Finding the right fit for your college football program isn't just about what happens on the field, but off it as well. Today, Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State landed a commitment from an elite pass-rusher who hasn't even started to scratch the surface of his potential when Oradell, New Jersey, Bergen Catholic four-star defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste pledged his services to the Buckeyes on National Signing Day.
Let's take a look at what Jean-Baptiste — the No. 219 prospect overall in the Class of 2018 — brings to Columbus.
ON THE FIELD
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Jean-Baptiste is one of the more physically gifted prospects in the entire 2018 recruiting cycle.
At Nike Football’s The Opening New Jersey Regional last spring, he ran a 4.78-second laser-timed 40-yard dash, recorded a 37.7-inch vertical leap and tossed a power ball 36 feet. It’s that athleticism that helped him record 88 tackles, 14.5 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks as a senior and lead the Crusaders to their first state title in 13 years.
“He's long, physical and quick. He covers a lot of ground and he uses his hands well,” Bergen Catholic head coach Nunzio Campanile told Eleven Warriors. “He's also a phenomenal kid. He's a high-character guy who loves football. He really loves to work at [getting better] and playing the game. He's a great leader. There's really not enough good things to say about him.”
Jean-Baptiste — who was named NJ.com’s Defensive Player of the Year last season — struggled academically and played only special teams as a sophomore in high school, but rededicated himself to his school work and weight room the following summer. He not only grew into one of the Garden State’s most disruptive defensive players, but also hasn’t received lower than a ‘B’ on a report card since the start of his junior year.
That willingness to learn and get better every day is a big reason why Ohio State developed such an interest in Jean-Baptiste. All that said, he still has a lot of room to mature physically.
“He developed his skills tremendously this year, but I think more importantly, his biggest thing [to improve] is going to be size and strength,” Campanile said. “At a place like Ohio State, it's going to be tough for him to walk in the door and be ready to play at 215 pounds. He's going to need to get to 235, 240 or 245 pounds. That may take some time, but I think that's something he's more than willing to work at. When you get into a college system, the training table and workouts, that will come. But it's going to take some time.”
Jean-Baptiste — who is the cousin of Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Abry Jones — has a similar stature to former Ohio State defensive end Jalyn Holmes when he was coming out of high school. The Buckeyes would love for him to have a similar impact on and off the field once he arrives in Columbus, as well.
IN THE CLASS
Jean-Baptiste becomes the 25th member of Ohio State’s Supreme ‘18 recruiting class, joining Cleveland Heights four-star Tyreke Smith, New Jersey four-star Tyler Friday and Pickerington North three-star Alex Williams at the defensive end position.
With the aforementioned Holmes, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard all heading for the NFL following the Cotton Bowl win over USC, you could make an argument that defensive end was Ohio State’s biggest need this recruiting cycle. The trio of Jean-Baptiste, Friday and Smith — and throwing in Williams’ overall potential — turns it into a position of strength, though.
Throw in defensive tackles Taron Vincent, Antwuan Jackson Jr. and Tommy Togiai to anchor the interior, assistant coach Larry Johnson may have assembled his most talented group of Rushmen yet.
When four-star Jayson Oweh committed to Penn State over Ohio State last month, many wondered where the staff would turn in order to address the lack of depth at the defensive end position.
Friday was a well-known commodity and quickly became the Buckeye’ top priority, but the less-heralded Jean-Baptiste was ripe for the picking.
As a late bloomer, Jean-Baptiste only had a handful of offers from smaller Power 5 schools and didn’t get a ton of attention from big-time programs until the higher-rated prospects came off the board with the Early Signing Period.
“He's the kind of guy the sped-up recruiting process probably hurt,” Campanile said. “He is a big, long guy, but his best didn't really come until this year. He's always been a great player, but I think more and more schools see his ability and what he's capable of now.”
The biggest obstacle for Ohio State was building a relationship with Jean-Baptiste in a matter of only a few weeks. Luckily for the Buckeyes, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has strong ties in the state from his time as the head coach at Rutgers.
“I have a very long-standing relationship with coach Schiano and coach Meyer, so I think we feel pretty good about who he's going to be with,” Campanile said. “But some of the other guys coming in late, it's just tough to build a relationship in that short period of time.”