CLEVELAND — A Clevelander is heading to Florida.
This wasn’t The Decision, but it had to sting Ohio State. For a moment, the Buckeyes’ recruiting moment has been halted.
Cleveland Benedictine linebacker Jerome Baker, the top-rated player in the state according to Rivals.com, spurned Ohio State – and Tennessee – for the Florida Gators.
In a bizarre three-minute announcement Friday morning – off of Buckeye Road, no less – Baker and his mother thanked family, friends, teammates and coaches for their support during a “difficult time.” It ended with Baker doing the Gator Chomp.
Baker and Benedictine head coach Joe Schaefer declined to speak with the media.
Until Friday at 10 a.m., the Buckeyes were on a recruiting surge. Last week, they secured two five-star commitments in a 10-minute span when linebacker Justin Hilliard and defensive end Jashon Cornell pledged their allegiance to Ohio State. Meyer and Co. had only secured two commitments in late-May when quarterback Joe Burrow opened the floodgates.
The Buckeyes have received nine verbal commitments since June 1.
Linebacker is an area Meyer has targeted since he arrived at Ohio State, citing poor play on the field and mistakes made in recruiting. Hilliard, Baker and Nick Connor would have been a coup after signing three nationally acclaimed linebackers in the Class of 2014.
There remains a possibility Meyer could flip Baker, as he’s shown aggression in pursuing players already committed to other universities.
“This decision will be pretty much final for me,” Baker told GatorCountry.com this week. “If I do take other officials to schools it will be to these three schools only. My official visits are hard to do because my football schedule, but I’m undecided on that right now.”
Baker only visited Gainesville once, but said “it was enough.” He said he was confident he saw what was needed in his three days on campus. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s impact on Baker was a major factor in Baker’s decision.
“Coach Durkin and I have an awesome relationship,” Baker said. “Coach Durkin is someone that I can talk to about everything from my life to football. We have really good conversations with each other and are always relaxed. Our relationship is very strong and open.”
When Hilliard committed to Ohio State, he cited the family atmosphere and close-knit culture as having an influence. Baker admitted the same. In the end, Will Muschamp’s pitch bettered his predecessor’s.
“Florida really fits who I am. It’s not too big or too crazy,” Baker said. “It just really fits me because it’s laid back and you just handle your business and have fun with it there. Florida is different atmosphere and different culture than I’m used to at home.
“Florida is just attractive to me.”