The future stars of Ohio State football officially begin their college careers, as standouts from all over the country put pens to their National Letters of Intent.
You constantly hear how recruiting is all about relationships. But it's certainly true for 5-star linebacker commit Baron Browning, who probably wouldn't have given Ohio State the time of day if it weren't for his best friend Jeffrey Okudah.
The Browning File
SIZE: 6-foot-2, 229 pounds
SCHOOL: Kennedale (TX)
COMPOSITE RANKING: ★★★★★
COMPOSITE RANK: 2 (OLB)
The Kennedale, Texas, native received his first scholarship offer from Baylor in June 2014 and made an instant connection with then-head coach Art Briles. Browning committed to the Bears one year later, believing he was the missing piece from a team that had just won consecutive conference championships for the first time in program history.
“Baylor has a brand that a lot of schools can’t offer,” he said. “I believe a degree from Baylor will help me get a job after football. I got a chance to hang around with the players and got a good feel of the coaches and the university.”
But that all changed with the university's sexual assault scandal that ultimately resulted in Briles' firing, as Browning reopened his recruitment in February 2016.
Browning revealed a Top 10 list shortly thereafter, which included Ohio State despite the fact he'd never been to Columbus. He then made his first trip north at Okudah's urging in May.
To get any five-star linebacker on campus is huge, but to head to Texas and bring the state's second- and third-ranked players to Ohio on their own dime in May is a major win for the Buckeyes no matter how you slice it. Ohio State has a commitment from the Lone Star State's sixth-ranked player already — running back J.K. Dobbins — and is in great position to land both Browning and Okudah.
“What stood out to me,” Browning told Eleven Warriors, “was Real Life Wednesdays. You could tell they really care about the players and want you to succeed on and off the field. [Head coach] Urban Meyer, he's straight-forward like everybody else on staff. On the phone, we were joking around a lot. But in person, he was more direct and up front, but still able to joke.”
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck followed up with an in-home visit a few days later, which lead many to believe the Buckeyes had taken the lead in Browning's recruitment.
Things started to trend in a different direction over the summer when Browning decided to skip Friday Night Lights in favor of Texas' version of the recruiting camp, though. The Longhorns rolled out the red carpet for Browning and Plano East four-star linebacker Anthony Hines and instantly became the trendy pick to land both.
One month passed before Browning announced he would take official visits to Florida State, Ohio State and UCLA and make a decision in November.
- The Hurry Up: Five-Star Linebacker Sets Official Visit, Elite Tight End Talks Offer and Future Buckeyes Highlight ESPN High School Football Showcase
“I have my opinion on [the schools], but seeing my parent's opinions is going to be important,” Browning said. “My mom likes TCU and Texas. She likes coach [Charlie] Strong a lot. She has been down to Texas two times with me, and when we are in coach Strong's office and he brings up points to me, she is always agreeing with him. [She] says, 'That's what I've been telling you.'”
The Longhorns faded as quickly as their hopes for a national championship, however, so Browning added trips to Alabama and Michigan to the itinerary.
The Crimson Tide made quite the impression on Browning during his official visit in October, so much so that he reportedly committed to head coach Nick Saban while still in Tuscaloosa. But his official visit to Ohio State three days before his decision date still loomed large.
Browning included Ohio State in his Top 6 alongside Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, TCU and UCLA in mid-November and then made his long-awaited return to Columbus just one week later.
He had such a good time on his official visit for the 30-27 double-overtime win over Michigan that he decided to postpone his announcement.
No longer announcing tomorrow, I need some more time to think & weigh my options to ensure I make the right decision for me & my future ...— Baron Browning (@baronbrwnng) November 29, 2016
- The Hurry Up: Five-Star Linebacker Delays Decision, Ohio State Considered Leader for Former Notre Dame Commit and Offer Extended to Florida Tight End
Browning's decision to delay his announcement is certainly good new for the Buckeyes, as I believe he would have committed to Alabama had he announced today.
It seems Browning is torn between Alabama and Ohio State. Both programs are perennial national championship contenders with a history of developing and sending players to the National Football League. Alabama offers the chance to play closer to home, while significant playing time might come sooner at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes and Crimson Tide made one final in-home pitch to Browning and his family, but the contingent of head coach Urban Meyer, co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, Fickell and Beck convinced the 5-star prospect Columbus was the place for him.
Browning committed to Ohio State on Dec. 1 and later admitted Okudah helped recruit him despite the fact he wouldn't make the call for another month.
Five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson with Ohio State commits Baron Browning and Jeffrey Okudah: pic.twitter.com/D0PjtrN8KE— Andrew Lind (@AndrewMLind) January 7, 2017
Browning released a letter to Buckeye Nation on National Signing Day: