During Urban Meyer’s six seasons as head coach, Ohio State’s annual Spring Game has morphed into one of the biggest recruiting events of the entire year. And even though there’s rain in the forecast, today’s scrimmage is no different.
The Buckeyes hope to fill Ohio Stadium with 80,000-plus spectators just wanting a reprieve from a long winter without football, but those passionate fans also make an excellent backdrop for the dozens of prospects the staff will welcome in for an official or unofficial visit this weekend.
The game itself means very little to the coaches in the grand scheme of things, especially since it doesn’t include live kicking and features a running clock in the second half. They’ll surely place more emphasis on how the players practiced all spring.
Meyer and his staff also don’t have to worry about preparing for another opponent the moment the game ends, which allows them to spent more time with recruits in town for the weekend.
“It’s much different [than a normal game day],” Meyer said during the Big Ten teleconference earlier this week. “For example, with official visits in the fall, the worst part is Sunday because you’re getting ready for the next game. Obviously, we don’t have that issue [this weekend], so there will be much more time spent with our players on visits.”
That mentality has paid off in years past, as Ohio State has landed several commitments during or as a result of the Spring Game. Let's take a look back at those prospects who decided they wanted to be Buckeyes following the Spring Game, as well as make a few predictions for this weekend.
Pennsylvania four-star linebacker Alex Anzalone committed to Ohio State following the 2012 Spring Game, but reopened his recruitment less than two weeks later when it was revealed a convicted sex offender posted a photo he took with Anzalone on social media.
The drama didn’t end there, as Anzalone committed to Notre Dame a few months later, but flipped to Florida shortly before National Signing Day. He dealt with numerous shoulder injuries throughout his college career, but was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Alabama was the presumed leader for Florida four-star defensive end Joey Bosa when he went on a midwest tour that included a stop in Columbus in early April. That visit changed the tide in his recruitment, and prompted a return for the Spring Game just 10 days later.
Bosa silently committed to the staff that afternoon, but publicly announced his decision the Monday after. His pledge opened a pipeline from powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas and allowed the Buckeyes to get their foot in the door with five-star defensive end Nick Bosa, four-star wide receiver Trevon Grimes and three-star cornerback Damon Arnette.
At Ohio State, Bosa was a two-time consensus all-American, the Big Ten defensive player of the year and conference’s defensive lineman of the year. He was drafted third overall by the San Diego Chargers in 2016.
Just moments after Bosa announced his decision, North Carolina three-star defensive end Lewis Neal became the 13th commitment in Ohio State’s Elite ’15 recruiting class. He was also on campus for the Spring Game that weekend.
Though he maintained he was firmly committed to the Buckeyes, Neal reopened his recruitment the moment LSU offered him a scholarship in early May. He amassed 118 tackles and 12 sacks in four season with the Tigers and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent last spring.
With Ohio Stadium undergoing minor renovations, Ohio State moved the 2013 Spring Game to Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bengals.
To make up for the change in venue, the Buckeyes welcomed several top prospects to campus the weekend prior, which is why Cleveland St. Ignatius four-star linebacker Kyle Berger and Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller four-star athlete Sam Hubbard made the call a just few days earlier.
Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class had just two verbal commitments in the form of Canton McKinley four-star cornerback Eric Glover-Williams and Florida four-star cornerback Jamel Dean when the 2014 Spring Game rolled around.
Despite a visitor list that included several high-profile targets — including eventual Alabama five-star running back signee Damien Harris and Florida State four-star linebacker signee Sh’Mar Kilby-Lane — the Buckeyes were unable to end a four-month dry spell.
Most believed Kilby-Lane would commit to Ohio State that weekend, but he held off and pledged his services to the Seminoles just two months later. His 247Sports Crystal Ball prediction read 93 percent in favor of the Buckeyes at the time of his surprising decision.
The morning of the 2016 Spring Game, Meyer called Stow Walsh Jesuit three-star center Jack Wohlabaugh into his office and offered him a scholarship. Like most in-state prospects who dreamed of playing for the Buckeyes would, he committed on the spot.
Wohlabaugh never played a snap in two seasons Ohio State, though, and transferred to Duke in early January. He’ll be forced to sit out the 2018 season, but will have two seasons of eligibility with the Blue Devils beginning next fall.
Westerville South four-star cornerback Marcus Williamson became the fifth member of Ohio State’s Supreme ‘18 recruiting class when he announced his early commitment within an hour of 2015 Spring Game coming to an end.
He’d long wanted to be a Buckeye, but consecutive weekend trips and an aggressive recruiting approach from the staff sealed the deal in his recruitment.
Williamson finished his high school career in Florida at powerhouse IMG Academy and then enrolled early at Ohio State last winter. He played 77 snaps in 10 games for the Buckeyes last fall and recorded six tackles.
