Elite Challenging Elite Has Been Part of Ohio State's Successful Recruiting Strategy for Years, Star Ranking “Doesn’t Really Matter” for Ryan Day and Company

By Zack Carpenter on May 2, 2020 at 9:20 am
Branden Bowen, Chase Young

​We know that the “iron sharpens iron” mantra is about as cliché as sports clichés get. Doesn’t mean it’s not true or effective, though.

And when we talk about the Buckeyes continuing to build a special recruiting class in 2021, you have to look at that being a key factor at play. Once one elite star sees another elite star going to a school, it can kick-start a trickle-down effect that makes the school look that much more appealing, and that’s what is happening at Ohio State. 

Tunmise Adeleye already told us that he and the fellow commits in his class want to have “the most first-rounders ever” in a class. And the groundwork has already been laid in Columbus, as blue-chip players have been turning each other into NFL-caliber players year after year at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. 

It’s all part of a recruiting strategy for Ryan Day and Co. to drive home that point to prospective Buckeyes – that development from coaches like Mickey Marotti, Kerry Coombs and Larry Johnson is all heavily supplemented by being able to practice across from future all-conference stars.

“There’s a lot of guys in the same boat that don’t end up in the first round,” Day said this week via teleconference. “So I just think that it’s a combination of everything that we have at Ohio State – our resources, our employees, our coaches and how we develop in our weight room and the work ethic with everything that Coach Mick does with the physical, mental, emotional and football development. You look at what Jeff Hafley and Kerry Coombs did with Jeff Okudah and then you look at what Larry Johnson did with Chase Young. And the list goes on and on and on. It’s all those things mixed up into one. 

“And the last part of it is – and this is why so many recruits come to Ohio State – is every day you’re going against one of the best. Chase Young, as a freshman, was going against Jamarco Jones every day. If you’re a freshman and you’re Dawand Jones, you’re going against Chase Young every day. If you’re Jonah Jackson, you’re going against DaVon Hamilton every day. Jeff Okudah was going against Terry McLaurin every day. You’re playing against great players every day, and that competition only makes you better. We say iron sharpens iron, and that’s a big deal. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

It’s something that we’ve detailed before when it comes to the heralded 2020 receivers class – a quartet set up to have some monster battles with each other for playing time over the next few years.

“We push each other on a regular basis,” receiver Gee Scott Jr. said in February. “It’s not like ‘I need to beat you out.’ That’s what I love about it. It’s more like ‘We’re going to push each other and get better together.’ This environment has been great to be around.”

Said defensive back Ryan Watts that same day: “It’s already started, honestly, the battle between the receivers and the DBs. But I feel really confident. I’m already seeing that it’s gonna make us better because we don’t wanna lose to the receivers. (Wednesday), we had tug-of-war, and when I would go against the receivers, you just don’t wanna lose. It’s just really been making me better. I’ve been really getting sore from all that hard extra (work). It just really brings out that extra dog in you.”

That mentality trickled down to the 2021 recruits, who are also excited about the prospect of being molded by their star peers. It’s why the Buckeyes were able to bring in two of the best running backs in the country in the same class in TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor.

“We’re both going to be working extremely hard to be getting on the field, and every rep is going to count,” Henderson told Eleven Warriors this week. “So by that, we’re going to be pushing each other to our best potential.”

Jack Sawyer is another who understands how the elite can be crafted by the elite. He told us earlier this week that that’s one of the prime reasons he’s so excited to have to scramble around to try and bring down – OK, gently wrap up – fellow 2021 commit Kyle McCord in practice:

“I think his potential is unlimited," defensive end Jack Sawyer said. “He's got all the tools to be a phenomenal player for many years and even in the NFL. And I'm super excited to go up against him in practice because I'm going to be going up against the best.

“I think he's more athletic than people give him credit for. So going up against a quarterback like him that can move around in the pocket is going to be great for when we play teams with versatile quarterbacks.”

Star talk

Having players develop each other into pros isn’t the only recruiting subject Day addressed this week. He was also asked about the importance of the number of stars next to a player’s name. Stars are something that us recruiting writers take into strong consideration. But, as expected, Day and his staff decidedly do not – in part because their own evaluations of a player wind up being a driving force in a player’s ranking anyway.

“I think that a lot of the scouting sites base their rankings on who the schools are that offer,” Day said. “I don’t know their process, but I think a lot of what they put weight into, in terms of giving guys three, four or five stars, is based off the offers that they get. We don’t base anything off of what stars they have. If you look at the guys in the first round – there were some guys that were five, four and some with three, and there were guys that weren’t even ranked. That doesn’t really matter, and it’s the same thing with draft picks. Guys still have to go play.”

(Day is spot on in his take on rankings, by the way, as the notion that players’ rankings are often dictated by the quality of offers they receive is something that 247Sports recruiting analysts Barton Simmons and Bud Elliott, two writers who have a large hand in creating the star rankings, freely admitted is part of the rankings process on two of their latest podcast episodes of “Barton & Bud.”)

“You’re playing against great players every day, and that competition only makes you better. We say iron sharpens iron, and that’s a big deal. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”– Ryan Day

In that teleconference, Day also gave a bit of a rundown of the initial evaluation process the staff undergoes when initially breaking down a recruit and deciding whether they want to pursue that player.

It starts with director of player personnel Mark Pantoni doing his own evaluation, watching highlight tape and game tape. From there, the position coaches, coordinators and Day do their own film breakdown to evaluate “where we think they are and where we think they’re headed,” Day said. “Stars and all that stuff, sometimes it has to do with the exposure they get of going into camps and doing different things. But at the end of the day, I think there’s a lot of influence based on the amount of offers they get.

“If a kid gets offers from some of the best schools in the country, that means multiple staffs have respect for his talent level and his potential, and they probably deserve a higher ranking. But at the end of the day, rankings don’t mean anything unless you get there. You’ve gotta go produce. That’s why I’m so proud of Chase and Jeff, just the way that in three years they came in here and really flourished in that third year.”

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