One month ago, Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class included two players – and one of them could be facing legal troubles. Rivals.com ranked the Buckeyes 56th nationally behind powerhouses such as Western Michigan, Louisiana Tech, Texas San-Antonio and Florida Atlantic.
No more, not after three 2015 commitments in three days and six in 12. When Athens quarterback Joe Burrow committed on May 27, the floodgates opened. Tyler Green (DB), Grant Schmidt (OL), Liam McCullough (LS), Nick Conner (LB), Dre’Mont Jones (DE) and Denzel Ward (DB) all followed.
For months after the New Year, the Buckeyes’ losses to Michigan State and Clemson hung in the air like unwelcome cigarette smoke. Not only did Ohio State falter down the stretch, but the lack of impact recruits – or any recruits – caused restlessness in the Columbus. February signaled another top-five class. Yet, there was little movement for 2015.
Plenty can happen in a month, as Ohio State proved. Urban Meyer and Co. attacked the summer with a plan that’s been executed with precision. Not only has Ohio State moved up to 29th in the 2015 class rankings, it has also secured two commitments for the Class of 2016.
Suddenly, the Buckeyes are one of the hottest recruiting destinations in the country. Not that anyone is surprised by that development. Nearly every recruiting class Meyer’s signed in the past decade has been rated among the best in college football. Ohio State’s beginning to chart a similar trajectory.
A handful of nationally sought after recruits will make decisions in the coming months, including Ohioans L.J. Scott and Jerome Baker. But there’s a bigger catch waiting to be reeled in.
The summer could become hotter in a matter weeks – and not because the mercury rises in June, July and August. Standout linebacker Justin Hilliard is due to announce his college decision this month, likely after visiting Ohio State – with Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk – and Notre Dame this weekend.
“Making my decision this month at St. X,” Hilliard recently tweeted. “Hopefully wherever I go I can get my boys @Jay_Rock16 @Damien_D1Harris and @Clark8Chris to tag along.”
That would be Jashon Cornell, Damien Harris and Chris Clark. Cornell is defensive end from Minnesota and one of the top players in the nation. Harris, a running back from Kentucky, was committed to the Wolverines until they fired offensive coordinator Al Borges. He’s since soured on Michigan. Clark, from Connecticut, is one of the top tight end recruits and committed to Michigan on Thursday.
Modern-day recruiting doesn’t just include a school selling itself to players. In the 21st century, committed players take on the role of assistant coach once they give their pledge. Hilliard will soon take that step. The question is – for whom?
Ohio State is thought to be the front-runner, along with Notre Dame, Alabama, Iowa and Michigan. The St. X product would provide even more linebacker depth at a position that was stockpiled with talent in the Buckeyes’ latest recruiting class. Meyer saw deficiencies and has aggressively targeted the position.
In seven games last season, before suffering a foot injury, Hilliard had 76 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he possesses the build and physique of a veteran college linebacker. Recruiting analysts haven’t shied away from deeming him the best linebacker in America.
Hilliard’s interest in Ohio State is reportedly high, with Notre Dame and Iowa rounding out his top three. His brother, C.J., plays for the Hawkeyes.
A visit to South Bend coincides with the Irish’s biggest recruiting weekend of the year. Termed the “Irish Invasion,” dozens of the top players in the classes of 2015, ’16 and ’17 will be present for a one-day camp and weekend visit. Hilliard, a five-star prospect, is No. 1 on Notre Dame’s want list. On Saturday, he’ll head a few hundred miles to the east.
If he commits to the Buckeyes, Hilliard could excel as the ringleader in a “Super Friends” recruiting pitch, setting up Ohio State – or Notre Dame – to haul in one of the top classes in the country.