If you want to land a big-time college football recruit, getting that player on campus is a major first step in the process.
This past weekend, five-star linebacker Baron Browning, a 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Kennedale, Texas, took that first step, getting to Ohio State for the first time. He was accompanied by fellow Texas five-star prospect, safety Jeffrey Okudah, who was making his second visit to Columbus.
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 a great position to land both Browning and Okudah.
Could that mean three of Texas' top six players are headed to Ohio State?
In 2013, the Buckeyes – led by a ferocious recruiting effort by Tom Herman – landed three of the top 17 players in Texas (Mike Mitchell, Dontre Wilson and J.T. Barrett), but historically (at least since 1970) the efforts in Texas haven't proven particularly fruitful. Only 14 Texans have signed with Ohio State since 1970.
|1980||VICTOR LANGLEY||RUNNING BACK|
|1988||GREG BEATTY||WIDE RECEIVER|
|1991||WALTER TAYLOR||WIDE RECEIVER|
|1996||DAVID BOSTON||WIDE RECEIVER|
|2003||ASHTON YOUBOTY||DEFENSIVE BACK|
|2008||J.B. SHUGARTS||OFFENSIVE LINE|
|2014||DEMETRIUS KNOX||OFFENSIVE LINE|
When Herman departed Columbus to take over Houston, there were many who assumed the Buckeyes would run out of luck in Texas, but Tim Beck – who recruited the state very well while he was an assistant at Nebraska – has made sure there hasn't been a letup.
What are the Buckeyes doing?
The simple answer is building relationships early, but more importantly, they're maintaining them. Texas is old-school — the coaches stay for a long time, the community is important. You can't recruit there in passing. These are relationships built over years, which (despite some changes to Ohio State's assistant coaching staff) is a boon for the Buckeyes. Schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Houston, SMU and others have all undergone serious culture shifts in recent years. Dobbins chose Ohio State because of his relationship with Tony Alford, despite growing up an admitted "big Texas fan" just about an hour away from the Longhorns' campus.
Browning's experience at Ohio State showed him why the Buckeyes are so successful. Beck does the legwork in Texas, and Meyer helps on the back end, getting to know the prospects slowly but surely over time. College football is a serious business, but you're still dealing with kids and their families, and the staff in Columbus makes sure the recruit sees both sides.
"What stood out to me," Browning told 11W, "was 'real life Wednesdays.' You could tell they really care about the players and want you to succeed on and off the field. Urban Meyer, he's straight forward like everybody else on the 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."
Okudah's experience in Columbus helped him solidify his own relationships.
"Touring the campus really helped me see the amazing things Ohio State has to offer me as a football player," Okudah told Eleven Warriors. "I feel like the relationships I have with (Urban) Meyer and (defensive coordinator Greg) Schiano are solid and will develop here soon."
To reel in this epic trio of Texas stars, the Buckeyes will have to continue pounding the pavement on the road. They'll also need to have them back on campus to showcase why Ohio State is the place for them. Both Browning and Okudah are expected back in Columbus this summer – within a few weeks for Okudah as he visits family in West Virginia – and those trips are going to go a long way towards adding the five-star duo to Dobbins.
Signing three of the top six in Texas? It's beginning to look very realistic.