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.
In case you haven’t heard, the early signing period starts at 7 a.m. tomorrow for the 2020 recruiting class, and the Ohio State coaching staff has made its final pitches to try and get as many players to sign early as they can.
Out of the 25 current commitments, only one is not planning on signing early, and that player is three-star linebacker Mitchell Melton from Olney, Md.
But don’t panic.
Melton is inno way planning on going anywhere but Ohio State. The only reason the Good Counsel High School product will not be signing early is due to his school’s policies on signing early. Melton will not be enrolling early and will instead sign with other teammates at 8 a.m. on National Signing Day on Feb. 5. So Melton is still going to be a Buckeye. It just won’t be official for another month and a half.
So, again, no panic there. But there is justifiable trepidation of Clark Phillips III not signing with the Buckeyes, and we’re not going to talk much about him here. We’ve already belabored that point here over the past few days, and at this point, it’s probably appropriate to just patiently participate in “The Waiting Game,” as he has announced when and where he will be signing:
Maybe that would be appropriate, but where’s the fun in that?
For anyone trying to turn up their nose at Phillips potentially becoming a Ute being an unfathomable, nonsensical proposition, just take into account:
- Phillips would be a transcendent, potentially defense-changing player for Utah. Landing him alone would vault the Utes’ class from 84th in the country all the way up to 57th.
- Utah has five former defensive backs currently in the NFL, so going to that program offers some pro potential. Plus, there will be a big opportunity for Phillips to go in and start right away for Utah, as it is losing its top two starting cornerbacks – senior Julian Blackmon will be gone and junior Jaylon Johnson has declared for the draft and is likely to be one of the top 10 corners selected. The two cornerbacks behind those two on the depth chart are each three-star prospects, neither of which cracked the top 40 at their own position ranking (No. 46 and No. 74).
- Kyle Whittingham is widely considered one of the top five or top 10 coaches in the sport and had the Utes within one win of a probable College Football Playoff berth this season.
- Utah was a top-five defense this season in both points allowed (13.2 per game) and yards allowed (256.2).
- One of the main guys (Jeff Hafley) credited with repairing a Buckeyes defense that was embarrassed in 2018 is now gone.
- Yes, Hafley was certainly going to leave after Phillips’ freshman season if things continued trending upward for Hafley (no reason to think they wouldn’t have). But Hafley and Phillips were tight, and even considering that he was likely to leave in a year, you’d like to get coached up by the guy who believes in you so steadfastly, and the coach with whom you’ve grown the closest relationship with, for at least one year (especially in such an important year in your development as a person and player … your freshman year of college).
With ALL that being said, I still believe he ends up a Buckeye. And here are the counterpoints from an Ohio State argument:
- Phillips would be a transcendent, potentially defense-changing player for Ohio State. Losing him alone would not drop the Buckeyes from their No. 4 spot in the 2020 class rankings, but he is still ranked as the No. 4 cornerback in the 2020 class and No. 47 overall. The only cornerbacks ranked higher among all prospects nationwide that the Buckeyes have landed in the past decade are Okudah (No. 8) in 2017 and Damon Webb (No. 36) in 2014.
- Ohio State has 12 former defensive backs currently in the NFL, so going to that program offers a lot of pro potential. Plus, there will be a big opportunity for Phillips to go in and start right away for Ohio State, as it is losing its top two, most likely top three, starting cornerbacks – senior Damon Arnette will be gone and junior Jeff Okudah is likely to declare for the draft and is likely to be the top cornerback selected; redshirt sophomore Shaun Wade is also a projected late first-rounder or early-to-mid second-rounder if he declares.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes’ top corners on the depth chart behind Okudah, Arnette and Wade are Cam Brown, Sevyn Banks, Amir Riep and Marcus Williamson. The latter three were each ranked in the mid-20s, while Brown was a mid-50s receiver. Brown, Banks and Riep each have big-time experience in big-time Big Ten games this season, however, so this could be one of the areas Utah has a bigger advantage.
- Ryan Day is coming off one of the most impressive seasons for a first-year head coach in college football history, and he still isn’t done. He’s competing for a spot in the national championship game later this month and will be due for a HEFTY pay raise after the season, as he’s already cemented himself as one of the nation’s best and projects to slide into the top-five discussion (and he’s probably there already).
- Ohio State was a top-five defense this season in both points allowed (12.5) and yards allowed (247.6), each better than Utah by a slim margin.
