BARBERTON – Basketball is in Ben Christman’s blood.
His dad, Brian, was a 6-foot-5 forward at Montpelier High School in northwest Ohio and attended Ohio Northern University with the intention of playing for the Division III team as a freshman before electing to walk away from a potential playing career. Ben grew up putting his own ball in a little round hoop, starting with fourth-grade youth recreation leagues.
He always knew he was going to grow up big, and at one time he considered wrestling, doing both wrestling and basketball one year as a kid to compare the two but ended up loving the court more than the mat. He has more fun there and isn’t too bad at it, either.
He can bang his 6-foot-6, 300-pound frame in the post, push people around on the other end of the floor in the paint and has grown into a pretty adept passer.
Christman’s got that love, that history, with the game, but it’s not what he was born to play. He was a born football player.
"People wanna talk smack, and you can show them a little lesson. That’s why it’s fun."– Ben Christman on his love of football
That’s why he lets out a bit of a sigh on Tuesday night. Not because he’s upset after having played zero minutes in Revere High School’s overtime victory over Barberton. He’s happy with his role on the Minutemen and doesn’t mind that the rotational game plan is to have him log a bunch of minutes in some games; not many (or even none) in others. Whatever the team needs – it’s a common theme you’ll soon find helps define the 2021 Ohio State offensive lineman commit.
He has a great time when he takes the court, even just for warmups, but he sighs because it still just doesn’t give him quite the same satisfaction as the one he gets under the lights – a place where he doesn’t have to harness any tenacity. Or hold back from clobbering a dude.
“People cheer for you to hit somebody (in football),” Christman says. “I don’t know, people wanna talk smack, and you can show them a little lesson. That’s why it’s fun.
“I mean, I’m the OSU commit, and they’re gonna come after me in football. And it’s like, you can just go after them, but in basketball you have to kind of stay away, or else you look like a piece of crap.”
That’s who the Buckeyes will be getting in their top junior O-line recruit. A guy who’s not going to shy away from hitting someone in the chops and shoving them into the dirt for running their mouth – whether it's directed at him or a teammate.
It’s that mentality (along with that picture-perfect offensive lineman size, of course) that helped make Christman a linchpin in this 2021 class – a can’t-lose-him, in-state prospect who the Buckeyes can build around and one who Ohio State’s coaches can defer to when he gets on campus.
“They said, ‘You are our guy. Wherever you wanna play, you’re gonna play,’” Christman said.
His preference is tackle, and he expects to play on the right side rather than the left but also has the versatility to move inside.
“I played guard my freshman year so I know what it’s like,” Christman said. “I just wanna get some rings so wherever that is, my role, I’m ready to do it. … I feel like I could play guard. I mean, anywhere they want me to play, I’ll play.”
Football or basketball, there’s that team-first mentality the O-lineman exudes again. Whatever the team needs is cliche, but it’s still one Christman seems to truly buy into.
Whatever the team needs means being the class’ No. 2 glue stick and being Robin to defensive end Jack Sawyer’s Batman in terms of peer-recruiting.
Sawyer, the only Ohio junior ranked higher in this class than Christman, bears the torch of class leader, and he always will. He’s held that crown ever since becoming the Buckeyes’ first 2021 commit, pledging himself not long after getting his offer from Urban Meyer.
But if a player gets hurt and has to miss time, someone has to fill his shoes. It’s another hackneyed adage that defines football – next man up – but that instinct kicked in for Christman in the biggest game of the season for both the current Buckeyes and their future in a Nov. 23 home bout with Penn State.
Sawyer has a prominent reputation for attending every Buckeye home game and leading recruiting efforts on the sidelines and in the red seats near the 50-yard line, making fellow recruits feel welcome and letting them know what Ohio State, its players and its coaches are all about.
Two weeks after going down with a torn MCL in his last game of the season, though, Sawyer was bound to a pair of crutches and didn’t want to take any risks by attending a game against the Nittany Lions with a rain-heavy forecast.
So, Christman stepped up to the plate. Well … the turf.
Hell, it was almost like an apprentice-becomes-master situation. After all, when Christman made his own first visit last December, it was Sawyer right there in the thick of the action, doing his recruiting diligence as always.
Peer-recruiting is not a role Christman was unfamiliar with. He and Sawyer have been leading the charge ever since Christman committed in late June, putting together a Twitter group chat that’s still going strong, with Christman having added even more people of late.
“I think it’s working pretty well,” Christman said. “I’ve had some people say I’m definitely gonna come back for my official.”
That includes two big Buckeye targets who made their way over to the Shoe for the Penn State showdown, running back Evan Pryor and fellow offensive lineman Donovan Jackson – a guy similar to Christman in terms of on-field nastiness and versatility.
But this wasn’t Twitter. This was a real-life meeting that went really well, as Christman made bonds with several other offensive linemen in attendance but none stronger than with Jackson.
“Donovan is a really cool dude,” Christman said. “He has a great family. I actually had an extra ticket I had to give to him because he had his whole family out. I was just practically attached to his hip at the Penn State game. He’s just a really cool dude. We talked about ‘what-ifs.’ We could get some rings here and really set ourselves up here.”
The two talked about a potential tandem together, which could mean playing tackle opposite each other, or even being attached at the hip (literally this time) on either the left or right side with Christman a tackle and Jackson a guard.
It was an optimistic relationship build as Jackson nears his set commitment date of Jan. 8, and he could wind up joining Christman to form a powerful punch up front.
He would be joining a six-man commitment team in the 2021 class that already has a good relationship, but that remains to be seen. There’s still a ways to go, and that’s the same story with Christman.
It’s Dec. 12, 2019. The early signing period for the 2020 class will begin and end next week, but it’s never too early to start looking toward a bright future. And that bright future for Christman could get a head start.
It’s more than 365 days until the next recruiting cycle’s early signing period, so Christman has only given it a tiny fraction of thought on whether he wants to sign and enroll early. He’s spoken with Buckeye brass about processes and plans for admission into the university, and he says at this point he’s slightly leaning toward trying to enroll next January.
But, again, it’s still too early to pour any concrete. He’ll discuss the different possibilities with his family over the next several months, weigh his options and ultimately make his final decision on if he wants to forego a second semester as a high school senior.
After all, there’s still basketball season to think about.