The off-season gives us the opportunity to look forward to the upcoming football season by providing a comprehensive recruiting profile of every member of Ohio State's latest recruiting class.
The Better Know a Buckeye series continues with its seventh installment profiling Kyle Berger, a linebacker prospect from the St. Ignatius program in Cleveland. Berger had a monster junior season that led to an Ohio State offer, his first on the recruiting trail. Several big offers followed before an April commitment to Ohio State.
However, Berger could not build on his junior season. He suffered an ACL injury in August of last year. He will hope to rebound from that injury and thrive at the next level in an Ohio State uniform.
I retell his recruitment and commitment below before discussing strengths and areas of improvement for Berger. I project a redshirt in 2014 and provide a junior-year highlight film of Berger to watch. I conclude with miscellaneous things about Berger you may find interesting.
High School: St. Ignatius High School; Cleveland
Kyle Berger had a stellar year for St. Ignatius in his junior season, which ended in a third round D1 state championship tournament loss to Mentor. Though it was a disappointing end to a season with only one blemish on the record before that game, it was a monumental season for Berger individually. He had 10 sacks at his linebacker position and 44 tackles for loss. Neither of those statistics are misprints.
Ohio State, desiring to get an early lead on one of the top in-state prospects for 2014, extended a scholarship offer after Berger's junior season ended. It was his first scholarship offer.
You got your first offer from Ohio State last week. How did that go down?
Coach Pantoni sent me a message asking me to call them and that Coach Meyer wanted to speak to me. I gave them a call and spoke to Coach Fickell first and then he put Coach Meyer on the phone who told me he wanted me to be a Buckeye and offered.
How did you feel when Coach Meyer gave you the offer?
I was so pumped. I couldn't believe my first offer was from Ohio State. Growing up in Ohio, that is a pretty big deal [to get offered by OSU]. I wasn't a huge college football fan growing up, so wasn't a die-hard Buckeye fan, but I definitely root for Ohio State.
Thereafter, Kyle Berger made an unofficial visit to Ohio State to watch the Buckeyes conclude a perfect season with a win over Michigan.
You made a visit to Ohio State this past weekend. What did you do on your visit?
I got down to Columbus on Friday night and stayed with my former high school teammate, Blake Thomas, in his dorm. Blake was telling me how great of a time he is having at OSU and was definitely pushing for me to come there.
On Saturday we got to the stadium and I went up to the recruiting room with my teammate, Jimmy Byrne, and also got to go on the field during warmups. I got to speak briefly with Coach Pantoni, Coach Fickell, and Coach Vrabel before the game and then got to speak with Coach Fickell and Coach Meyer after the game.
What was your opinion of the atmosphere on Saturday?
It was unbelievable and so much more than I expected. The fans were going crazy and everything was just so great. It was my first college football game and it certainly was a good one.
Other scholarship offers came in the next few months. Before he committed to Ohio State, Berger had scholarship offers from Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Penn State, and Tennessee, among others.
Berger's recruitment after his initial scholarship offer can be summarized in a series of visits made by Berger through the early winter of 2013. He visited Ohio State in the second week of January and returned to Cleveland with positive evaluations of the experience. He returned a couple more times in March. In an interview with Eleven Warriors, he discussed how much better his visits to Ohio State were getting.
What were some of the sights and events of this trip to Ohio State?
It was the best trip to OSU so far, which is saying a lot.
They let me sit in on the position meetings before the spring practice. Listening to Coach Fickell and observing what it would be like to play for him was a neat experience. I enjoyed that quite a bit.
I was able to visit the trainer's room and speak with the trainer as well. One of the best parts was watching the practice and seeing all the guys get after it. It was great to see the energy and enthusiasm.
Buckeyes commit Kyle Trout was on the trip. Dylan Thompson committed to Ohio State on the trip. What was it like being with them and did you get to share much time with them?
Me, my family, Kyle and his dad, and Dylan and his parents all got to have a meal together with Coach Meyer which was a great time. All of our families enjoyed the time together and the three of us recruits are pretty tight. Kyle has been talking to me about getting back to OSU so I've been in contact with him a bunch before. He's great.
He took an unofficial visit after that to Tennessee, but, entering April, Ohio State was the team to beat. It also happened to be approaching a self-imposed deadline for a decision on where to play college football.
On April 8th, 2013, Eleven Warriors broke the news that Kyle Berger would be the seventh commitment in the 2014 recruiting class. In an interview with Eleven Warriors, Berger discussed what led to the decision to stay in the Buckeye State for college.