- Day has a line on who he wants to replace Hafley with. It may be Kerry Coombs, and I have a feeling it will be. But even if it’s not Coombs, at this point, with how successful Day’s hires have been, it feels like you would be foolish to not trust him to find the right guy to develop the Buckeye defensive backs into successful pro prospects.
- The last point there isn’t much of a counter-argument for. One of the main reasons the Utes were in Phillips’ final four finalists before he committed to Ohio State was because of Utah’s cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah. Shah doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon, and by all accounts, he’s a super sharp, much-loved coach who has had a relationship with Phillips since his freshman year at La Habra (Calif.) High School.
That last part could give Utah its biggest edge.
Again, I still believe Phillips will join Ohio State, and I think it’s the better program for him to develop into an elite-level cornerback. But I still think he could do that at Utah.
So … if your eyes have glazed over, the good news is that all of this will be settled in less than 48 hours. But I just wanted to try and detail the understandable reasons for why Phillips may want to choose Utah. In the end, his relationship with Shah could be the biggest factor, but we will find out soon.
On a final note, here were Day’s comments on Monday for why he believes all five defensive backs will sign with Ohio State this week. It may have been a similar sales pitch to what he told the recruits themselves, so it was important to hear what he said:
“These guys chose this school for Ohio State, for what we're doing on defense,” Day said. “The defense isn't going to change. I've talked to the recruits about that. It's my job to go find them the best in the country. I felt like I did that last year. I'm going to do that again this year. We're not going to change the defense. The defense is a vision I had early on when this whole thing started. Ohio State has been here a lot longer than Jeff Hafley. It's going to continue to be great.
“Coach Hafley is a big reason they came here, but it wasn't the only reason. Our guys have been strong in their response. They're excited to sign on Wednesday.”
Johnson finalist for a major award
On Tuesday, Paris Johnson Jr., the Buckeyes’ five-star offensive tackle gem, was named one of four finalists for the Anthony Munoz Lineman of the Year award, who are chosen by the All-American Bowl Selection Committee.
All-American Bowl Announces Finalists for the Anthony Muoz Lineman of the Year https://t.co/bYFOVG5XeS— All-American Bowl (@AABonNBC) December 17, 2019
Johnson will find out if he has won the award on Jan. 3 in San Antonio, as he is pitted for the award against defensive lineman Bryan Bresee (Clemson commit) and offensive linemen Andrej Karic (Texas) and Peter Skoronski (Northwestern).
The award, which honors the best lineman in the nation, was named after Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Munoz, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals for 13 seasons. Johnson is from Cincinnati. I think that’s pretty cool.
Here is the signing day ceremony information for the 25 Buckeye commits. C.J. Stroud’s announcement will come at 12:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPNU.
Again, as I said at the top, Melton is the lone commit not planning to sign early, though Cameron Martinez is worth keeping an eye on.
Most of these players will be sending in their National Letter of Intent early in the morning and then holding a signing day ceremony later in the day:
(All Times ET)
Paris Johnson, Darrion Henry-Young – noon at Princeton High School
Joe Royer, Jakob James – 7:15 a.m. at Elder High School
Ty Hamilton – 3 p.m. at Pickerington Central High School
Jake Seibert – 12:15 p.m. at La Salle High School
Miyan Williams – 3:30 p.m. at Winton Woods High School (library)
Trey Leroux – 3 p.m. at Norwalk High School
Julian Fleming – 6 p.m. Wednesday at Southern Columbia High School’s old high school gym (Catawissa, Pa.)
Jaxon Smith-Njigba – 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Rockwall High School (Rockwall, Texas)
Clark Phillips III – 2 p.m. Thursday
Gee Scott Jr. – N/A
Lathan Ransom – Wednesday
Mookie Cooper – 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Pattonville High School (Maryland Heights, Mo.)
Luke Wypler – 1 p.m. Wednesday at St. Joe’s Regional High School (Montvale, N.J.)
Cody Simon – N/A
Kourt Williams – 4 p.m. Wednesday at St. John Bosco Prep (Bellflower, Calif.)
Jacolbe Cowan – Noon Wednesday at Providence Day School (Charlotte, N.C.)
Ryan Watts III – Noon Wednesday at Little Elm High School (Little Elm, Texas)
Lejond Cavazos – 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Jack Miller – 11:15 a.m. Wednesday at Chaparral High School (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
Cameron Martinez – N/A
Josh Fryar – N/A
Grant Toutant – 6 p.m. Wednesday
Mitchell Melton – 8 a.m. Feb. 5 at Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)