Scott Vossler still remembers his drive to the bucket four years ago in a middle school student-faculty basketball game.
The social studies teacher dribbled into the paint and got taught a lesson of his own. Don’t drive the lane on Tristan Leigh.
Already at 6-foot-2 as a junior-high kid, Leigh sent a Vossler shot attempt back in his face, and Vossler had one thought.
“‘Man, this is a kid?’” Vossler recalls.
The head coach of Robinson Secondary’s (Virginia) football program, Vossler saw then what he would proceed to see over the next few years. He saw a kid who possessed unique spatial awareness for someone at his size and age and one who was athletic as anyone else on the court. Vossler says that even though Leigh “wasn’t that tall yet” back then (us sub-6-footers would beg to differ on 6-2 being considered not very tall), the way he could move for his age and build was impressive.
Over the next 3-4 years, Leigh would sprout up, growing to the 6-foot-5, 270 pounds he stands at now as a five-star offensive tackle and one of America’s 11-best players in the 2021 recruiting class. Throughout that time, it didn’t matter the growth and physical development Leigh went through, he never lost the gifts he brought with him to the basketball court.
“Even through his growth spurts and his added weight, he’s never lost that twitchiness that he had when he was a smaller kid,” Vossler told Eleven Warriors. “It’s just rare. He’s able to do stuff from a pass protection and skill standpoint that – I mean, I’ve coached a kid as an offensive lineman that played a little bit in the (NFL), and Tristan’s natural ability is noticeably superior to what that kid’s was at the high school age.
“He is super physical. We run the ball a ton so he’s kind of developed a nasty streak in run blocking, which I think is rare for some of the top tackles across the country. A lot of them are passing a lot in high school and because of that they don’t have that off-the-ball nastiness that he’s developed. He’s super athletic.”
You can see all of that on his junior-season tape. You can see it on just about any workout video or photo he posts on Twitter. You can see it on the film from January’s All-American Bowl, where he became a breakout star on the national circuit by winning MVP of the underclassman National Combine. That’s when his ranking shot up from No. 168 overall all the way up to No. 117 and eventually No. 15 a couple of weeks later. From middle-of-the-pack four-star to five-star sensation.
Leigh’s recruitment and national attention ballooned that week, with offers from Oregon and Georgia coming over the next two days. Clemson and Oklahoma offers came soon after, adding to an already-impressive list of offers from Ohio State, LSU and Alabama – the latter five of which make up Leigh’s list of the final five schools he’s considering in his recruitment.
“He’s got his five finalists. He’s pretty bummed that he won’t be able to make official visits until January now,” Vossler said. “He’s really kind of torn about how to proceed. He has been to everywhere on his final list, but he hasn’t necessarily gotten to meet the players he’s gonna be on the team with and seen campus with a coach every time. He’s had to do some stuff on his own.
“It’s a weird situation to have to make a big decision like that, but he’s not the only one in those shoes. There’s no guarantee those visits are gonna happen so he’s kind of kicking around, if this is all I get to do visit-wise, where am I at, decision-wise? I think he’s kind of weighing that in his head.”
At this point, there’s no concrete decision timeline for Leigh. Before the impromptu recruiting dead period was set in March, the plan had always been on a June or July commitment. When that impromptu dead period turned into one that still has no real end in sight, the thought turned to maybe at the end of the season.
And now, with no fall season to point to (the Virginia High School League has still not lifted its stance on pushing the football season back to the spring), there’s still no clear-cut answer for when Leigh wants to decide.
“With the pushback on visits, if he’s not gonna be able to go visit anywhere, I don’t know how long he would hold off his visit in the long run because what’s gonna change?” Vossler said. “He’s weighing things with his family and thinking about what he wants to do and is getting his mind settled.
“He’ll be able to early enroll, but his brother’s (Aidan Leigh) a sophomore. He’s kicking around the idea that if we play in the spring, this is his only shot where he’s gonna be able to play with his little brother. So he’s thinking about sticking around for a spring season so he’s got a lot of things weighing on his mind. I don’t know if he’s gonna be ready to make a decision until he sees some clarity on if we’re gonna have a spring season and on if visits are gonna happen. So I think he’s in a wait-and-see mode for now.”
As has been reported several times, it does appear that LSU is working closer to locking up the five-star talent, and that’s the belief from the Buckeyes’ camp of 2021 commits. That was already a belief, but it grew stronger when Leigh made two straight weekend trips to Baton Rouge last month. The second trip had already been planned well in advance, but the first trip was a spur of the moment decision. When Leigh found out a bunch of Tigers recruits were heading down, he joined them for that weekend, and with the plane tickets and hotel accommodations already paid for the following weekend, they went ahead and made both trips.
That being said, the fact that he made both those trips is still telling of how he views LSU. He loved both visits to Baton Rouge, and he loved his visit to Oklahoma for the Sooner Summit in August.
Ohio State is very much in the trail position here, but it is not quite out of the race just yet. As mentioned above, maybe the biggest factor in Leigh’s recruitment is getting to meet the players who will be his future teammates to get a gauge on whether or not he could see himself on the same team with them for three or four years.
“He’s always been a people person, so getting to know some of these recruits and where they’re going, I could see that playing a little bit of an effect on where he ends up,” Vossler said. “He’s one of those guys on our team, so I think he’s really looking for that when he goes to the next level is to be around guys that he considers very close friends.”
So that’s why getting Leigh on campus for the Buckeye Bash on Oct. 24 is of monster importance for Ohio State. Leigh, his brother and his mom are working on arrangements to make the trip to Columbus (which would be their first since November’s visit for the game against Penn State), but nothing is confirmed yet – those efforts were first reported by 247Sports' Bill Kurelic and Steve Wiltfong.
Recruiting is all about momentum, and whoever gets the final visit before a player goes into decision mode can get that momentum. If the Buckeyes get Leigh on campus – if he’s surrounded by a group of commits whose closeness has been well-documented by us – it could do wonders for Ohio State as it tries to pull out a come-from-behind win.