The time is now for Tony Alford.
Whether you like it or not, Ohio State has elected to end the pursuit of 2020 tailback Jahmyr Gibbs. The four-star Georgia Tech commit was scheduled to make an official visit this weekend, but the Buckeyes decided to hold steady with the current running back room along with the addition of Miyan Williams this coming summer.
The scholarship numbers are tight, but just about everyone was expecting Ryan Day and Tony Alford to target another running back before February's national signing day. Instead, the focus is on keeping Cameron Martinez in the fold and perhaps – if the numbers allow for it – looking into the transfer portal.
It's understandable that there's a sense of pessimism permeating throughout the fanbase. Alford and the Buckeyes missed out on all of their top targets during the 2020 cycle. Most notably, that included five-stars Bijan Robinson (Texas) and Kendall Milton (Georgia). And the former was a silent commit before changing his mind late in the summer.
With the focus switching over to the Class of 2021, we unveiled our initial recruiting board earlier this month. At the time, the list included four touted tailbacks who are among the best in America. However, we did point out that we didn't believe Ohio State was necessarily the leader for any of them.
There's now perhaps a bit of optimism as it pertains to the next cycle's running back recruiting. This goes without saying, but Tony Alford needs to rebound in a big way. Greg Studrawa has had his own struggles on the trail, but he's answered the bell with some major success of late. Alford has the opportunity to do the same this time around.
|DONOVAN EDWARDS||5-foot-11, 190 lbs||West Bloomfield, MI||★★★★||No. 49 (No. 2 RB)|
|EVAN PRYOR||5-foot-10, 190 lbs||Cornelius, NC||★★★★||No. 87 (No. 6 RB)|
|WILL SHIPLEY||5-foot-11, 198 lbs||Matthews, NC||★★★★★||No. 21 (No. 1 APB)|
|CAMAR WHEATON||5-foot-11, 190 lbs||Galand, Texas||★★★★★||No. 6 (No. 1 RB)|
|LOVASEA CARROLL||6-foot-0, 189 lbs||Warrenton, GA||★★★★||No. 101 (No. 7 RB)|
|CODY BROWN||6-foot, 210 lbs||Lilburn, GA||★★★★||No. 119 (No. 9 RB)|
|COREY KINER||5-foot-10, 205 lbs||Cincinnati, Ohio||★★★★||No. 108 (No. 8 RB)|
Heading into the 2021 cycle, any sense of skepticism is probably warranted. After all, the Buckeyes just had a 2,000-yard rusher and only managed to sign the country's 46th-best player at the position in three-star Williams. But Alford has earned the reputation as a high-end recruiter, and the 2020 class may prove to simply be a blip on the radar.
There are seven names to pay the most attention to right now, and Ohio State is heavily involved with each one. Michigan's Donovan Edwards is the top target, but it's going to be tough to pull him away from the Wolverines. Just how good is Edwards? Ryan Day, Nick Saban, and Brian Kelly were all at West Bloomfield High School on Friday immediately following the recruiting dead period.
The Fighting Irish are also involved as Edwards has gone fairly quiet of late. One thing to watch will be if the potential addition of Kerry Coombs can help the Buckeyes' chances against the Midwest and national foes.
I'm of the belief that Ohio State is out in front for Evan Pryor, but nothing seems too imminent in his recruitment. The four-star has talked about a summer decision, and Penn State and Georgia are the top competition. A post-dead period trip to North Carolina was one of the first things the Georgia staff decided to do on Friday.
Pryor has developed a solid relationship with some of Ohio State's 2021 commits, and there's no question he's toward the top of the running back board. He was in Columbus back in November and got to watch J.K. Dobbins gash the Nittany Lions for 157 yards and two scores.
Fellow North Carolina native Will Shipley is more of an all-purpose tailback. You're going to be hearing the Christian McCaffrey comparisons for the coming years, but the playing styles really are eerily similar. As a junior, he rushed for 1,895 yards and 29 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes for 509 yards and nine touchdowns. The North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year took a trip to Columbus in October, but Notre Dame and Clemson appear to be at the top of his list.
Alford will also look to go back to the state of Texas for five-star Camar Wheaton. Checking in as the nation's top back, this one is admittedly more of a long shot, but the Lone Star State has been plenty good to the Buckeyes in recent years. Wheaton is going to be chased by every powerhouse in the country, and he also doesn't tend to say a whole lot about the recruiting process. Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama are all firmly in the mix.
Georgia native turned IMG Academy standout Lovasea Carroll named his top five schools this week, and I think it was somewhat telling regarding Ohio State's chances. The Buckeyes joined Georgia, Auburn, Florida, and South Carolina on the list, but there's clearly a whole lot of SEC to be worried about here. He's expected to make an official to Columbus this spring, but this will obviously be a tall task for the Buckeye staff.
Another Georgia tailback suits up for Parkview High in the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn. We haven't talked about Cody Brown enough even though the four-star was in Columbus just two months ago. He reportedly came away extremely impressed with Tony Alford and will be back in town later this year. Georgia, Florida, and Auburn are also in play, so this is another one that won't be easy.
The closer-to-home option continues to be Cincinnati's Corey Kiner. The Roger Bacon four-star grew up rooting for Ohio State, but Michigan made him a priority earlier in the recruiting process. The Wolverines offered last January and the Buckeyes did the same in May. As a junior, Kiner passed the 5,000-yard career rushing mark and broke the school's rushing record.
The Kiner recruitment is likely to be a Midwest battle with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Notre Dame all involved. He doesn't have a decision timeline but is planning on making several visits this spring and summer.
All eyes are going to be on Tony Alford until the Buckeyes land (and sign) at least two tailbacks for the 2021 class. With a rough cycle now in the rearview mirror, it's full steam ahead and onto the next recruiting class. The rest of Ohio State's offensive recruiting has been superb, and now it's time for Alford to do the same at running back.