At Ohio State’s one-day positional camps, you can usually count on one hand the number of prospects working out who the Buckeyes’ coaching staff has any interest in evaluating. These camps are designed more for the coaches from other schools in attendance and it allows them to check out a much larger portion of the talent.
So it was a little unusual to see Ohio State coach Urban Meyer spending some time Saturday with a player who has never played a down of high school football. Yet there Meyer was as the camp concluded, speaking with Tyreke Smith.
Smith is junior-to-be at Cleveland Heights High School — the same school as Buckeyes wide receiver target Jaylen Harris — but hasn’t played football in his first two years there, spending most of his time on the basketball court. Despite that, however, his frame and overall athleticism has captivated college coaches from around the country. Smith has received 10 scholarship offers already even though he has never played high school football.
“It's been crazy! But I still remain humble, thanking God, and working hard to get better every day,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “That's the mentality I have and I stick with.”
Akron, Bowling Green, Kent State, Ohio and Toledo have offered from the Mid-American Conference and Smith is starting to garner some interest from Power-5 schools now, too. He has an offer from Cincinnati and recently picked up offers from Iowa State, Syracuse and Rutgers, the latter a direct result of his camp performance on Saturday.
Again, all for a kid who hasn’t played football since seventh grade. He moved to Ohio just two-and-a-half years ago from California, coming to the Midwest for family reasons.
“We moved here to care for my dad’s parents,” Smith said. “I wanted to get a feel for the people around me and it was easier to find a team to play basketball with when I first came out here so I just stuck with it. The football recruiting stuff, it’s a little crazy.”
At 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, Smith certainly passes the eye test of a big-time college football prospect. He is viewed by many as a tight end or defensive end prospect and said Ohio State sees him as either. Having never played a high school game, Smith is obviously raw when it comes to his skill set, but the athleticism is obvious. That’s why major colleges are offering him a chance to play football without ever playing football.
“I’m just working harder and harder to become the best that I can be,” Smith told 11W. “These schools are telling me that they like my size, athleticism, and G.P.A. I have a big frame, I'm tall and I'm quick on my feet. Basketball has helped me tremendously on the field and they say I can excel and learn the game and be a great player in the future.”
On Saturday, Smith got to spend some time working with Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson after starting the day working out at tight end. He’s comfortable at either spot on the field and at 6-foot-4, 241-pounds, he’s got the frame to play either. He ran a very impressive 4.71 time in the 40-yard-dash at Ohio State, illustrating that yes, he’s got the athleticism to play on both sides of the ball as well.
“It was great, (Larry) Johnson is a good man and I want to build my relationship with him,” he said. “They talked to me about what the expectations were and said I was a good player. They want me to come back to Friday Night Lights so coach Johnson could work with me some more.”
Friday Night Lights will be a great opportunity for Smith to showcase his skill set against some of the top talent in the country. And as the summer rolls along, Smith said he is working to improve as he is still very new to the game of football, especially at this level.
“I’m just trying to work on my technique, my hands and feeting getting off the line on defense,” he said. “I’m also working on my routes and getting open on offense. I feel I have more to learn on defense because I need to learn moves and technique. The competition on Saturday was better than I’d been against before and showed me what I have to work on. It makes me want to work harder to become a better player.”
It has been a busy, crazy couple of months for Smith as he’s still getting acclimated to the world that is major college football recruiting. For a rising prospect like him, though, things may have only just begun. He’s learning the game of football but also the business of recruiting at the same time. He’s taking lessons from Harris on how to handle the inevitable collision.
“Jaylen has been a help with the recruiting process,” Smith said. “He’s a help to the team and helps with me, personally. He's helping me become a leader on the field. I want to make an impact and help my team to a state championship.”
More offers will come for Smith as he evolves as a football player, and the Buckeyes are going to be there watching. It still may require some film from his junior season for Ohio State to pull the trigger on an offer, even after his return for Friday Night Lights, but the talented prospect has certainly sparked some interest and Smith certainly covets an offer from the in-state Buckeyes.
“[An Ohio State offer] would mean a lot,” he said. “It’s a great school, a top-tier program and a great coaching staff.”