You committed to Ohio State Monday. Why did you choose the Buckeyes?
Originally I was planning on committing in May or so. However, when I had my visit to Ohio State a couple of weeks ago, I fell in love with the school. I talked to Blake Thomas (Buckeye TE and a former high school teammate of Berger's) and a few other guys and they said I would know when a school feels right for me. I though about it over spring break and decided I was ready to commit to OSU.
How did you commit to the coaches? How did Coach Meyer react?
I messaged Coach Fickell on Twitter and told him I was going to be calling him after school. I called him and gave him the news. He was very excited and then he told me he was going to put Coach Meyer on the phone. Coach Meyer came out of a meeting and I told him I was committing. He was really happy and told me I had made his month. I also heard him yelling to people that I had committed.
Though it was not belabored in the previous section retelling Berger's recruitment, Michigan was the primary competition for Berger's verbal commitment. There were a lot of reasons for this. Greg Mattison, Michigan's defensive coordinator and ace recruiter, had taken charge of the recruitment of Berger.
Further, Michael Ferns, a friend of Berger and the first commitment in Michigan's recruiting class, was pitching the Wolverines to him. Jake Ryan, a recent product of St. Ignatius, is having a solid career for Michigan as well.
Berger discussed why he chose Ohio State over Michigan despite these pressures.
Why did you choose Ohio State over Michigan?
The big reason was the closeness to home. Both Ohio State and Michigan have good programs and good coaching staffs as well. I just feel Coach Meyer has a better chance of leading his team to a national title.
Brady Hoke confusing him for someone named "Alex" may not have helped matters either, though Berger said it was not important to his decision-making.
What's up with the Coach Hoke calling you "Alex" story?
I was walking out of a meeting with all of the Michigan coaches. My dad and I were talking to Coach Mattison when we were walking out and I heard Coach Hoke say something like, "See ya, Alex. Thanks for coming!" Coach Heck and Coach Mattison immediately realized Coach Hoke's mistake and started talking to me and my dad. I'm not sure Coach Hoke noticed the mistake he had made right away. I tried not to factor this into my decision.
Where He Excels
Berger projects at outside linebacker at Ohio State with the possibility of sliding inside to middle linebacker. I suspect outside linebacker is where he will ultimately try to earn his playing time.
Though footage on Berger is limited, there is a lot to like in what is available to observe. He plays outside linebacker well, especially at the line of scrimmage. His ability to fight off blocks at the point of attack in playside run support is a strength.
Further, he shows a good lateral agility and ability to run sideline to sideline in backside pursuit. I like his closing speed too. At the high school level, it instilled a hesitation in a ball carrier who became uncertain he could outrun him. Berger helps himself with the angles he takes to the ball carrier.
Most reports of Berger emphasize him as a "high motor" player as well, whether it is aggressive hand fighting at the line of scrimmage or aggressive backside pursuit. Great high school players don't accumulate 44 tackles for loss on mere talent alone.
Must Work On
The big issue for Berger is fully recovering from an ACL injury suffered in August of last year. As a result, Berger did not play at all as a senior. Though Berger comes from one of the top prep programs in Ohio at the highest level of competition in the state, this is still important development time lost to injury.
With that in mind, Berger is viable enough to play at all three linebacker positions. I think he is most intriguing at outside linebacker. If he is hampered going forward because of residuals from the ACL injury, does that slide him inside? He could still do well, though with a loss of some agility he demonstrated at the high school level.
Berger has also done well in agility drills and practices to suggest he could do fine in pass defense, though I have not seen much film of him in passing situations.
I think a redshirt in 2014 is likely. Not only did Berger lose important development time as a senior to an ACL injury, but strength and football weight are also areas of improvement for which Berger could not improve last fall. A redshirt in 2014 would allow Berger to hit the ground running in 2015.
This is from Berger's junior year.
- 11W Community Interview.
- He performed at The Opening combine in Beaverton, Oregon. He finished with a Sparq score of 105.87. He also ran a 4.73 40-yard dash and a 4.21 shuttle.
- He also performed in the NFTC Combine in Columbus last summer before his ACL injury. He was named MVP of the linebacker group.
- Teammates Jimmy Byrne and Dameon Willis signed with Notre Dame and Indiana, respectively. Jimmy Byrne had an offer from Ohio State.
- Without Berger, Ignatius finished a disappointing 8-5 and was bounced from the state playoffs for the second consecutive year by Mentor.