A couple of years ago, Glenville offensive lineman Aundrey Walker told everyone who'd listen that he was going to end up at USC and not Ohio State, but no one in the recruiting business believed him.
How could a premier offensive lineman from Ted Ginn's program–basically an extension of Ohio State's–choose any school other than the one in Columbus?
It didn't matter what Walker said. It almost didn't matter what he did, either. The fact is that no one believed Walker would end up anywhere but at Ohio State because that's just what kids from Glenville do. Walker didn't: he picked USC, just as he told anyone who would listen that he would.
There are times in recruiting when you almost don't want to believe your eyes and your ears.
The commitment of Antjuan Simmons to Ohio State Tuesday kind of fits that category.
Simmons has visited Ohio State three times since September and has been closely and thoroughly evaluated by the Buckeyes since last spring. He's talked to anyone who would listen since his first trip to Columbus about his opinions on Ohio State and consistently cited his relationships with their staff as a primary reason. Yet no one really thought he'd commit to the Buckeyes.
He released a top schools list last month that included the Scarlet and Gray, but not Michigan, and everyone just kind of assumed it was a "warning shot" to the Maize and Blue for being a bit late in trying to recruit him. When he visited Michigan two weeks ago, the belief was that meeting could help launch the Wolverines back into the fore of his mind, but the truth is it was never in the fore of his mind to begin with. He didn't grow up a fan of Michigan behold to the Block M, or Michigan State –– or anyone else. He was just looking for the best fit for him.
"For Antjuan, I think he was pretty wide open," Jari Brown, the head coach at Ann Arbor Pioneer told Eleven Warriors. "The biggest thing he was looking for was a coaching staff he felt comfortable with, that he’d built a relationship with, that he’d really gotten to know.”
Still, Michigan is right across the street. Jim Harbaugh attended Pioneer. Their school parking lot is a tailgating and parking lot for home games in the fall. There's no way this talented kid could, with offers from everyone, leave Ann Arbor for Ohio State.
“Maybe that’s what they thought, though I can’t speak for what they felt for their whole recruiting process," Brown told 11W when asked if there was an underlying assumption Simmons would come back around to Michigan. "The whole Michigan being in your backyard thing, it does happen sometimes, as a university you just assume you have a kid because he’s right in your backyard. I don’t really know why things happened the way that they did."
Simmons went from an under-the-radar prospect to one of the Midwest's most sought-after recruits in a matter of weeks last September. He added dozens of opportunities after receiving a big one from the Fighting Irish.
"The big thing was Notre Dame, when they offered him, everyone went back and went ‘Wait, why did Notre Dame offer this kid?’ Then everyone went back and saw the film and saw how great of a player he is," Brown said. "His sophomore year he had a great year. Tennessee, Michigan State and some teams were interested in him, but he was a little unproven, because he bounced around a little bit, he didn’t have a solid position. He was a pretty good linebacker, but he bounced around quite a bit, he played a little running back, full back, receiver – he can do a little bit of everything – but I think a lot of people wanted to wait to see him in his junior year. He was having a great junior season, and then Notre Dame came through and then all the offers came through."
The Buckeyes spotted Simmons, like many did, last spring, but an offer didn't come until September; after months of relationship-building by Kerry Coombs. It's not the timing of the offer that mattered, because as often happens in recruiting, one major offer set off an avalanche of others, but still, Michigan–who did offer in November–lagged behind despite more opportunities than anyone else to spot Simmons' talents.
"One of the guys on the (Michigan) staff has two sons that play on our team," Brown said. "He was able to see him in person, be around the kid and get to know him. They didn’t really recruit him the same way Ohio State did."
Comfort and relationships, always.
"At the end of the day, that’s how (the Buckeyes) won him over," Brown said. "The relationships, him feeling comfortable, that was his big thing and that’s exactly what Ohio State did. Not to mention with them, it was his mom, she really felt comfortable with the staff and got to know them really well and I think it was just a natural fit."
To land a big-time player from a state inhabited by not one, but two of your biggest rivals, Ohio State's recruiting efforts, led by Coombs and Luke Fickell, had to be more visible, more tangible. Simmons himself has stated as such.
“I talk to the Ohio State coaches all the time and whenever it's a recruiting period they make it a priority to come in and see me,” Simmons told Eleven Warriors. “No matter what."
Even on this space–and I predicted Simmons would be a Buckeye on Sunday morning and had him as the top linebacker target for Ohio State a week ago–where we've discussed how much the three-star (with 40 offers!) liked the Buckeyes, how often he's visited, etc. it was still not easy to feel confident in the odds. It was Monday afternoon that Brown was told a decision was coming and it felt like a two-team race.
"I was a little shocked he actually did it this early, but I told people if he had to pick right now, it’d be Ohio State," Brown said. "I didn’t know he was going to do it right now, but when he told me (Monday) he was going to commit, I kind of had an idea it would be Ohio State or Notre Dame.”
Monday night, Simmons informed the Buckeyes it would be Ohio State and now the focus turns to what it takes to keep the linebacker in the fold for the next 11 months.
"Unless there's a coaching change with one of the guys recruiting him," Brown said. "I don't think he'll end up anywhere else."