The Road to Here: Passing Up No.1 for the Right One Pays Off for Buckeyes

By Jeremy Birmingham on January 18, 2015 at 11:15 am
The Right Choice Is Rarely the Easy Choice

Five-star or no-star, every recruit takes a different path to their time in the limelight at Ohio State.

Despite Urban Meyer's (unwarranted) reputation as a coach who didn't develop or utilize running backs in his offense, the country's top prospect at tailback in 2013's recruiting class wanted to be a Buckeye. He grew up rooting for Ohio State, wore No. 27 — an homage to 1995 Heisman winner Eddie George — and the writing it appeared, was on the wall: Ohio State was going to land Virginia's Derrick Green, a former high school teammate of Jim Tressel's last recruiting coup, Curtis Grant.

Something strange happened on the way to that certainty, and its name was Ezekiel Elliott. The son of two famed Missouri Tiger athlete, the St. Louis (John Burroughs School) all-purpose back made his first visit to Ohio State in February of 2012 when he and his family stopped in Columbus for Junior Day with the Buckeyes. When that visit concluded, Urban Meyer informed the Elliott family that the talented junior had a scholarship from the Buckeyes if he wanted it, as long as he was willing to make a quick decision, according to

It wasn’t until Ohio State coach Urban Meyer expressed enthusiasm for Ezekiel that he thought of his son as an elite player. Stacy arrived home one Thursday from his job as a social worker when he found out that OSU had offered Ezekiel a scholarship.

"I damn near dropped my plate," he said. “We knew Ezekiel was good, but I didn’t know how good he was.”

“Ohio State told us they had limited scholarships, and they were only taking one running back,” Stacy said. “We were liking Ohio State more than any of the other schools at the time, and Ezekiel decided he didn’t want to miss out on having a chance to play football at Ohio State.”

His commitment to Ohio State, which happened on April 1st, 2012, came just over three months after he earned his first college scholarship offer. "Zeke" — as he's come to be known as — was clear with why he picked the Buckeyes.

Ohio State, the offense, it just fits me. It seems like an ideal fit. I’ll be able to play running back and also receiver and showcase both of those skills and show my versatility as a player.

After his commitment, Elliott became a fan favorite among most Buckeye fans, as much for his dedication to building his recruiting class as for his on-field talents. He excelled as a track athlete, as his mother did, and won four state championships as a senior (100, 200, 110-high hurdles and 300 hurdles), further showcasing an impressive range of athletic abilities. In the summer of 2012, Elliott joined a host of fellow Buckeye commitments at The Opening in Oregon and was a key factor in Ohio State's surge with five-star Texas linebacker Mike Mitchell, who eventually committed to the Buckeyes.

In July, rumors swirled that the Buckeyes were still looking at another tailback in their class and that the aforementioned Green was still a possibility. On July 25th, 2012, the Buckeyes' final decision on the running back position appeared to be made.

@BrOoKyLn_boi27 The Ohio State Coaching Staff has decided to go in another direction.

That announcement, just days before the Buckeyes were set to host their Friday Night Lights camp, was a surprise. Green had been scheduled to attend FNL and the Buckeyes' choice to prevent that from happening was a major boost to how the Elliott family viewed Urban Meyer and his staff, according to an interview with Stacy Elliott for in November of 2013.

That meant a lot to us, when Derrick Green was not invited to the Friday Night Lights camp because they had Ezekiel Elliott, it meant a whole lot to me and (his mother) Dawn. I know it meant a lot to Ezekiel.

Now firmly cemented as the running back in Ohio State's rapidly expanding 2013 recruiting class, Elliott embarked on his senior season as one of the hottest prospects in the country. He rolled into his final high school season and rolled through it, accounting for over 3,000 all-purpose yards and scoring 50 touchdowns as a senior. He led the Bombers to a state runner-up finish and a 13-1 record. 

In early December, Elliott made his official visit to Ohio State and all appeared to be on track for smooth sailing to signing day. Of course, in recruiting, things are rarely as they seem. Rumblings that the four-star running back was once again seriously considering Missouri picked up in January. On January 22nd, Urban Meyer made his in-home visit with the Elliotts to try and close the deal, but a visit to Columbia the next happened went down as planned. Stacy Elliott, as he had through most of Ezekiel's recruitment, documented the trip and the video of the Missouri trip didn't help alleviate Buckeye fans' concerns.

A Missouri-born star of Missouri graduates, visiting Missouri a week and a half before signing day led many to believe that the Buckeyes would be left in the lurch. Those fears were exacerbated as the Buckeyes flipped DeSoto, Texas athlete Dontre Wilson from Oregon, a celebrated athlete who was viewed as another potential running back. 

Elliott went radio silent, completely cutting off all media interaction in the ten days leading up to a national signing day press conference at his school. That decision, according to many, was another negative sign for Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes: there was no way the Show Me State star would host a press conference to publicly spurn the home-state school, right?

Wrong. Elliott, despite his second thoughts, couldn't get past the reasons he chose Ohio State initially.

“I decided to take a visit to Mizzou, one last look, to make sure that my decision I made in April was what I wanted it to be,” Elliott said. “Mizzou really did a good job on the official, but I felt like I would be a better fit at Ohio State.”

Elliott, 17, made his decision official Wednesday with a televised announcement and signing ceremony at John Burroughs.

“This is the biggest decision I’ve ever made,” he said. “It’s life-changing. My strong ties to Missouri. It’s hard because you’re kind of expected to go to Missouri as a Missouri athlete, and then the pressure added on top of it that my dad actually played at the University of Missouri. It’s heartbreaking, 'cause I’ll always love Missouri, but I just think Ohio State is a better fit.”

Ohio State has proved to the right fit for Elliott and his parents, who have become well-known names and faces around Columbus. They're commitment to Ohio State football, as much as Ezekiel's himself, has endeared them to Buckeye fans. His father Stacy, dubbed "The Ambassador" by those around the football program, has become as recognizable as his son's crop-top jersey – his own homage to Ohio State's famous No. 27. 

When you're recruiting the best players in the country, you have to make tough choices and the Buckeyes appear to have done well when they chose the right one instead of the number one in 2012. Now, almost three years later, Elliott's efforts on the football field have brought to fruition his own words from February of that year.

“He’s a great guy, very outgoing,” Elliott told of Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. “He’s ready to win there at Ohio State. He’s ready to win a national championship.”

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