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.
Liam Clifford Entering 2019 "Way More Comfortable" at Receiver
Ohio State has hit its own territory hard for the Class of 2021. It’s already earned commitments from three of the top five prospects – Jack Sawyer, Ben Christman and Jayden Ballard – and it’s aggressively recruiting other top-10 prospects, such as Reid Carrico, Lorenzo Styles, A.J. Kirk, Jaylen Anderson, Najee Story and Jaylen Johnson.
One of the in-state prospects that has seen himself on the fringe of all of that action is St. Xavier wide receiver and defensive back Liam Clifford. He has hovered around the top 10-12 in-state prospects but could see a rise in his recruitment if he continues the success he had in his sophomore season.
“100 percent. I feel like this year will be a huge year for me,” Clifford told Eleven Warriors.
The St. X junior began his career as a quarterback during his freshman year but broke his leg and transitioned into wide receiver as a sophomore, which caused some growing pains. He was able to flash his athleticism – a 4.40-second 40-yard dash – and won most of his jump-ball battles. But the wide receiver craft takes time to build. This year, Clifford said an offseason with the position has made him “way more comfortable.”
Some schools are recruiting him as a wide receiver, and some see him more as a safety. Jim Harbaugh and Al Washington, when Washington was at Michigan, offered him for his athleticism, and since then, he’s received offers from Michigan State, Penn State, Tennessee, Duke, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and others. But he hasn’t gotten his offer from Ohio State.
“Penn state has been in contact with me a lot, and then my most recent offer was Kentucky,” Clifford said. “Come Sept. 1, I think MSU, PSU, Tennessee and a few other schools will be in heavy contact.”
Clifford said he calls Washington “every once in a while,” and he made a visit to Columbus in early-April. He also said he hopes to visit Ohio State again soon, potentially for a game.
But his recruitment with Ohio State is going to take some time. An Ohio State offer doesn't come easily, especially from Brian Hartline at wide receiver, where the Buckeyes are recruiting him. And also for a receiver who just began focusing on the position during his sophomore year after breaking his leg.
There’s no doubt that he is one of the best athletes in the state and that his No. 416 overall rating from 247Sports will rise, but he’s going to have to prove he can excel at the position in other ways than outrunning, out-jumping or out-willing his opponents. Then, the schools on the fence about offering him will have no choice but to extend those offers.
2021 Receivers to Watch for Ohio State
With so much talent thrown into the pot that is Ohio State’s 2021 wide receiver recruitment, it’s tough to keep track of the names, whether the prospects flew in to work out with Brian Hartline or just received at-home visits in the spring, there is a lot of talent cropping up in the class, and Ohio State is coming off of one of its best recruiting performances at the position in program history.
Some names are easy to remember. Jayden Ballard, the No. 5 Ohio prospect and the No. 19 receiver, has already committed to Ohio State, and California No. 2 wideout Beaux Collins and Philadelphia No. 8 receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. have already announced top-twos with Ohio State and Clemson included. Pickerington receiver Lorenzo Styles has been in the discussion for 2021 wide receivers longer than most, and his stock continues to rise. Along with it, the mutual interest rises as well.
No. 4 wide receiver Dont’e Thornton decommitted from Penn State earlier this summer, and contact has been made between him and Ohio State. The problem there is that there isn’t a ton of room left in the class. That’s the problem with all of the following wide receivers as well.
Five-star athlete Emeka Egbuka would be a top-notch add for the H-back spot, and that’s what is at the center of his interest in Ohio State – the fact that there is a spot designated for him and him only. Egbuka is hoping to get into Columbus for the Penn State game Nov. 23 after visiting for Student Appreciation Day in March.
Several other targets were able to get to Columbus during the summer to work out with Hartline, including No. 12 wide receiver Gavin Blackwell, who developed very strong chemistry with Hartline, underrated No. 76 wideout Troy Stellato, who was one of the fastest players nationally at The Opening and also has strong chemistry with Hartline, No. 42 wide receiver Dekel Crowdus, who ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s one-day camp in June but has a very good relationship with Michigan, and No. 54 wide receiver Walker Merrill, whose stock is rising nationally as a top-300 recruit.
Jalil Farooq, Jayden Thomas, Tommi Hill, Shawn Hardy and Malcolm Johnson Jr. all have offers as well. Texas No. 24 wide receiver Latrell Neville also has an offer, but he didn’t make the trips that he was planning to make to Columbus this summer.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Texas Rumors
Ohio State commit Jaxon Smith-Njigba has been making headlines lately because he told an Austin, Texas, TV reporter that he has been in contact with Texas recently but is sticking with his commitment to Ohio State.
Spoke to 4 WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba last night who has been making some noise this week on Texas boards.— Nick Harris (@NickHarrisTV) August 16, 2019
He tells me he has been in contact with Texas but it is nothing serious. He remains solid on Ohio State. pic.twitter.com/YOq3qdG9rR
The “contact” was not explicitly stated, and the context of the question was also not given. Smith-Njigba could have been asked about Texas by the local TV reporter and the receiver chose to be honest about something that truly isn’t a big deal. The context could have been a number of things.
But the concern here is clear and understandable for Buckeye fans given what happened recently with Bijan Robinson and his sudden commitment to Texas. Smith-Njigba also recently followed Bryan Carrington, Texas’ director of recruiting, on Twitter. He also followed Texas quarterback commit Hudson Card during The Opening Finals, but he followed Mookie Cooper and several other players he met there as well.
What falls short among all of these pieces of information is that Texas would be fighting a serious uphill climb if it attempted to recruit Smith-Njigba away from Ohio State. Smith-Njigba clearly has a strong relationship with Brian Hartline, but he also has been clear and unabashed in his relationship with Julian Fleming, Gee Scott Jr. and Lejond Cavazos.
“We’re focused on individual, of course, but we’re just focused on getting better as a group,” Smith-Njigba told Eleven Warriors in July. “You could ask any one of us who we think the best is, and we would say each other. We’re just trying to get a bond that can’t be broken.”
“It’s not even making him feel like part of the family. He is part of the family,” Fleming told Eleven Warriors about Smith-Njigba. “He committed before I even committed. It’s been a really welcoming thing with all of us together.”
While many things could happen during the final months of a recruitment, in which there were several examples in the recruiting piece I put together last weekend for every 2019 Buckeye, Ohio State just needs to maintain contact and continue building its relationship, as it did with Paris Johnson Jr. when he was touring the SEC this spring. There’s not much more to add except its relationship with its wide receiver commit.