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.
Johnson releases new top six, Notre Dame not included
In late October, DeSmet (Missouri) High School four-star cornerback Jakailin Johnson – the country’s No. 5-ranked CB and No. 52-ranked overall player in the 2021 class – released a top-six list of his final schools that featured Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, Notre Dame, Georgia and Oregon.
On Friday afternoon, Johnson released a revised list of top six schools: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, Clemson, Missouri and USC.
Recruitment still open pic.twitter.com/9IznvsviNL— JK Johnson (@jakailin6) February 14, 2020
Seeing the Buckeyes included is no surprise, as they’ve long been considered the favorites here. The most noticeable change, though, is the absence of Notre Dame. The Irish had been one of the other favorites to land Johnson – perhaps in a head-to-head fight with Ohio State – and it looked like Notre Dame had a chance to pick up even more momentum in Johnson’s recruitment this week.
DeSmet head coach Robert Steeples spent all day Wednesday in South Bend interviewing for Notre Dame’s defensive backs coach opening with head coach Brian Kelly and members of the Irish staff. Steeples told Eleven Warriors the entire process “went really well,” but the position ultimately went to Mike Mickens, one of Kelly’s former players at the University of Cincinnati.
“I got a lot more respect for that program. I’m glad I got the experience,” Steeples said. “I’ve got much respect for BK, and that program is gonna be in good hands, moving in the right direction.”
Steeples says his DeSmet players were the ones pushing him to interview at Notre Dame, and he addressed them this morning. Over the phone on Thursday, Steeples spoke with Johnson to tell him he would be returning and to talk about the interview process with the Irish.
“We have a really tight bond, so he would definitely be interested in that aspect of me coaching at the next level,” Steeples said. “But at the same time, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t gonna ramp up any pressure. I just want him to go where he’s the most confident he’ll succeed. I think his ability and my résumé stand strong enough on their own to where we don’t have to manipulate the process.
“I know he said if I was there that he would definitely be interested in being there, but I don’t want him to – I think he’s formed some good bonds with other coaches throughout the process that I think he should pursue as well. It wouldn’t hurt to get some new blood with his coaching.”
Clemson on the prowl
Clemson, Missouri and USC were not on Johnson's original list, but they have stepped up their recruiting efforts. USC offered on Feb. 5, and Johnson called it his “dream school,” but the most noteworthy inclusion is Clemson.
The Tigers came into the process late, offering Johnson on Jan. 31 when Clemson cornerbacks coach Mike Reed traveled from South Carolina to DeSmet to talk with Steeples and offer Johnson. The Clemson offer could certainly change things moving forward for Johnson.
“Our players, we’re not in the business of just getting notches on our belt with offers,” Steeples said. “I kind of press the coaches, devil’s advocate type of approach, ‘If this kid wants to commit today, would you take him? How interested are you in him?’ I keep a color-coded interest sheet to let the kids know this is the level of interest they have in you.
“I think Clemson is a legitimate offer and a legitimate opportunity. … I think they’re definitely in contention, but there are some schools that have been on the radar for longer.”
Steeples later said: “The Ohio States and Oklahomas, they’ve done a hell of a job recruiting him so the other schools have some ground to make up, but there’s more than enough time.”
There’s no specific target date for Johnson to make a commitment, but it’s likely to come sometime before his senior season starts. In the meantime, Ohio State and Oklahoma seem to be the current frontrunners in his recruitment, with Clemson obviously lurking, and all of Johnson’s top six programs are telling him he’s a top priority on their respective boards and that their development and path to playing time is there.
“One thing I always tell my players, though, is these coaches switch schools rapidly. So make sure you’re not just committing to a coach but you’re committing to a standard,” Steeples said. “Some schools, the standard at that position is excellence. If you’re at Duke right now with (head coach David) Cutcliffe, whoever the quarterbacks coach is gonna be a hell of a quarterbacks coach. Same thing goes with Ohio State or Clemson at corners. Let’s say coach Reed or coach (Kerry) Coombs leaves, they’re gonna bring in the best cornerbacks coach. I think you’ve gotta understand, does that school develop your position over the course of recent history?
“Ohio State’s definitely doing their part, and I think deservedly so, they’re on that top six or seven. Coach Coombs is doing a hell of a job.”
Johnson last visited Ohio State for the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan State in early October, a couple weeks before he released his original list. He is likely to make another visit to Columbus this spring in addition to some of his other top six schools.
