Steve Specht is no stranger to coaching highly rated recruits. When you’re title is “head coach” at one of the country’s foremost football factories, it becomes a yearly occurrence. Even at St. Xavier some guys fall through the cracks, such as Luke Kuechly. The under-recruited linebacker ended up at Boston College and is now one of the top defenders in the NFL.
Last week, Specht said he might have ended up at Ohio State if he received an offer from the Buckeyes. The disconnect between Ohio State and the city of Cincinnati is real, but Spect believes it’s still hard for a home state kid to turn down the Buckeyes. Proof of that was seen last week in Hilliard.
“Keep in mind that Ohio State is a national program, they recruit nationally,” Specht said. “I’ve never looked at it as Ohio State didn't have a Cincinnati connection, I always looked at it as Ohio State is recruiting the best of the best. If we had them, great, and if not, they looked elsewhere.”
It’s probably a good thing Ohio State looked to the southwest corner of the state for Hilliard. Meyer’s made it his mission to restock the linebacking corps, and Hilliard ranks among the best in the country. At his announcement, Hilliard was lauded time and again by media, coaches and teammates.
The superlatives came flowing from every direction. Hilliard’s play, character and ability to lead were all referenced in why he’s set up to succeed in college and beyond.
“He’s so explosive, and he’s still learning the game,” Specht said. “I think that is what makes Justin’s upside so high. He plays too fast, which is a great problem for us to have. We’re always trying to slow him down. When Justin can start to put it all together, he can be pretty special.”
When he’ll be needed at Ohio State remains a mystery – sort of. Meyer’s preference to not redshirt players combined with Hilliard’s impact potential points to immediate playing time. But it appears an entire depth chart could be filled.
Recruiting services rate Hilliard as the top outside linebacker in the Class of 2015. Whether he ends up outside or inside at Ohio State will be decided in the future, though Specht and Hilliard himself believe a change could be in the offing.
That would mean competition with Raekwon McMillan, someone Hilliard cited in choosing the Buckeyes over Notre Dame and Iowa, where Hilliard’s brother is a running back. Backing away from competition isn’t in Hilliard’s DNA. He’s built on helping his team and improving his own skills. Background noise remains muted.
“Justin needs to worry about being the best Justin he can be,” Specht said. “If he prepares himself correctly, good things will happen for him. But players don’t control playing time, coaches control playing time.”
Specht is well versed on Ohio’s current King – LeBron will reclaim that title if he returns to Cleveland. He was coached by Meyer in high school, which acted as an introduction to the perfectionist’s attention to detail and intensity. Few coaches contain the killer instinct and will to win like Meyer. It’s proven to be an asset on Saturdays and during recruiting.
“He’s fiery,” Specht said. “When Coach Meyer wants somebody, Coach Meyer is going to get that somebody. Boy, he’s cut from a different cloth. He’s a pretty special individual. Coach Meyer is a very genuine person. He’s been through all of the battles. He can pull his rings out, he can play a lot of different roles because he’s been there and done that. Kids feed off that and kids love that stuff, and I think that had a huge impact on Justin.”
Meyer will get plenty more opportunities from now until February to have the same influence on a whole host of recruits, including out-of-staters. Matthew Burrell, Damien Harris, Malik Jefferson, Torrance Gibson and Josh Sweat are just a handful of the dozen or more targets in Ohio State and Meyer’s crosshairs.
The past two classes had more out-of-state players than in-state. So far, the Buckeyes have seven Ohioans among their 12 commitments for 2015.
Linebacker Jerome Baker (Cleveland Benedictine) will announce Friday.
“I’ve had a pretty good idea of where I’m going,” said Baker, who’s deciding between Ohio State, Florida and Tennessee. “I’m going to sit down with everyone on Thursday and have a family meeting and make sure everything is final. I’m going to call all of the coaches before Friday morning and let them know of my decision.”
Will it result in another homegrown talent staying in the state?