Ranking Jim Tressel's Recruiting Classes: No. 5 – No. 1

By Chris Lauderback on June 21, 2014 at 8:20a

Yesterday, we began an effort to rank each of Jim Tressel's Ohio State recruiting classes by presenting the 11th through 6th ranked groups considering his final batch of commitments are set to enter their true-senior seasons in Columbus this fall. 

While there is always room for debate within such a subjective exercise, the 2003 class was easy choice for the 11th slot with just six contributors and nine guys who failed to finish their careers at Ohio State. The 2007 class headlined by Cam Heyward and Dane Sanzenbacher amidst just seven total contributors ranked 10th while the 2009 class featuring a handful of top-flight leaders and players in John Simon, Zach Boren and Kenny Guiton along with mainstays in the trenches like Jack Mewhort Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall but a whopping 10 "empty" scholarships placed 9th. 

The 8th spot belonged to the 2010 class anchored by studs Carlos Hyde, Bradley Roby and Johnathan Hankins and legit contributors Christian Bryant, Philly Brown and Andrew Norwell. In the 7th slot, the 2006 crop had just one superstar in Beanie Wells but totaled 10 significant contributors including Ross Homan, Chimdi Chekwa and Kurt Coleman. 

Finally, the 6th slot discussed yesterday belonged to the 2001 haul featuring key cogs in the 2002 national championship season including Chris Gamble, Dustin Fox and Mike Nugent, among others, as it saw 10 of 15 guys make solid-to-huge contributions. 

Today, we conclude our list by ranking The Vest's top five classes.

#5 - 2004 CLASS

The 2004 haul was a large one at 25 players and was ranked just 16th by Rivals.

Ted Ginn Jr. was the crown jewel of the class and the speedster was a joy to watch but a few underrated but outstanding players dot this class, most notably Antonio Pittman, Marcus Freeman and Nader Abdallah. 

Vernon Gholston also had his moments for the 2004 group and was a fun get considering he hailed from Detroit Cass Tech. 

Despite an epic fall from grace, Todd Boeckman did have one solid year as he earned 1st-team All-B1G honors on the strength of nearly 2,400 passing yards and 25 touchdowns before Terrelle Pryor had to take his job the following season mostly because the offensive line was a disgrace and the statuesque Boeckman was a sitting duck. 

The class also produced multi-year starters in the trenches in Steve Rehring and Ben Person and at tight end in Rory Nicol. 

The class did lose six guys to transfer and one to academics highlighted by local product Erik Haw and Albert Dukes was a huge bust after coming out of the same high school as Santonio Holmes while drawing reviews that said would be even better but had all of four catches for the Buckeyes. 

#4 - 2011 CLASS

Tressel’s final recruiting class at Ohio State, the 2011 crop, hasn’t yet written its final chapter but is still good enough for 4th on my list and could move up once all is said and done.

A national title from Braxton and company would vault 2011 up the rankings

Ranked 11th by Rivals and 6th by Scout, the class of 23 was headlined by none other than Braxton Miller.

Just nine of the 23 have figured prominently to date (39%) but the book is not yet closed on guys like Cardale Jones (redshirt junior), Joel Hale, Chris Carter (redshirt junior), Chase Farris (redshirt junior) and Antonio Underwood.

Along with Miller, the class featured two other elite talents in Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett. Shazier is already grabbing the attention of many during his first few weeks as a Pittsburgh Steeler and Bennett is one strong season away from being a 1st round pick while Miller is rewriting the OSU record books.

The 2nd tier players in this class feature the underrated Jeff Heuerman (until this year anyway), Devin Smith, Curtis Grant and Doran Grant. Smith has already had his share of big plays for the Buckeyes but a consistently productive senior campaign could be on the way and would certainly vault this class even higher up the ranks. Curtis Grant is looking to finally put it all together after coming in as a five-star linebacker while Doran Grant has a chance to be all-conference in his swan song.

Fringe contributors include Evan Spencer and redshirt junior Nick Vannett who would be starting for most teams in the league.

On the strength of the Big Three, the notion Smith and Heuerman are primed for big seasons and the redshirt juniors who still have work to do, the 2011 class checks in at 4th and trending upward. 

