This week's Better Know a Buckeye feature continues with a profile of Ellijah Gardiner, a wide receiver from Kemp, Texas.
- Size: 6-4/200
- Position: WR
- Hometown: Kemp, TX
- School: Kemp
- 247 Composite: ★★★
- National Ranking : 791
- Position Ranking: 114 (WR)
- State Ranking: 115 (TX)
Ellijah Gardiner's recruitment is among the most peculiar you'll read in any Better Know a Buckeye feature. It's not uncommon for Ohio State to dig deep into its catalog to find available prospects at the eleventh hour. It is uncommon, however, for that prospect to be so far off the radar he had zero scholarship offers entering October of his senior year. This was the case of Ellijah Gardiner, a Missouri pledge from November whose recruitment suddenly attracted strong attention from Texas and Ohio State in January. He flipped to the Buckeyes on Jan. 30.
I retell this story below and discuss how Gardiner went from hyping himself for Division II football to choosing between Texas and Ohio State in January. Thereafter, I provide a scouting report of a big-bodied wide receiver that Ohio State could use in its wide receiver rotation. I close with a projection of a redshirt in 2017 and highlight film for the reader to watch at the end of the feature.
Ellijah Gardiner is a true eleventh hour addition to Ohio State's recruiting class. He had an intense two-week stretch to end his recruitment this January that belies how quiet his recruitment was for the three years before it. In all my years reviewing Ohio State signees for these features, the closest parallel might be Zach Domicone in the 2008 recruiting cycle. Domicone had a similarly quiet recruitment as a two-star Ohio University pledge before Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Ohio State all offered within days of each other in January of Domicone's senior year. Domicone later signed with Ohio State.
More Ellijah Gardiner at 11W
Gardiner had pledged to Missouri in November of his senior year to join Barry Odom's first full recruiting class. Here, the fanfare was small and the first reports of Gardiner's Missouri commitment came about two weeks after the fact. Gardiner's high school coach explained that a lot of this might be how small Kemp High School is. Coaches mine the state for the best available talent, but Kemp High School has a total enrollment of around 400 and rests firmly outside the nearby Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. It's an easy school to miss and could explain why a prospect that committed to Missouri when he did only had competing interest from Houston and Texas Southern.
Even then, this understates how far Gardiner was off college football's radar. He had no scholarship offers entering October of his senior year and was beginning to prime himself for playing Division II football.
Gardiner's situation changed in January 2017 when Texas and Ohio State started to signal strong interest. The path Gardiner took to near the top of Ohio State's wishlist makes for an interesting story. Ohio State had just lost Tyjon Lindsey to Nebraska late in the recruiting cycle, but the coaches had been eyeing bigger-bodied receivers to fill out the recruiting class. Donovan Peoples-Jones, long near the top of Ohio State's receiver board, had recently pledged to Michigan. Ohio State dug deep into the catalog of prospects it thought it could lure late into the recruiting cycle, which included Gardiner's name. Mark Pantoni's assistant, Eron Hodges, had a list of prospects he had been watching late into the 2017 recruiting cycle for this exact scenario. They whittled the list from 60 to 10 and evaluated each member of that shortlist. Eventually, that led the recruiting staff to circle Gardiner's name. Meyer gave his blessing to proceed with the recruitment after he watched the film Hodges and Pantoni had of Gardiner.
Ohio State reached out on Jan. 15. Texas offered two days later, effectively converting Gardiner's Houston offer into a Texas offer when Tom Herman needed to fill out his 2017 recruiting class in Austin. This left Gardiner with a few difficult choices to make in a short window. He could choose to stay with his Missouri pledge and turn down these overtures from Herman and Meyer or, practically, visit either Ohio State or Texas. A visit from Kevin Wilson on Jan. 25 convinced him to visit Ohio State three days later.
The visit to Ohio State blew away Gardiner and his parents, all of whom fell in love with the city, the university, and the program. The family, in particular, left with high remarks for "Real Life Wednesday." When Ohio State offered two days later, Gardiner immediately accepted.
Ellijah Gardiner committed to Ohio State on Jan. 30 of this year as the 20th and penultimate member of what would become Ohio State's full 2017 recruiting class. He chose Ohio State over a few other options, notably Missouri and Texas.
Thanks to all the schools that have recruited me but my family and I have decided to further my career at The Ohio State University. pic.twitter.com/ZHhSS9asOd— Ellijah (@ellijahgardiner) January 30, 2017
WHERE HE EXCELS
Ellijah Gardiner joins Jaylen Harris as big-bodied receivers that Ohio State targeted to include in this recruiting class just days before signing day. However, both have some different skill sets.
Two things stand out in Gardiner's film. One, he has soft hands, which he combines with superb hand-eye coordination. More than a few clips in his highlight film will show him batting a ball to himself. He has the occasional one-handed grab in traffic too, a unique skill for a bigger wide receiver like Gardiner.
He's also a glider. Watch how he runs after the catch. Gardiner will never have "break-away" speed but he can be elusive in traffic. His strides are absurdly long.
MUST WORK ON
One interesting divergence between Gardiner and Harris in this class is Harris is a jump-ball receiver. Gardiner is not. Bigger-bodied receivers usually learn to box out defenders and high-point footballs as if they were grabbing a rebound in basketball. That's just not Gardiner's style.
The usual caveat about nuance at the receiver position applies to Gardiner as well. Gardiner played at a small high school where the offense seemed tailored to get him the ball in as many ways as possible. You'll see slants, quick outs, even wide receiver speed option plays. He'll need to learn a bigger playbook and master more advanced topics if he will see the field for Ohio State.
Gardiner has considerable upside but it's not clear he'll have the kind of impression in fall camp that would result in him cracking the two-deep. Meyer, while otherwise optimistic about his latest wide receiver signee on signing day, noted that Gardiner was a "project type." Expect Gardiner to redshirt his first year on campus.
Here are senior-year highlights for Gardiner.