Including the recruiting class of 2021, Ohio State has landed at least five commitments from five different states dating back to the recruiting class of 2018.
Of course, Ohio has produced the most Ohio State signees and commitments (25 between the classes of 2018-21). Two of the others are among the nation’s three most populous states (Texas and Florida). New Jersey has been a regular source of talent for the Buckeyes – they’ve signed 10 players from the state dating back to 2013 – and they drew heavily from Greg Schiano and Jeff Hafley’s Jersey backgrounds to land players from that state in recent years.
The fifth state, though, isn’t one to which the Buckeyes have deep ties. Missouri hasn’t historically been a state that has regularly sent football players to Columbus, and no coaches on their current staff have a history of coaching or living there.
Yet the Buckeyes have landed five players from Missouri in a four-class span; most recently, Jakailin Johnson, the top prospect in the state and No. 4 cornerback nationally for the recruiting class of 2021, who committed to Ohio State on Sunday.
More specifically, those players haven’t just come from Missouri; they’ve all come from the city of St. Louis.
Ohio State landed two players from the same St. Louis high school, Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown, in the class of 2018. They landed the state of Missouri’s top prospect, Jameson Williams, out of Cardinal Ritter College Prep in the class of 2019. Another St. Louis wide receiver, Mookie Cooper, arrived at Ohio State in January as a member of the class of 2020. Johnson, from De Smet Jesuit High School, is now set to join Brown in Ohio State’s cornerback room in the class of 2021.
In the process, Ohio State has landed more four- and five-star prospects from the state of Missouri than any other school in those four classes. Notre Dame has landed three, while Illinois, in-state Missouri and Oklahoma have each landed two, but Ohio State has increasingly become a destination for the state’s top players.
Before 2018, Ohio State had signed only one scholarship player from Missouri in the previous 13 years. That one player, though, was Ezekiel Elliott – also from St. Louis – who became a superstar in his three years with the Buckeyes, leading Ohio State to a national championship in 2014 and rushing for more than 1,800 yards in each of his final two seasons in Columbus. He’s since gone on to become an NFL star with the Dallas Cowboys, and both Williams and Cooper say that Elliott’s success at Ohio State serves as an inspiration to them as fellow St. Louisans.
“I think Zeke kicked it off,” Williams told Eleven Warriors at media day before the Fiesta Bowl. “My oldest brother ran track with Zeke, so I knew Zeke growing up and stuff like that. So Zeke brought motivation to me. I always looked up to Zeke.”
Along with Elliott, other Ohio State players from St. Louis have included 1990s running back Butler B’ynote’, 2000s defensive back Nick Patterson and special teamer Zach Turnure, who finished his Ohio State career on scholarship in 2017 but began his career as a walk-on.
Once Babb and Brown signed with Ohio State in 2018, they started a trend that Williams, Cooper and Johnson have since followed. Former wide receivers coach Zach Smith was the primary recruiter for both Babb and Brown, and his replacement, Brian Hartline, has maintained a steady presence in the area since he became wide receivers coach, leading the way to the Buckeyes’ latest three commitments from the Gateway to the West.
Cooper said he talked to Williams several times a week during his Ohio State recruitment, and Williams said the opportunity to play with others from his city was one exciting part about becoming a Buckeye.
“People from the crib, I love to play with them, especially because I didn’t get a chance to play with them in high school,” Williams said. “I played against Mookie Cooper in high school, but I never got a chance to play against Cam Brown and Kam Babb. But it’s like a family reuniting, basically.”
Add in walk-on wide receiver Chris Booker – who hails from the John Burroughs School, the same high school as Elliott – and Ohio State’s roster currently has more players from St. Louis than any other city outside Ohio.
St. Louis isn’t particularly close to Columbus, but it’s still close enough to make Ohio State an attractive option for top recruits who want to play for one of the best college football teams in the country. And for some of them, like Cooper, there was an appeal to getting away from St. Louis and living in a new environment.
“The environment just being in Columbus really, that was the biggest thing for me,” Cooper said during an interview session at Ohio State in February. “St. Louis is hard. You ain’t gotta worry about too much going on (in Columbus), you can just be here, be the student-athlete and just take care of everything you gotta take care of.”
Now that so many of them are playing together at Ohio State, though, they certainly take pride in representing their city and showing what football players from the 314 can do.
“St. Louis is not Cali, Texas, Florida, none of that,” Cooper said. “So we’re just coming here to show St. Louis got the same amount of dogs, too.”
St. Louis might not draw the same level of national attention for producing football players as some other cities and states, but it’s certainly captured Ohio State’s attention, and after reaping the rewards with Elliott, the Buckeyes appear set to have a notable St. Louis presence for years to come.
Brown and Williams are both candidates to have breakthrough seasons for Ohio State in 2020, as Brown is among the top candidates to start at cornerback while Williams is expected to be in this year’s wide receiver rotation. Babb has been set back by knee injuries since he arrived at Ohio State, but he was named by Mickey Marotti’s strength and conditioning staff as one of the Buckeyes’ most improved players in winter workouts.
Cooper is just starting his Ohio State career as a true freshman, but he’s expected to push for early playing time as a slot receiver and punt/kick returner, and Johnson has the talent to contend for playing time right away when he arrives in Ohio State’s cornerback room next year.
And given the groundwork that Hartline and Ohio State’s coaching staff have already laid in St. Louis, there’s reason to believe the Buckeyes will continue to be a player for even more top prospects from the area. The Buckeyes have also shown interest in Travion Ford, a four-star defensive end from St. Louis’ Lutheran North High School in the class of 2021, and it certainly won’t be a surprise if Ohio State emerges as a potential destination for whoever becomes the Gateway City’s top prospects in 2022 and beyond.