The Buckeyes were expected to be a finalist for Johnson, Missouri’s top-ranked junior and a 6-foot-1, 170-pound cornerback. Johnson was one of the first recruits visited by Coombs in January, as visits from Coombs, Matt Barnes and Brian Hartline during the contact period all showed how serious the program is about getting Johnson in scarlet and gray.
“We get a lot of traffic, but those guys made it known that they were there for primarily JK. He knows that,” Steeples said. “He knows what they bring to the table. And Hartline’s been a hell of a recruiter even before JK was in the picture. Obviously, Hartline’s one of the top-tier recruiters in the area and in the country. For them to be in there means a lot because a lot of people get lip service, but to make that trip, it means a lot.”
Johnson and Tony Grimes are two of the most important recruits in the 2021 class for Ohio State, and we’ll see if Coombs is able to work his magic on the recruiting trail to land one or both of those high-end talents. Landing one would be big. Landing both would put Coombs right back in the national conversation as one of the country’s best recruiters – though he’s probably already made his way back into that conversation, as he’s quickly gained steam with coaches like Steeples and recruits like Johnson and Grimes.
Steeples said that on Coombs’ Jan. 27 visit to DeSmet – the first meeting between the two coaches – that they “talked for hours” and the two “connected very well.”
“I’ll tell you, (Coombs) sold me on him. I know his credentials and what he brings,” Steeples said. “These kids are like my sons, and he seems like the type of man who I would trust with them. There’s a little bit of each other between us. We kind of view things the same way as coaches.
“He’s awesome. He’s super knowledgeable at that position. I think the NFL journey probably makes him even better of a coach than he was when he left. If Jakailin were to choose Ohio State, he’d get a great man in Kerry Coombs to help lead him.”
“For Kerry, he doesn’t really need a pitch. Kerry’s résumé speaks for itself.” – DeSmet High School head coach Robert Steeples
Johnson and Steeples are close, and when it was announced that Coombs was returning to Ohio State, the two talked about it enthusiastically, and Coombs’ conversations with Johnson have gone well since.
“Me and JK, we’ve had a lot of conversations about the recruiting process,” Steeples said. “I do that with all my players – whether it’s Ohio State, Ohio or Ohio Wesleyan. I think from interactions (Johnson and Coombs) had, he’s made a lasting impression, and coach Coombs continues to stay in contact with me about him.”
As for those conversations, what has been Coombs’ pitch to Johnson?
“For Kerry, he doesn’t really need a pitch. Kerry’s résumé speaks for itself,” Steeples said. “He’s had a lot of great corners, and he’s had a big hand in a lot of great corners’ development for six years at Ohio State. He knows what he’s looking for.”
Coombs believes he can develop Johnson “to his full potential,” says Steeples.
No matter where Johnson goes, Steeples believes he could get on the field early. Johnson has elite speed, plays with extreme physicality and has excellent ball skills – “in my opinion, probably the best one in the country,” in that area, Steeples says.
“I’ve watched a lot of those guys’ film, and they’re really talented and athletic, but as far as just polished, he’s probably the most polished cornerback there is,” Steeples said.
When he says “polished,” Steeples means polished at the high school level. There’s obviously a long way to go in his development, but Coombs could be the man to complete that development.
“I definitely think he wants to get on the field early, if at all possible, but he needs to go somewhere, regardless of what happens, that he trusts he’s gonna get developed,” Steeples said. “He has room to improve, and I think coach Coombs is probably one of the best cornerback coaches in the college ranks.
“It’s not all about getting on the field (early). It’s about getting developed and getting everything out of your ability, and I think coach Coombs is a guy that can do that. And he made that point to myself. He said, ‘I’m gonna grind him. I’m gonna be hard on him.’ But the good thing is it’s no different than the type of coaching he’s getting from me at DeSmet. And JK likes that type of coaching style. He wants to be pushed.”
Steeples is a former cornerback who played for Missouri and Memphis, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the St. Louis Rams, appeared in two games for the Minnesota Vikings and spent time on the practice squads of the Rams, Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.
Seeing an NFL coach like Coombs come into the building at DeSmet had Steeples excited to talk about the game with the former Tennessee Titans secondary coach.
“I’m definitely a coach Coombs advocate. I have the utmost respect for him as a coach, especially being a cornerbacks guy myself,” Steeples said. “We just talk ball back and forth. Some things that I’ve experienced playing the position for 18 years and the things he’s experienced in coaching it for about 20-something. I think whoever gets him as a coach is getting a hell of a coach and a hell of a man – with his high school background, he gets it. I can’t say that about everybody.”