If Ohio State’s No. 3, 4 and 5 commitments in its 2022 class are any indication of its defensive recruiting strategy, it looks like we are bound to see a repeat of how it attacked the 2021 cycle.
The Buckeyes landed their fifth commitment in the 2022 class with the pledge of four-star Kansas athlete Dasan McCullough, and we take a closer look at what his commitment gives the Buckeyes on and off the field.
On the field
Where McCullough fits onto the defensive side of the field depends on what college you ask.
Michigan saw the long and rangy 6-foot-5, 220-pounder transforming into a big-bodied safety. Texas wanted McCullough to be a hybrid linebacker/safety. Ohio State, however, has been adamant about recruiting McCullough as an outside Sam linebacker all along, and that is where his future likeliest lies for the Buckeyes.
“Sam is a position where you can play the overhang. Can play on the edge and blitz at a nine-technique,” Ohio State linebackers coach Al Washington told Eleven Warriors in December, detailing the types of players the Buckeyes target on the recruiting trail. “The ability to rush the passer falls in there. Can he cover? Can he walk out and cover the slot? Can he blitz? Usually, on the field that’s what we look for.”
Washington and the Buckeyes are looking for physical outside linebackers who can body up on bigger tight ends and lay hits in the run game but also have the lateral quickness, speed and athleticism to hang with slot receivers.
Those are types of attributes that describe McCullough, a prospect Washington has been very high on, and the Buckeye coaching staff believes he has a chance to become a special player in Columbus.
He’s strong and powerful enough that he can match up with tight ends and shed blocks, is a willing tackler not afraid to lay a hit down, has the speed to blitz off the edge, and his safety-like foot quickness and speed allows him to cover slot receivers. A former standout basketball player, too, McCullough showcased athleticism, adept dribbling ability and a shooter's touch as a “stretch five” playing the sport he fell in love with first before he gravitated solely to football after his freshman year to focus on developing his body for the gridiron and to avoid injury.
Those traits are what make McCullough so valuable, and that skill set is exactly why Ohio State made him an early priority target in 2022 and why it was so high on him.
“In my head, I’m athletic enough to play safety and move around like that,” McCullough told Eleven Warriors. “But after (Washington) explained the whole (Sam linebacker) position to me, I really liked it because they do a lot of covering and a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think a linebacker would do. I’m still gonna be real versatile in what I do moving around. I’m all for it, and I’m ready to work. I’ve been working on everything recently.”
By landing McCullough, the Buckeyes got their own version of former Clemson star Isaiah Simmons who, like McCullough, played his high school ball in Kansas – less than 30 minutes away from Blue Valley North at Olathe North High School – and Washington also sees some comparisons to a former Buckeye standout.
“(Washington) sees some comparisons in Malik Harrison, but I’m gonna be bigger than him size- and height-wise,” McCullough said. “But he wasn’t pinning me to anyone specifically, which is why he thinks it’s gonna be even more special because I’m about 6-5 right now. I don’t think they have any 6-5 outside linebackers currently. Probably when I get to college, I’ll be about 6-5.5 once I’m done growing, and then I’ll be around 230 or 225 (pounds). The only real comparison, for me, is Isaiah Simmons, honestly. That’s the only one that people can see right now, just from a development standpoint it’s kind of the same build as Isaiah Simmons is.”
In part because of that growth in height, there's at least a chance – like fellow outside linebacker commit Gabe Powers – that McCullough could wind up transitioning to defensive end if his body naturally goes that way, but the plan is for both of them to be outside linebackers.
Off the field
McCullough has grown up in a football family, with his father Deland McCullough working his way up from star running back and eventual grad assistant at Miami (Ohio) to running backs coach stops at Indiana and USC before taking the same role for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs starting in 2018. Dasan's grandfather also played for the RedHawks, and his older brother Deland McCullough II is a defensive back at Miami (Ohio).
“Obviously, with my dad being a coach, you don’t have to tell me, when football’s turned on, football’s turned on,” McCullough said. “You have to be a little different than everybody, a little more amped up than everybody. I like how focused they are during the season and how determined they are to win.”
The youngest McCullough's relationships with those on the Buckeye staff have been strong as the two sides see eye-to-eye, with the Cincinnati native being confident in his No. 1 goal.
“There’s gonna be nothing like winning a national championship and bringing it back to where my whole family tree is from,” McCullough said. “There’s not gonna be a better feeling than when that happens.”
In the class
After landing only three linebackers in the 2020 class, with only one true linebacker (Cody Simon) to team with Mitchell Melton (a possible defensive end) and Kourt Williams II (a possible linebacker/safety hybrid), the Buckeyes had hoped to grab multiple pure linebackers in 2021. It appears they have missed out, however, with in-state stud Reid Carrico at Mike linebacker being the only commit in the cycle to pair with Jaylen Johnson, who is expected to transition to outside linebacker but has played safety in high school.
There wasn't a ton of worry about missing out on linebackers in those two classes, however, because of the depth Ohio State has at its disposal right now with juniors Teradja Mitchell, K'Vaughan Pope and Dallas Gant waiting in the wings after Baron Browning, Pete Werner, Tuf Borland and Justin Hilliard exhaust their eligibility, along with second-year linebackers Craig Young and Tommy Eichenberg.
That said, Linebacker is one of the program's biggest positions of need in the 2022 class, and Ohio State has now addressed that with the commitments of C.J. Hicks, Powers and McCullough – all outside linebackers who have the ability to stop the run and drop into coverage on receivers and tight ends.
Ohio State is likely to shoot for a class of four linebackers. The top remaining target is Mike linebacker Shawn Murphy, while Jalon Walker and Justin Medlock are two more 'backers Washington is high on.
|2020||CHRIS TYREE||APB||NOTRE DAME|
|2019||DYLAN WRIGHT||WR||TEXAS A&M|
|2018||HOUSTON GRIFFITH||CB||NOTRE DAME|
|2017||WILLIE GAY JR.||OLB||MISSISSIPPI STATE|
The fact that Ohio State made both Hicks and McCullough priorities in its 2022 class continues to show the program's focus and intent on bringing in essentially positionless linebackers who can be used all over the field to combat explosive and surgical spread offenses.
“They think the dangerous thing about me and C.J. is you’re getting two dudes that are 6-4 or 6-5 that are high school safeties coming into college playing linebacker, who are that athletic and have that much experience on coverage and in blitzing, with the way C.J.’s high school moves him around and how my high school moves me around,” McCullough said. “That’s just a real dangerous combination to have two outside linebackers that are that athletic and moving around who are that big.
“Me and (C.J.) have a real great relationship. We talk a lot, and we have big plans and expectations for each other. We’re coming in there to make history. When it’s all said and done, it’s gonna be hard to find a linebacker duo like us. It’s gonna be real special.”