A Midwest battle appears to be shaping up for a California cornerback.
Ohio State's 2020 recruiting class currently sits at No. 11 in the country with eight commitments in the fold. As the offensive side of the ball continues to dominate the class (seven commits), the new-look defensive coaching staff is looking to maintain and build upon the relationships established by the previous regime.
Ryan Day and the staff have a few crucial needs to address between now and next February. Keeping five-star tackle Paris Johnson Jr. in the fold and reloading the running back stable are two of the top priorities. On defense, the Buckeyes need to lock up Cincinnati star Darrion Henry and the defensive lineman appears to have moved up his commitment timeline.
Jeff Hafley has already made a splash during his short time in Columbus. While his energy and knowledge of the game have impressed anyone who's watched him during interviews, there's still plenty of work to be done on the recruiting front; even after getting four-star IMG Academy standout Lejond Cavazos back in the fold.
The Buckeyes will lose Damon Arnette after 2019 and most are expecting Jeffrey Okudah (and potentially even Shaun Wade) to look into testing the NFL waters. Thus making cornerback another one of those crucial need areas for the Class of 2020. Cavazos is someone who can likely play cornerback or safety, but there remains an ongoing need for another pure corner or two.
La Habra, California's Clark Phillips III made his debut on our recruiting board earlier this month, and the country's No. 4 corner is no doubt a priority target for Ryan Day and Jeff Hafley. At 5-foot-11 and about 180 pounds, there seems to be little doubt that Phillips will play cornerback at the next level even though he also stars at wideout.
Ohio State is in line to add another 16-18 commitments in what should be a larger class. Right now the Cali native is likely the staff's top overall target in the secondary and one of the top targets regardless of position.
Day and Hafley clearly have some West Coast ties as they both spent some time in San Francisco, and now they'll look to use that to their advantage in this pursuit. Phillips announced his top five schools earlier this month, and that list includes three Pac-12 schools and two Midwest powers. While the Buckeyes are battling it out with California, Oregon, and UCLA, this one seems likely to come down to Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Phillips has already made visits to all five programs and was most recently in South Bend and Columbus this past March. He's in the process of planning his official visits which could still come this spring or linger into the fall and winter. Right now the plan is for the country's No. 46 overall prospect to enroll early; which has to be appealing given the talent the Buckeyes will be losing at corner.
Ohio State has certainly been one of the best when it comes to developing defensive backs of late, and that – along with Real Life Wednesdays – is something Phillips and his family have taken note of. Those factors plus the relationship with Day and Hafley have the Buckeyes right up at the top of the list.
Still, it wouldn't be wise to discount Notre Dame in this recruitment. Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght has done a fantastic job and Phillips is a top-of-the-board target for Brian Kelly's staff as well. The Irish are currently without a 2020 cornerback commit and this could be a battle all the way up until December's early signing period.
Miami's Henry Gray and Virginia Joseph Johnson are other names to watch at the position, but both of them – like Cavazos – have some questions about where they may end up. Some Florida insiders have speculated that Gray could wind up playing safety. Johnson is 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds and could play a number of different positions.
The Buckeyes didn't sign a single cornerback for the 2019 class. Landing Clark Phillips – one of America's best at the position – will continue to be one of the top priorities for Ryan Day and Jeff Hafley.