#3 - 2005 CLASS

The 2005 class was highly touted as Rivals slotted them 12th while Scout placed them 7th nationally. In fact, only three other classes during Tressel's tenure came in with a higher consensus national ranking.

The haul was highlighted by eventual superstars in Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis – a pair of three-stars – and considering Tressel was famous for concentrating on in-state talent, it was noteworthy that both his cornerstones were from New Jersey and Minnesota, respectively. 

Of the 18 players, a very respectable 12 went on to be legit contributors during their time in Columbus. Alex Boone, Jim Cordle, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie emerged as multi-year starters on offense while the the Jenkins/Laurinaitis anchored defense was also dotted with other out of state guys like Doug Worthington (NY) and Donald Washington (IN). 

The defense also featured lesser contributors yet starters in Anderson Russell and Jamario O'Neal along with the talented yet oft-injured Lawrence Wilson. 

Rob Schoenhoft was an Elite 11 quarterback but as we know, that didn't pan as he was one of just three recruits lost to injury or transfer. 

#2 - 2008 CLASS

Depending on how you view Tatgate with regard to where you the lay the blame and how much you might factor that in to evaluating a class, you could have this class ranked lower but based on talent and my own views on Tatgate, I think the two-hole makes sense. 

Ranked 4th overall by both Rivals and Scout, the class featured six players ranked a five-star by at least one of the major services highlighted by Terrelle Pryor, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Mike Brewster. 

Beyond those four, the class of 20 boasted no less than 13 contributors to varying degrees in Nate Williams, Jake Stoneburner, Andrew Sweat, J.B. Shugarts, Garrett Goebel, Orhian Johnson, Travis Howard, Ben Buchanan and Etienne Sabino. 

Thirteen contributors is the most of any class during the Tressel Era, by my rough count anyway, and again, whether you were a fan of some of these guys, they won some huge games including a Rose Bowl over Oregon and a Sugar Bowl to end the SEC curse. 

Also impressive, the 20-man class lost just four guys via transfer highlighted by Lamar Thomas. 

#1 - 2002 CLASS

The undisputed kings of the Jim Tressel Recruiting Class Rankings, the 2002 class was ranked 5th by Rivals and 3rd by Scout. Another large class with 25 guys in the fold, 12 went on to be selected in the NFL Draft with four going in the 1st round. 

Impressively, 17 of 25 players were significant contributors failed to meet the hype headlined by Justin Zwick, Mike D'Andrea, Mike Kudla and transfer Derek Morris.

Ohio was loaded that year and Tressel capitalized signing 20 players from our great state including Troy Smith, A.J. Hawk, Maurice Clarett, Nick Mangold,Carpenter, Quinn Pitcock, Doug Datish, Rob Sims, T.J. Downing, Tyler Everett, and Roy Hall while Santonio Holmes was the lead out-of-state dog complimented by Nate Salley (FL) and Brandon Mitchell (GA). 

Clarett grabbed the headlines right away as his practice mentality caused the veterans to sit up and take notice. His hair-on-fire approach to every snap carried over into the season, rubbing off on his teammates, and the electrifying, powerful runner emerged as the most important player on the national championship team.

Smith won the Heisman engineering some of the best offensive football ever seen at Ohio State, Hawk was good enough to have his name mentioned right alongside OSU greats like Spielman, Gradishar, Katzenmoyer, Cousineau and Marek and Santonio went on to become a Super Bowl MVP. 

Mangold emerged into an elite center before doing the same in the NFL and fellow o-linemen Sims, Datish and Downing became multi-year starters.  

That is some collective heat right there, folks.

So that wraps up the effort to slot these classes. Where did I go wrong on the top five?

I'm guessing the slotting of 2004 as a top five class will draw the most criticism which is fair because if I retried this effort a month from now, the order of some teams ranked 3rd through 8th could easily slide up or down a slot or two. To me, that's a testament to Tressel and his staff's ability to bring in consistently solid classes to Columbus.



HattanBuck85's picture

Donald Washington was a beast. 

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
UrbanPirate's picture

That 2002 class would have to rank as one of the very best classes signed by any school in the past 15 years!

Just... Go Bucks.


+8 HS

Thanks for all your work on this series. I've found it an intriguing read. It's one of the most comprehensive summaries of JT's blueprint and strength of the program since 2002 that I've ever seen printed anywhere.

