Fort Wayne defensive end Deontae Craig has three stars compared to the 14 2020 defensive ends Ohio State has offered that boast four and five stars. But that didn’t stop new co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison from continuing his relationship with Craig once he took his new job in Columbus.
Mattison had approached Craig while he was serving as Michigan’s defensive line coach, and the two had developed a good relationship, Craig said. The 6-foot-4 defensive end didn’t receive an offer from Michigan, but Mattison, who Culver Academy head coach Andy Dorrel said has been the most enthusiastic about Craig among the Ohio State recruiters, extended one from Ohio State.
While the offer would allow Craig to play in Columbus if he chose to, he said Mattison’s change in location doesn’t change the way he views either Michigan or Ohio State.
“He’s gotten out to see me a couple times,” Craig said. “At the end of the day, it just comes down to where I fit in the best at. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity for (Mattison) to come to Ohio State and see what he can do there, but it doesn’t change my outlook on either one.”
The three-star recruit is being looked at by Mattison, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, and he hopes to visit campus, though his basketball season — Craig is a starter on Culver Academy’s state title team — has prevented him from getting to schools for visits.
He does know that he will be attending Iowa’s Junior Day on March 3, though.
Craig, the No. 508 player in the nation and the No. 3 recruit out of Indiana in 2020, also received an offer form Notre Dame on Monday for his 11th overall. Other schools that have offered the Culver Academy eventual four-year starter include Indiana, Michigan State, Cincinnati and others.
Understanding his three-star rating compared to the many four- and five-star recruits offered by his two most prestigious offers, Craig said he isn’t worried about how his talent is perceived in comparison.
“Obviously, there’s stuff I have to do to get better,” Craig said. “The guys they’ve offered have to be pretty talented because only a select few can say they have offers from one — let alone both — of those schools. I’m just looking at this as an opportunity to get better, and it just motivates me.”
Playing in the Class 4A Tournament, Craig isn’t playing against the level of talent that other recruits typically play against, and his team hasn’t escaped with a sectional championship yet either. But in 2018, Culver Academy had the No. 1 defense in Indiana, and Craig was a large part of that accolade.
Dorrel, who is in his 22nd year at the school, said Craig can play anywhere on the line, with his 6-4, 230-pound frame, and led his team in tackles as both a sophomore in 2017 and a junior in 2018.
“In my 20 years here, he is by far the most dominating player that I’ve had,” Dorrel said. “He can change the course of the game through the plays he makes on defense. We work to maximize that talent, but really we’re just fortunate that he’s willing to be coached and work hard.”
Even at his size, Craig’s athleticism allows him to play at tight end and wide receiver on offense, which Dorrel said he and his coaching staff plan to utilize more often next season. The coaching staff has also talked about giving Craig more freedom outside of rushing the passer, which includes dropping into coverage or playing in the flats on tight ends and running backs.
That’s an area that Craig has openly expressed wanting to improve in, he said. Ohio State likes his pass-rushing ability, but it also wants to explore Craig’s abilities when he drops off the line. He also wants to continue getting into the weight room, where both he and Dorrel have expressed needs for improvement — mainly, a need to get stronger.
“I feel like I’m pretty good with my hands, getting off the ball, but you can never stop working on your strength when it comes to football, so I’m focusing on that a lot,” Craig said.