The Hurry Up is your nightly dose of updates from the Ohio State football recruiting trail, keeping tabs on the latest from commits and targets from around the country.
Compared to most Big Ten Media Days and last year’s event in particular, there wasn’t too much fresh news about Ohio State football coming out of Chicago on Thursday and Friday – outside of Jim Harbaugh’s comments about Urban Meyer and mental health-related transfers. But going into the media days, the narrative driving the program was the Buckeyes’ success in recruiting, as they were rated second in the country before Alabama landed a couple commitments from Kristian Story and Timothy Smith to drop Ohio State back to No. 3.
So naturally, when Ryan Days’ hour-long individual media session arrived, he was asked about his staff’s recruiting efforts. While he couldn’t get too deep into the details, he addressed a few topics surrounding the program and its meteoric rise in the rankings.
The Staff as One Unit
“Our staff is killing it. Doing a great job. It’s competitiveness, being ultra-competitive and finding ways to win battles and carry it over to the season. But so far working in the recruiting world – empowering those guys and understanding everybody involved. If a kid commits, it’s not just the head coach or position coach. It’s everybody in that building. There’s this family environment going on.” —Ryan Day
This sentiment is one that Day wanted to emphasize during talks of recruiting, as Jeff Hafley and Brian Hartline’s names popped up frequently in Chicago. In terms of recruiting, the two first-year Buckeye position coaches have rocketed to the peak of top assistant coaches lists across the country, but while they’ve impressed many people, the staff is still full of proven, high-tier recruiters, like Al Washington in Ohio and Larry Johnson in the DMV.
In the end, most recruits are committing to programs, not coaches. While that’s hard to believe when Hartline, Hafley, Washington, Day and Greg Mattison all have NFL experience and use it to their advantage on the recruiting trail, many recruits cite Ohio State’s capability of sending players to the NFL when they discuss why they chose the Buckeyes.
Recruiting in-state prospects
“The basis of our recruiting has to be in Ohio and that three- to four-hour radius. It has to be, it has to be the foundation. But Ohio State has a brand that can go from coast to coast, and so now let's go get some of the elite ones around the country. That's the philosophy, but we have to have that foundation in Ohio.” —Ryan Day
This has been a recruiting strategy Ryan Day has been pushing since he took the head coaching job in December, which some have suggested might have led to the Buckeyes taking taking some in-state project offensive linemen, but regardless, it’s clear the head coach wants to build on top of a base comprised of Ohio players. Seven of the 21 current commits are from Ohio, including two that had been committed before Day took his current position.
These prospects committed to Ohio State are also from a below-average in-state 2020 class. Once the 2021 cycle is in full swing, Ohio State will be one of the top programs in the country when it comes to recruiting its home state.
The Buckeyes already have three of the top-five recruits committed in Jack Sawyer, Ben Christman and Jayden Ballard. Getting those early commitments might reduce the momentum when it comes to how people perceive the recruiting efforts in Ohio later in the cycle, but all three of those commits will be top-100 national recruits by the end of the class. They don’t appear to be going anywhere else either.
Ohio State also has very close relationships with the other top top-100 prospects, Lorenzo Styles and Najee Story. As Styles looks at the crowded wide receiver room, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take harder looks at programs like Notre Dame, which he already has quite a bit of interest in. But Story appears to be near a commitment to the Buckeyes, as well as Reid Carrico and A.J. Kirk. Those are all top-10 in-state prospects in a strong Ohio 2021 class. Landing at least six commitments from the top-10 of one state is rare for any program.
All of that is without mentioning Jaylen Anderson, a standout Perry running back who is still working for an Ohio State offer, and Jaylen Johnson, who earned an Ohio State offer during summer camps and who the staff thinks will only improve on his No. 20 safety ranking.
Commitments From Across the Country
“It’s not an emphasis. It wasn’t like I said, ‘Hey guys, let’s recruit California or out that way.’ That wasn’t the case. I think it’s just the way this cycle has worked. I don’t have a lot of ties out there. Things happen in cycles. I’d be surprised if it was the same way next year. I think we’ll maybe be in Texas or the Southeast next year. It’s just the way it worked this year.” —Ryan Day
Even though it hasn’t been a point of emphasis for Day and the staff, recruiting players from California and other far reaches of the country has looked easy for a staff that saw its recruiting cycle cut in half with the departure of Urban Meyer and the turmoil that ended its 2018 calendar year.
Just from the West, Ohio State has already earned commitments from Lathan Ransom, Clark Phillips, Gee Scott Jr. and Jack Miller. Some of those commitments have come from a combined effort between this staff and the last staff – commitments like Scott, who committed on Christmas Day, and Jack Miller, who committed July 1, and even Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Lejond Cavazos out of Texas, who both committed to Meyer’s staff but, in Cavazos’ case, returned after decommitting.
It’s clear that Day has a standard for the recruiters on his staff – make pushes for the top recruits in the country. It doesn’t matter where they are. And to have a strategy like that, it’s important to have a wide range of connections geographically, and this staff happens to have that exact trait.
Once Hafley joined the staff, one of the first recruits he began developing a relationship with was New Jersey linebacker Cody Simon. Then he hit the West Coast. Clark Phillips and Lathan Ransom have committed and Kourt Williams will likely be announcing his commitment within the next week – which should be to the Buckeyes. Hartline plucked Julian Fleming out of deep Penn State territory and earned the commitment of Mookie Cooper in St. Louis, which is only slightly less impressive because of Jameson Williams’ commitment and signing in 2019.
Jeff Hafley on the Recruiting Trail
“Jeff has always been a tremendous recruiter. People ask me if he can recruit and I think that is one of the best things that he does. Now, because he was in the NFL, I think seven years, people don't know that. But when he was at Pitt, when he was at Rutgers, he was one of the best recruiters in the entire country. He was recruiting some of the best players to those schools. I knew that about him from a long time ago, and when we worked together at the 49ers, I told him that he was going to be an unbelievable head football coach someday. I believed in him from the get-go. I think the guys on the secondary who are being recruited by him just recognize the fact that he can make them a lot better. He really has not had the luxury of a full recruiting cycle. I think the 2021 class will allow him to do that. He is going after the best guys in the country and has evaluated them and he is recruiting them.” —Ryan Day
This was a topic discussed on Eleven Warriors on Saturday, but Jeff Hafley has burst onto the scene as more than a secondary coach. He’s proven to be one of the top recruiters in the country, alongside his coworker Brian Hartline. But like Day said, that’s nothing new for Hafley.
The secondary coach recruited current Tennessee Titans running back Dion Lewis to Pittsburgh in 2009, current Chicago Bears tackle T.J. Clemmings to Pittsburgh in 2010 and former four-star wideout and current Miami Dolphin Leonte Carroo to Rutgers in 2012. He also recruited several other top Rutgers and Pittsburgh signees.
He’s recruiting at a much higher level now than he ever did before, but his ability to identify talent is undeniable, which is a dangerous combination with an NFL resume and a prestigious program to back him in recruiting.