In the end, Justin Hilliard's Affinity for Ohio State Couldn't be Severed

By Kyle Rowland on July 2, 2014 at 4:30p

CINCINNATI – As the calendar flipped to the spring and summer months, the decision became as clear as the sunny skies: Justin Hilliard was destined for Ohio State.

On Wednesday, the five-star linebacker ended the recruiting process seven months before National Signing Day, spurning his brother at Iowa and mystique at Notre Dame, to become a Buckeye.   

“I’ve always been an Ohio State fan. It was a pretty easy choice,” Hilliard said. “They’re a winning program. I believe a national championship is coming for us. I’m really excited about that.”

Five minutes later, Ohio State received a commitment from another five-star. This time it was Cretin-Derham Hall defensive end Jashon Cornell. Together, Hilliard and Cornell represent one of the biggest single-day recruiting coups in program history.

The defensive duo is already targeting a smorgasbord of high-profile recruits. Matthew Burrell (offensive lineman), Damien Harris (running back) and Josh Sweat (defensive end) were identified by Hilliard and Cornell as top priorities. Urban Meyer can take the rest of the summer off.

“We’ve had guys on our radar,” Hilliard said. “I guess now it’s just a matter of time for us to go out and start recruiting.”

“We’re coming for you,” added Cornell.

The stated goal from Hilliard is to secure the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class.

Mark Porter, director of, recently referred to Hilliard as one of the “most explosive linebackers to come out of Ohio in recent memory."

“Hilliard can dominate as a pass rusher because of his great get off and first step,” Porter said. “He can also be a huge asset in pass coverage because of his speed to match up with running backs and tight ends. He has great all around football ability and is a top-five player in Ohio on just about everyone’s list.”

Hilliard played seven games last season for perennial power St. Xavier until a foot injury derailed his junior year. He recorded 76 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hilliard is rated among the 50 best players nationally and the top outside linebacker. But Hilliard and St. Xavier head coach Steve Specht believe he projects as an inside linebacker once his body fills out and he becomes acclimated with the college game.

It’s no secret how Meyer feels about the linebackers. In his first two seasons at Ohio State, he constantly harped about the inadequacy and underdevelopment at the position. Aside from Ryan Shazier, production at linebacker has been underwhelming.

But changes are imminent. McMillan, Darron Lee and Curtis Grant instilled confidence in Meyer and Luke Fickell during the spring, and Kyle Berger and Dante Booker enrolled for summer workouts.

“I think Justin needs to worry about the best Justin can be,” Specht said. “Everyone wants to play as a freshman. The fact of the matter is they’re recruiting better than you every year. Not that they always get better than you, but that’s what they recruit.

“If you don’t work hard to be the best you can be, playing time is a non-issue. Justin just needs to focus on getting better, having a great senior year, continuing to work hard in the offseason and prepare himself. If he prepares himself correctly, good things will happen for him. He controls how hard he works, not playing time.”

Relationships were the driving force in Hilliard’s decision. At the Nike Football Training Camp in Columbus last month, he said personal connections with coaches and teammates would be the biggest factor in determining where he attended college. Nothing changed in the past month.

On his last visit to Ohio State, Hilliard said conversations with coaches and players were natural and didn’t even touch on football. The comfort level was no match for other suitors.

“I really wanted to go out and see other schools,” said Hilliard, who confessed his bedroom is decked out in Ohio State memorabilia. “Staying in my home state wasn’t a big thing in the beginning. I got to see a bunch of great schools in the process.”

Hilliard admitted – with a toothy grin – that the Ohio State coaches used the home state angle as a selling point.

Where some dread and anxiety existed was Hilliard telling his big brother, C.J., a freshman running back at Iowa, that they wouldn’t be continuing their careers in tandem.

“It was hard,” Justin said. “He wants me to do what’s best for me.”

Said C.J.: “I told him to just follow his heart. I said if you like Iowa, go to Iowa. If you like Ohio State, go to Ohio State. If you like Cincinnati, go to Cincinnati. Go with your gut feeling. You can’t go wrong.”

National Signing Day is Feb. 4, but the recruiting action will only intensify until then. Linebacker Jerome Baker, from Cleveland Benedictine, announces his commitment next Wednesday and is thought to favor the Buckeyes.

A conversation with Hilliard could seal the deal. 


Comments Show All Comments

Ethan_Buck's picture

I dont always root for college athletics, but when i do (which is most of the time) I choose THE Ohio State Buckeyes.

+2 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

+5 HS
Hovenaut's picture

"...I believe a national championship is coming for us. I’m really excited about that.”

You better believe it.

Welcome aboard, young man.

+5 HS
BierStube's picture

Meanwhile .. upon hearing the news ... Hoke is hitting the recruiting trail hard ..

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+41 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

Dammit Bier, you post the best gifs!

+4 HS
BierStube's picture

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+3 HS
OSU_Football_is_Life's picture

I was surprised to see this, I didn't think Hoke did a dance for anything besides food.

A win over TTUN is one of the most important annual milestones I can think of!

+2 HS
cinserious's picture

Oh, he's not dancing bubby. He's recruiting! 

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

+1 HS
Fatpants's picture

Please young Buckeye, talk your brother into transferring before AIRBHG catches up with him.

I'm just a poo gas huffin' toilet snorkeler at heart....

+10 HS
osu407's picture

Hopefully the younger Ferns takes a similar approach to choosing a school despite an older sibling's current enrollment.

+5 HS
BSTP DeCon's picture

Went to Atlantic City last night, pocketed $1,200+, woke up without a hangover, and found out my favorite team pocketed 2 stud recruits. Could this day get any better?!

+13 HS
blocko330's picture

As a big fan of blackjack (ok, an addict).... NO!!!!

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”

- TruthTeller

+1 HS
BSTP DeCon's picture

Blackjack and Craps all day! I don't know why more people don't play those games..

+2 HS
AndyVance's picture

Blackjack and Craps all day! I don't know why more people don't play those games..

P.T. Barnum answered that question many moons ago: "There's a sucker born every minute." How else to you explain almost every other game in the casino? Blackjack and Craps are my weapons of choice as well.

+5 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

I have a house that was built off a good night on a roulette wheel.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+3 HS
Chief B1G Dump's picture

Great to hear, these dudes are awesome!  This is exactly what this class needed all along. Five star players recruiting other five stars. 

I am super interested to see what doors these guys are able to open with stud recruits we weren't previously in on. They may have some five star friends we don't even yet know about...

+3 HS
Oldschoolbuck's picture

I'm sure glad I freaked out back in March at how awful this class was going to be!

Absolutely fantastic news - and two more quality human beings for the good guys. Welcome aboard gentlemen. This D is going to be downright terrifying!

buckeyedude's picture

BOOM shaka-laka-laka, BOOM shaka-laka-laka! BOOM!

That is all.



+1 HS
Lumpy Rutherford's picture

How soon until the season starts? I need me some OSU football!

cinserious's picture

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Wait, you mean we do have a decent recruiting class afterall? And probably only going to get better?? Actually a Top 5 class when the dust settles?? 


Hats off to the young men who are making the right choice, and to the coaches who made them realize that a Buckeye has no equal.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+1 HS