Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts Among Defensive Back Commits Still Sold on Ohio State Despite Jeff Hafley’s Departure

By Zack Carpenter on December 14, 2019 at 4:21 pm
Lejond Cavazos
Lejond Cavazos

In a group text message between C.J. Cavazos, his wife and Jeff Hafley three weeks ago, Cavazos predicted the future, telling Hafley that he was going to take the Boston College head coaching job.

Hafley responded that he was not going anywhere, and that was a genuine response. He didn’t have intentions of leaving Ohio State, but Cavazos – the father of Ohio State four-star 2020 cornerback commit Lejond Cavazos – knew he would be out the door.

“‘You’re gone, buddy. You can’t say no to that kind of money. You’ve gotta go,’” Cavazos told Eleven Warriors, recalling the quick thread. 

Cavazos was right. Of course he was right. He’s been immersed in the coaching world for more than 25 years and knows how this sort of thing shakes out. He has coaching experience at the college and high school levels – notably at Dallas Carter High School, immortalized in the movie Friday Night Lights in the '90s – and has worked closely with guys like Urban Meyer, Kevin Sumlin and Steve Wilks when they used to be assistants. His relationship with Meyer goes back to the late '90s, when Meyer was Notre Dame’s receivers coach.

He knows that coaching is a business. He could easily read the tea leaves, and he’s not upset with the outcome.

“I’m not mad at (Hafley). I know that,” Cavazos said. “I’m not mad at any man that’s trying to better his career and better his family. I’m not mad at him. I’m truly happy for him.”

The elder Cavazos was instantly happy for Hafley, but the younger one wasn’t. At least not at first.

Cavazos committed to the Buckeyes in June 2018 but decommitted in December when Urban Meyer retired. He re-committed in April largely due to the fast and close relationship he formed with Hafley. But with the success the Buckeyes’ defensive backs began having this season – and how they all poured so much credit for that success directly on Hafley – C.J. had been preparing Lejond for a potential Hafley departure for the last month, even breaking down some of business dynamics and dollars and cents, and Lejond understood. 

Still, when the coach you’ve formed such a strong relationship leaves so suddenly, it can come down like a ton of bricks.

“He was shocked last night,” C.J. Cavazos said of Lejond. “He called me last night after he talked to Coach Day. He was shocked and kind of upset, but he’s 18 years old. Kids can have a reaction like that. But after he digested everything and slept on it overnight, he called me this morning and said, ‘Dad, everything you told me, you were right.’ I’ve told him this 100 times. We’re not signing a letter of intent on Wednesday with Jeff Hafley University. We’re signing it with The Ohio State University.

"Now, if Ryan Day resigned today, (Lejond) would not sign on Wednesday. I can tell you that right now. But Jeff Hafley, I get it. It’s business, you know?"

Then, Lejond told him something that C.J. might have never even thought of.

“Lejond said something that was so mature to me today,” Cavazos said. “He said, ‘Dad, I’ve had three DB coaches that I’ve talked to before I even got to Ohio State. Kerry Coombs, Taver Johnson and Jeff Hafley. He said, ‘They’ve all gone on to do bigger and better things.’ He said, 'I know Coach Day’s gonna hire a great guy, and that’s all that matters to us.’”

So when Cavazos tweeted out at 1:16 p.m. on Saturday that he was fully committed to Ohio State and still plans on enrolling in January, C.J. almost instantly got a call from one of the busiest men at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center over the past 24 hours, Buckeyes director of player personnel Mark Pantoni, who has been on the phone “putting out fires,” Cavazos says, with the other four defensive back recruits (Clark Phillips III, Ryan Watts III, Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez).

“Everybody seems good. Everybody seems OK,” C.J. Cavazos said of where the other four DBs’ recruitments stand. “According to Pantoni, it sounds like everybody’s on pretty stable ground.

“Everybody seems to wanna know what I think about it. I say it’s part of what we do. As parents of kids, there’s gonna be change, and change is always good because nobody knew Jeff Hafley one year ago. Everybody knows him now, and whoever Ryan Day brings in, he’s gonna be a great coach and a great guy of character, and he’s gonna do a great job. You have to trust him. You have to trust Ryan, and I trust Ryan."

Apparently, it’s sounding like the other defensive back recruits trust him as well. Watts followed Cavazos' lead on Saturday by reaffirming that he still plans to sign with Ohio State.

“I’ve talked with my parents and coaches and I’m still 100 percent committed to Ohio State and will be signing on Wednesday,” Watts told Eleven Warriors.

Martinez told Lettermen Row's Jeremy Birmingham that he is also still sold on becoming a Buckeye.

Ransom is not enrolling early, but he told All Sports Tucson’s Andy Morales that he is excited for Ohio State to come down to his neck of the woods in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. Reading the tea leaves, it sounds and looks positive that he is still planning on becoming a Buckeye, though he did say that he is not sure if he will sign on Wednesday. Since he’s not planning on enrolling early, he could elect to push his signing back to February to see who Day hires to fill Hafley’s shoes.

That brings us to Phillips, the Buckeyes' highest-rated defensive back commit.

Phillips had remained mostly radio silent until 247Sports’ Greg Biggins reported Saturday that Phillips is taking an official visit to Utah this weekend.

It could come as a relief to Buckeye fans that Phillips will be taking an OV to Utah and not a school such as LSU, Florida or Clemson. Phillips would be the highest-ranked player Utah has landed in the modern recruiting era if he chose to flip to the Utes.

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