of the coaches and players and finding out about some of the little things that give schools an edge.”
Those little things, as described by Hilliard, are relationships, how current players feel about coaches and the campus atmosphere. He said academics and playing time aren’t included because they are far from small details – they fit in the major category.
Hilliard speaks of valuing education, so much so that he’s already gotten to know some professors at Ohio State. He’s also developed relationships with Ryan Shazier and Raekwon McMillian, while Fickell, Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs are the coaches involved in his recruitment.
Much has been said about the Buckeyes’ early recruiting woes – they only have three commitments, one of which (Eric Glover-Williams) is in question, and are ranked in the 50s nationally. Hilliard’s noticed the headlines and sensed Ohio State’s full-court press.
“I definitely feel that. They’re Ohio State, so they can pick and choose the guys they want,” he said. “They take a long process through evaluating. They know they can get the best players.”
The Buckeyes are hoping one of those is Hilliard.
On the depth chart at potential landing spots: “That’s definitely not a big thing. My goal is to try and get to the NFL. If you aren’t talented enough to start in college, you probably aren’t going to have a good shot at getting to the NFL.”
On Ohio State’s facilities: “It’s crazy. I know they have new turf at Ohio State and a new locker room. Ohio State and Alabama both have waterfalls in their locker room just because they can. The facilities are getting better because everyone wants to get an edge on other schools. It’s pretty cool.”
On if he pays attention to how schools develop NFL players: “Definitely. I look at how many players they’ve sent to the NFL, how talented my position coach is at doing his job and how the players feel about how [the coaches] are doing. Also a big thing is the strength coach. You guys know recruiting is a big thing and your position coach will be out recruiting, but the strength coach will always be there getting you better.”
On the hoopla surrounding recruiting and the cool perks: “It kind of sucks now, because I’ve become accustomed to it because I’ve built such great relationships with the coaches. Being able to have Coach Meyer and coach Saban’s number in my phone, that’s something I’ve gotten used to, but it’s still crazy to think about.
“There’s a good and a bad side. It gives exposure to my teammate. The fans also show a lot of love on Twitter, but there’s a bad side. Fans always tell you you’re the best, and you just have to stay humble. But you have to have confidence that you are the best.”