Success Breeding Success and Other Fortunate Problems

By Jeremy Birmingham on July 15, 2014 at 3:00 pm
Cleveland star Jerome Baker shocked Ohio State by choosing Florida

Sam Walton once said "High expectations are the key to everything," and as followers of all things Ohio State, most of you reading this are no stranger to that ideal. The Buckeyes are, and have always been (with a few anomalies throughout the years), one of the country's most successful athletic departments, and that rings especially true on the gridiron. From John Eckstorm to Paul Brown, from Woody Hayes to Urban Meyer, success has begotten success throughout the history of the Scarlet and Gray.

At what point then, does your relative success get held against you as a program? At what point does the tendency to land the recruits you want become ammunition for rival schools, desperate to land the players they want for their program? Unfortunately, for the Buckeyes, it appears that point may be now, and how Meyer and his program bounce back from a few recent setbacks will go a long way towards Ohio State's future successes. As other programs around the country attempt to come back to prominence, historically relevant teams like Florida and Penn State for example; are using recent recruiting wins, and in some cases the expectation of a win, against the Buckeyes.

In the case of New Jersey quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who was all but committed to the Buckeyes last December, the idea that Ohio State was leading for the eventual signature of five-star athlete Torrance Gibson was enough of a crack for Penn State's new head coach James Franklin to exploit. Although Wimbush has publicly stated that he was not concerned about Gibson's interest in the Buckeyes, the notion that Urban Meyer "preferred" Gibson over Wimbush was discussed at length here, there, and everywhere. Eventually, along with a wave of recruiting success of his own, Franklin used that narrative to help land Wimbush as the leader in his first full Penn State recruiting class.

Last week, after a torrid two-month recruiting stretch of their own, Ohio State took two surprising and frustrating in-state losses when Hubbard running back LJ Scott and Cleveland Benedictine linebacker Jerome Baker each opted for non-Buckeye futures. Scott, the nation's fourth-ranked tailback, chose Big Ten rival Michigan State, and Baker, the fourth-ranked athlete in the country, stunned all of Ohio when he announced he was heading to Florida instead of the long-favored Buckeyes. What prompted these two Ohio-born stars to deny their birthright of Buckeye stardom? That is anyone's guess, but it's clear something Ohio State was offering didn't resonate as clearly as their alternatives. 

Were the rumors of Ohio State leading for Kentucky star Damien Harris pushing Scott in a different direction? Was a stacked depth chart at linebacker, a result of last year's impressive four-man haul and the recent commitments of Nick Conner and Justin Hilliard, one of Florida's primary selling points for Jerome Baker? Maybe, and maybe. Did these two decisions, on back-to-back days, catch Ohio State by surprise? Definitely.

The Buckeyes felt they had moved the dial considerably for Scott, and despite the proverbial smoke around Baker and Florida, they felt — like most people — that the feeling of "home" Baker had so eloquently spoke about with was referencing Ohio State. How did Florida's reeling program and presumed lame duck coach steal Ohio's best player from under Urban Meyer's nose? For all the success in his first two seasons at Ohio State, there's little doubt that Meyer and his staff are analyzing that very question right now.

One player that was scheduled to visit Ohio State this week, St. Clairsville, Ohio's Brendan Ferns, will reschedule due to a seven-on-seven tournament his team will participate in Wednesday. Ferns and his family will be taking a vacation in Florida next week and had hoped to be back in Columbus for Friday Night Lights next week, whether or not that happens may be contingent on airline schedules, but it appears that a visit will happen a few days following, likely July 28th, according to his father.

With Tommy Kraemer, Liam Eichenberg, Gavin Cupp and a host of other talented offensive lineman within Ohio's borders in 2016, the Buckeyes don't have too far to look for talent next year, but they're looking anyway. Another one of the region's best, Thiyo Lukusa from Traverse City, Michigan has finalized his plans to visit Columbus for Friday Night Lights. Initially the 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle didn't anticipate making the journey because he's visiting his father in New Jersey, but decided he didn't want to pass up the trip.

"It's going to be the best weekend of my summer," Lukusa told Eleven Warriors. "I'm staying in the dorms with some of the lineman and just gonna fly in to Columbus for a good time and some ball. Not to mention I'll be able to evaluate one of the nation's best academic and football universities."

With offers already on the table from Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and yes, Ohio State, Lukusa is a consensus four-star prospect and the country's 21st-ranked offensive tackle.

With tightening numbers in their 2015 recruiting class, and two cornerbacks (the remarkably under-discussed Jamel Dean and recent pledge Denzel Ward) already in the fold, it's becoming less and less likely that Pennsylvania's Jordan Whitehead ends up at Ohio State. The odds of that happening shrunk even further yesterday when the Central Valley cornerback picked up an offer from Alabama, where his best friend and former teammate Robert Foster is on the roster.

Everyone is aware that Friday Night Lights is almost here, right? You know, Friday, July 25th? If not, now you do. Now that you know, you, our dear reader, have no legitimate excuse to not be in attendance for the Buckeyes' biggest camp of summer. Open for the public to take in and enjoy from the cozy confines of Ohio Stadium, it's where all the cool kids in Central Ohio are hanging out next week. Be there or be square, y'all.

At this point, with the exception of South Dakota's Grant Schmidt and possibly New Jersey lineman Kevin Feder, every one of the "Elite '15" is scheduled to be in attendance as well as a host of top players from around the country including. 11W will have more on who you should expect to see in attendance later this week.

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