The last of Tressel's recruits are seniors this year and next, would love to see them honor their former coach by winning it all one more time. Even 3-4 years after leaving us Tress is still having an impact.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

+4 HS
trigg03's picture

It is hard to argue the 02' & 08' classes. They were stock full of big time talent but the thing that amazes me is 1) There were a lot more lower ranked classes then top rated & yet Tress never won the COY despite all his success mainly because the perceived notion was he always had elite talent. But according to these articles he actually did more with less. And 2) when he was able to put together elite classes he hit grand slams.

+1 HS
chicagobuckeye's picture

That also all depends on how you look at it. The theory behind having good talent is that Ohio state will always be able to attract good talent. The fact that jt only had a few good classes shows that he could recruit Ohio really well, but struggled to land out of state talent. While not a huge deal, the fact that he didn't bring the highest rated talent doesn't then make him a great coach. 

-2 HS
trigg03's picture

Very good points sir, I agree with your logic

yrro's picture

Keep in mind that recruiting class rankings include the number of players in the class.

His 15-player classes were largely determined by scholarship limits and high retention from previous classes. Their average star rankings were up there with any classes in the country, but their small size kept them from winning the signing day olympics.

chicagobuckeye's picture

Fair, but at least on here there are 18,20,23,25,25 all decent class sizes. I'm not saying he wasn't a good coach, but what I am saying is that in college sports recruiting is part of coaching. Do most think that john Calpari is a great coach? Yes, but I'd argue he is the best recruiter and a marginal coach. I was simply pointing out that saying he should have won coty because he turned 3* into first round draft picks isn't a great argument. I love all that jt did. Looking at it was he a good coach, of course. Was he the best recruiter? No, but because he made up for that does that mean he was even better? In modern college football? No. 

+1 HS
Patriot4098's picture

Calipari is a very good coach. What he does with freshman is pretty great. Am I a fan? No. Hell no. But credit where credit is due.

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

+3 HS
ChimdiCheckyaselfbeforeyawreckyaself's picture


A little is better than nada, sometimes you want the whole enchilada

+1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

Maybe I'm slipping but I remember when we were hosting Texas ESPN kept saying this was the #1 recruiting class (Texas) vs the #2 recruiting class (OSU) referring to 2002 and highlighted by the top ranked QB (young) vs the #2 ranked QB (Zwick)....or am I crazy.

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+1 HS
Poison nuts's picture

Maybe those were ESPN rankings?

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

trigg03's picture

ESPiN did have OSU ranked higher then Rivals & Scout. That was when they weren't anti-tOSU.

nm_buck's picture

Amazing how many 3 star athletes in those classes ended up being 1st round picks.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

+3 HS
trigg03's picture

I wonder if this current staff has noticed that as well & that's why they have accepted as many 3*s as they have lately?? Lol

swainpm's picture

Its not really all that amazing actually. If you search I am sure you will find the article comparing HS star ratings with 1st round selections in this years NFL Draft. I think it was an ESPN article. There were quite a few 3 star players taken in the 1st rd if I remember correctly. I believe Khalil Mack was even a 2 star and went top 5. HS ratings are great but they don't mean squat if you don't have good coaches. Look at UT at the end of the Brown era...top3 class almost every year but last year not a single draftee.

OSUStu's picture

Vernon Gholston also had his moments

I think this undervalues Gholston just a bit considering he was absolute beast mode in 2007.  14.5 sacks is the school record after all.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

+4 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

Yeah. I might have undersold him a bit. I guess I always thought he was a little overrated, or at least a little bit frustrating because he would disappear in games. He dominated Jake Long and had three sacks against Michigan plus he had four against Wisconsin so half of his school record total came in two games. On one hand, that's incredible, on the other, 7.5 sacks over the other 11 games is decent but not amazing. Just my .02...

OSUStu's picture

It is a fair assessment. I just choose to remember the good times.

I personally think he belongs with the group listed just above him.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

+1 HS
JHellman3's picture

How can you talk about the 2002 class and not mention Maurice Clarett? The 2002 USA Today High School Offensive Player of the Year.


+5 HS
KINGBUCKEYE419's picture

Where's Maurice Clarett? He was the linchpin of our national title run. |Wasn't he in the 02 class? 

+2 HS
Chris Lauderback's picture

Don't know who/how it happened but either the editor or myself accidentally deleted a few paragraphs from the 2002 summary. I wouldn't write about '02 and not include Clarett. Thanks for pointing it out so I could fix. 

UrbanRenewal's picture

I thought that Cardale is just a redshirt sophomore. He graduated in the same class as Braxton but spent a year at Fork Union. So he was a yr behind Braxton, then redshirted a year. So 2 yrs behind. He'd be a sophomore this year while Braxton is a senior. 

You don't get a virgin to the volcano by telling her you're gonna push her in.

brandonbauer87's picture

Without looking it up, I think he graduated high school a year before Braxton. He would have spent 2010 at Fork Union, 2011 as a redshirt. He was basically recruited a year earlier, but counted towards a different recruiting class. Very similar to Hyde. 

UrbanRenewal's picture

You're saying he redshirted in 2011? He didn't enroll at Ohio State until 2012. 

You don't get a virgin to the volcano by telling her you're gonna push her in.

DC-town's picture

Very interesting ranking numbers- I know the media is usually going to use the higher tank between scout, rivals, and espn, but even the 2008 class was always reported as #2 in the country-

great article and walk down memory lane, Erik Haw and Dukes in 04...those two were going to be the second coming

'Piss excellence' -RB

JohnnyKozmo's picture

Haw, or his likeness, was actually on one of the NCAA games.  I think he was #2, I remember going through and changing the names.  He was a beast, too!!!

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

DC-town's picture

Ps- great use of the word 'empty scholarships' Chris- don't want to offend anyone

'Piss excellence' -RB

+1 HS
BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

That 2011 class should bump up to around #3 when its all said and done.

+1 HS
teddyballgame's picture

really enjoyed this look back

thanks Chris

45buckshot's picture

You could take some of the subjectivity out of it by coming up with a point system; just assign 1 point if a player played that year and say 3 if he started? Then you could add up the points and claim to be objective.

If you wanted to be more subjectively objective, you could add points for awards or for getting drafted (draft status, not where they end out, is indicative of how teams value a players college career), maybe 1 point for getting drafted and 3 points for going in the first round. How many points is a Heisman worth? I would suggest a gigillion...  

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton

WesPatterson23's picture

I saw a comment earlier, but Cardale is a redshirt sophomore.

scottyp_330's picture

Still depresses me what happened to Clarett, but he's on the right track now, Gotta respect that. He was so exciting to watch.

+1 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

2002 #1 No. Doubt. About. It. 

Shangheyed's picture

2002 for sure... Tress was a great recruiter indeed.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Those are some outstanding classes!  JT and the guys did some great recruiting during those years!

Go Bucks!!

BuckeyeGrownFloridaLiving's picture

Only 2 articles today.. I'm craving more as Hilliard was at OSU today!

Crumb's picture

Poor Lawrence Wilson, poor guy had skill but just couldn't stay healthy. I don't put Mike Kudla in the same category as D'Andrea and Zwick either cause Kudla had a major health issue and was still a solid contributor, and first team All B1G as a senior. I'd love to see the 2011 guys take a title home this year and at least tie the 2002 class.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

BuckeyeJAK's picture

What really stands out is how many recruits did not make the cut. A lesson to all those coming in Tomorrow is promised to no one.

Mark May is a mental midget

BuckeyeJAK's picture

What really stands out is how many recruits did not make the cut. A lesson to all those coming in Tomorrow is promised to no one.

Mark May is a mental midget

jamesrbrown322's picture

Nate Salley is one of the all-time under appreciated Buckeyes. I loved watching that guy play!

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

ScarletNGrey01's picture

I was in a fitness center shooting three pointers, and right after I clanged one I heard this booming voice "You need to follow through better".  I turned around and my jaw dropped because the dude was so big and muscled up.  Looked at him closer and realized it was Doug Worthington.  But I digress ... great rankings and profiles, I'm still a big Coach Tress fan, amazing that we have two great coaches back-to-back.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

+2 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

This is a great series to read!!! I have often wanted to ask everyone on here the difference in how JT recruited compaired to Urban! I didn't follow much recruiting back then. I do rem when MC and TP commited to us. I also rem when "little animal" commited!! Was a huge road warrior fan