Can Tony Alford strike gold once again?
For Tony Alford, 2019 was mostly a year of criticism. J.K. Dobbins was coming off a sophomore season that saw him take a step backward as his yards per carry went from 7.2 in 2017 all the way down to 4.6. While most realized that Dwayne Haskins' inability to threaten defenses with his legs was a big part of that, it wasn't the best look for a usually potent ground attack.
The biggest criticism, however, was on the recruiting trail for the 2020 class. Bijan Robinson sided with Tom Herman and the Horns. Kendall Milton signed with Georgia. Jaylan Knighton ended up in Miami. And Ohio State ultimately ended up with Cincinnati's Miyan Williams; a three-star and the country's No. 45 player at the position. Needless to say, it was a rough cycle for Alford.
The latter part of 2019, however, was when things started to turn. J.K. Dobbins began his 2,000-yard, 21-touchdown campaign as the Buckeye offense was once again firing on all cylinders. Then, as the spring of 2020 approached, Alford had Ohio State positioned to land two of the nation's top backs for the Class of 2021. By the end of March, Alford had landed both TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor; giving the Buckeyes the nation's best pair of backs.
Ryan Day already has the Buckeyes off and running for the Class of 2022. And with the 2021 duo in the fold, Alford can shift his recruiting efforts as he looks for a repeat performance. Ohio State's recruiting needs for 2022 will be figured out in the months to come, but for now, we're betting on another pair for the Buckeye backfield.
Alford has extended offers to nine 2022 running backs thus far, but right now there are two already standing out above the rest in terms of the reciprocated interest and the likelihood of them ending up in Columbus.
James Franklin has struggled immensely when it comes to keeping top prospects in the state. We've seen it with Julian Fleming and now Kyle McCord and Marvin Harrison Jr. The state's No. 3 prospect for 2022 is the country's seventh-best tailback, and it could be yet another Midwest battle in the works.
Reading, Pennsylvania's Nicholas Singleton rushed for 1,700 yards and 32 touchdowns as a sophomore, and he now holds offers from all of the Midwest powers and other national programs like Southern Cal and Tennessee. He ran a 4.59 forty prior to his sophomore year and his highlight tape shows a shifty back with plenty of big-play potential. I've heard some chatter of the Buckeyes being in the top spot right now, but Penn State has been on Singleton for a long time now and Notre Dame is also a major contender.
Gerogia has given the Buckeyes some problems with talented running back prospects dating back to Zamir White in the Class of 2018. This time around, the other name we're watching most closely hails from the Peach State, but the Bulldogs have yet to extend an offer. Damari Alston is the country's No. 27 tailback, and the four-star already holds offers from most of the SEC powers. Ohio State entered the picture last month when Alford extended an offer.
It's too early to really get a feel for the Alston recruitment – especially with the SEC in hot pursuit – but I'm of the belief that the 5-foot-11, 205-pounder has quickly emerged as one of Alford's top guys on the 2022 board. His highlights show a player who gets big chunks of yardage after contact despite not being the biggest back. Florida may be the favorite at the moment, but there's a long way to go here and we'll see what happens if Georgia offers the Atlanta (Woodward Academy) star.
Again, we're expecting Ohio State to end up with a pair of backs in 2022. Cincinnati La Salle's Gi'Bran Payne is the No. 6 player in the state and holds offers from Alabama, Florida, and several other power programs. The Buckeyes have yet to throw their hat into the ring with Payne. Canal Winchester's Stephan Byrd is the state's second-ranked back in the class. Tennessee, Michigan, and Iowa State have all offered, and Byrd is likely another one that Alford will be watching.
We were all looking forward to seeing what he could do with Trey Sermon this fall, and hopefully we'll get to find out sooner rather than later. Thanks to Tony Alford, the future of the Buckeye backfield looks to be bright for the foreseeable future.