The 23rd and final installment of this year's Better Know a Buckeye series profiles Darius Slade, a defensive line prospect from Montclair, New Jersey. Slade's addition to this class came on National Signing Day and was the result of several factors that Ohio State fans may not have anticipated just four weeks before he committed. I will discuss this story below, also mentioning his previous verbal pledges to Nebraska and Michigan State.
This profile proceeds in the usual fashion after discussing his recruitment and commitment. I discuss strengths and areas for improvement for a project I suspect is quite raw and is the ultimate Larry Johnson project. I project a redshirt for him in 2014 before concluding with film and miscellaneous things about Darius Slade that I think you may find interesting.
High School: Montclair High School; Montclair, NJ
Slade acquired various offers through 2013, spanning his junior and senior year of high school. The offers came after a junior season in which Slade had 46 tackles and 13.5 sacks for a Montclair team that went undefeated en route to a state championship. Slade's recruitment was mostly regional (i.e. Atlantic). The first offer I discerned was from Massachusetts. Others followed from Boston College, Connecticut, Pitt, Rutgers, and West Virginia. Michigan State offered at the end of the May though Slade said his favorite by the end of June was Rutgers.
Slade moved little on his recruitment through the summer and early fall. However, official visits were scheduled for Michigan State (October 12), West Virginia (November 9), Penn State (November 24), and Nebraska (November 29). After seeing all four schools and, ostensibly, taking all his official visits he could take, Slade announced he would have a decision ready two weeks after the Nebraska visit. Bo Pelini and John Papuchis visited Slade at his home in New Jersey to make a last pitch before he announced a decision.
Pelini and Papuchis had the right words prepared for that visit since a commitment to Nebraska followed. His comments on the decision focused on his belief in Bo Pelini and what he is doing in Lincoln.
"From the outside looking in, most people think coach Bo is not a great guy or not a great coach, but when you get a chance to meet him and talk to the players, they all have great things to say about him," Slade said. "He's a great coach. He cares about his players and has their back 100 percent. He's just done some great things for the players since he's been there. When I got that chance to sit down and talk to him, he's a good guy. I know he'll do great things here for a long time."
Sometime after these comments, Slade's belief may have wavered or he questioned whether he wanted to be that far from home for college. Slade wondered if his commitment to Nebraska was premature. He decommitted from Nebraska on January 16 of this year.
The reason behind the decommitment from Nebraska may have been Ohio State and, in particular, Larry Johnson. Just a day after Larry Johnson finalized a deal to replace Mike Vrabel as defensive line coach, Ohio State extended a scholarship offer to Darius Slade.
Though it was Urban Meyer that arrived at Slade's high school and informed him of the offer in person, this may have been Johnson extending an offer to coach him at a new school for both. Slade has admired Larry Johnson since Johnson coached his cousin, Jared Odrick, at Penn State. It is any wonder why Slade was not a strong Penn State lean through his recruitment. He did have an offer and visited at the end of November. It is likely Slade wanted to do something on his own. It is also why he dropped Rutgers from consideration despite having another cousin, Julian Pinnix-Odrick, play for the Scarlet Knights.
If it was Ohio State that may have pushed Slade to decommit from Nebraska, it was Michigan State that was the immediate beneficiary. Slade pledged to Michigan State a day after his decommitment from Nebraska. He cited Michigan State as "family since day one". Michigan State was, in fact, one of Slade's earliest offers.
While Michigan State was eager to accept Slade's commitment at the time, Malik McDowell was the bigger prize for Dantonio. Ohio State fans may remember this saga from a few months ago. McDowell, a five-star defensive end from Detroit, was privately a Michigan State lean though his parents wanted him to leave the state for college. The other two options were Ohio State and Florida State. If distance was a reason for McDowell wanting Michigan State, Ohio State may have been a great compromise between McDowell and his parents.
Long story short: Darius Slade's commitment approaching National Signing Day was becoming intertwined with Malik McDowell's signing day decision. It was likely that Slade would become a consolation prize for either Michigan State or Ohio State, whichever McDowell did not select on February 5.
This is exactly how Slade's story unfolded on National Signing Day. McDowell, to his parents' chagrin, selected Michigan State. Slade had actually called Michigan State's coaches the night before and said he wanted explore other options (i.e. Ohio State). Michigan State's coaches, perhaps secure of their position with McDowell, cautioned that he may not have a scholarship offer waiting for him after National Signing Day.
Slade wanted to take an official visit first before committing to Ohio State site unseen. He decided against it and faxed a letter of intent to Ohio State on National Signing Day anyway, becoming Ohio State's final recruit in the "Dream 14" recruiting class.
He told Eleven Warriors how this process developed from his perspective.
"I talked to them [Michigan State] Tuesday and let them know I didn’t know if I was going to be signing with them or taking a look elsewhere, because I wanted to visit Ohio State before I decided," he said. "I had built a strong relationship with Michigan State's staff, but they weren’t real understanding when I told them I wanted to visit Ohio State, and they told me that if I didn't sign with them that I might not have a scholarship if I waited. They were upset understandably because they wanted me at Michigan State, but they knew it was a serious thing for me and I was not jumping from place to place. I had the chance to be a part of a great opportunity and I needed to take a look."
"I know it's 'weird,' but I know what I am getting myself into," Slade said of his choice. "(I didn't choose Ohio State) solely because of (Johnson), Ohio State has a great program and they compete for a national title every year. They have a great staff as a whole and they are not too far from home, either. There were a lot of reasons for the decision. They have a lot great players and it’s a great program."
Two weeks later, Slade took his official visit to Ohio State, the final one allocated to him by the NCAA.
Where He Excels
Slade was advertised by recruiting servies at 6-5 and is listed by Ohio State at 6-3. He plays like he is 6-7. He plays "big".
Projected as a strongside defensive end, Slade is capable as both as a pass-rusher and run-stopper. He plays with strong hands capable of neutralizing blockers. However, his pass-rushing bona fides are what made him high priority for Ohio State, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Slade's outside pass rush is what led him to accumulate almost 40 sacks in his final two years at Montclair. He loves to go outside but can shoot gaps inside.
The interest in Slade, and from Larry Johnson in particular, focuses more on how great Slade can be in a few years versus what he is capable of doing now.
Must Work On
Slade is a raw prospect who knows how to be explosive without truly knowing important parts of the game he is playing. The term "upside" is used more for Slade than perhaps anyone else in his recruiting class.
The areas for improvement are multiple and entail the usual things I have mentioned for other prospects. Slade plays too high off the snap. He can overcommit himself to a lane and remove himself from a play.
All told, Slade could become an all-conference performer when he builds on great athleticism and an innate ability to hand-fight at the line of scrimmage with knowledge of important fundamentals for the game. This makes him a noteworthy Larry Johnson project for the first year of Johnson's Ohio State tenure.
I think this is a clear yes. Slade was projected by Michigan State and Nebraska fans as a redshirt when he was committed to their respective programs. He projects as a first-year redshirt at Ohio State as well.