Though he would never play alongside Williamson at IMG Academy since the two were separated by a year grade-wise, another Ascender — four-star defensive tackle Malik Barrow — announced his commitment to Ohio State that same weekend.
Barrow suffered a torn ACL that cut short his senior year, which was off to a tremendous start and would have likely ended with five-star status. He was redshirted as a freshman and then missed all but three games of the 2017 season after he suffered another torn ACL.
Barrow has been limited this spring as he recovers from the injury.
A commitment from Akron Archbishop Hoban three-star running back Todd Sibley the day after the Spring Game gave Ohio State an incredible six pledges a matter of five days. He was set to be reunited in the backfield with teammate Danny Clark, a four-star quarterback who committed to the Buckeyes after a strong freshman season.
Neither ended up signing with the Buckeyes in 2017, however.
With Texas four-star running back J.K. Dobbins in the fold and Mississippi five-star Cam Akers in the crosshairs, the Ohio State staffed asked Sibley to grayshirt and delay his enrollment. He didn’t take too kindly to the request and flipped his pledge to Pittsburgh, where he redshirted last season.
Clark’s status with the program, meanwhile, came into question when Ohio State accepted a commitment from Las Vegas four-star quarterback Tate Martell. He decommitted halfway through his senior season and signed with Kentucky, where he played in one game last fall.
Ohio State had a stacked visitor list for the 2016 Spring Game that included top-rated running back Najee Harris (Alabama), four-star defensive end Dante Stills (West Virginia) and four-star quarterback Kellen Mond (Texas A&M), but once again did not land any commitments that weekend.
Eventual signees Josh Myers, Chase Young, Brendan White, Jerron Cage, Blake Haubeil and Jaelen Gill were all in attendance, however.
Tennessee four-star offensive tackle Max Wray originally planned to wait until May before making a college decision. But the morning of the 2017 Spring Game, he pledged his services to Ohio State from home “because it was a big day recruiting-wise and [he] wanted to get the day started off right.”
Wray signed with the Buckeyes in December and enrolled in classes just days after he participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He’ll strap on his helmet for the first time in Ohio Stadium this afternoon.
Oklahoma four-star safety Josh Proctor, meanwhile, surprised everyone by committing to Ohio State over the home-state Sooners at halftime of the Spring Game.
Though there was plenty of speculation over the next eight months that he would ultimately flip his pledge, Proctor never publicly wavered in his commitment and signed with the Buckeyes in December. He will enroll in classes over the summer and compete for a spot on the two-deep in fall camp.
A commitment from Georgia five-star defensive end Brenton Cox seemed unlikely from the jump, as his parents preferred for him to stay close to home and play for the home-state Bulldogs. His visit for the Spring Game — his third trip to Columbus in six months — seemingly convinced his mom Ohio State was the place to be, though.
Cox made one last trip to Athens the following weekend to make sure he was certain of his decision and then committed to the Buckeyes in late April.
The pull of playing alongside close friends for the home-state team was too much for Ohio State to overcome, however, and Cox more or less flipped his pledge to Georgia ahead of the Early Signing Period.
A three-star prospect coming off an ACL injury, Orlando four-star cornerback Sevyn Banks was an afterthought on the 2017 Spring Game visitor list.
Ohio State wasn’t a serious factor in his recruitment until that visit, either, with most believing he’d follow in his brother’s footsteps to Florida. But blown away by his first trip to campus and excited about the relationship he’d formed with then-assistant coordinator Kerry Coombs, Banks announced his commitment out of the blue in late April.
Banks shut down his recruitment thereafter and signed with the Buckeyes in December. He was an early enrollee and will also participate in the Spring Game this afternoon.
This weekend got off to a booming start when New Jersey four-star athlete “Rocket” Ronnie Hickman pledged his services to the Buckeyes on Friday night. But that, of course, raises the question: Will anyone join him?
There were plenty of commitment candidates when we first unveiled our visitor list earlier in the week, but the chances of a #BOOM dwindled considerably when Texas four-star wide receiver Jalen “Boobie” Curry and Florida four-star cornerback Jordan Battle called off their visit at the request of the staff.
Garrett Wilson — another four-star wideout who resides in the Lone Star State — is on an official visit right now, but his decision won’t come until after he makes on last trip to Austin for the Longhorns’ Spring Game next weekend.
That leaves Georgia four-star center Harry Miller and Mentor four-star defensive end Noah Potter as the two biggest candidates to pull the trigger before the weekend comes to a close.
I think Potter finally admits the inevitable and becomes a Buckeye this weekend, but I’m expecting Miller to hold off at least a few days in order to reflect upon the weekend as a whole rather than make a decision based on emotion.
Either way, the narrative about Ohio State’s recruiting class getting off to a slow start will soon be a thing of the past.