In the summer of 2019, I was hired onto the Ohio State recruiting beat at Eleven Warriors and rolled into town in mid-September with the Buckeyes in the midst of rattling off what was probably the most impressive, dominant regular season they’ve had in the past decade.
No game was even close until the Penn State win in November, and even that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard indicated. Ohio State wasn’t challenged until Wisconsin came knocking in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Simultaneously, the Buckeyes were hardly challenged on the recruiting trail during my first several months here, and the past year-and-a-half has been, well, kind of a cake walk in terms of recruiting coverage in this sense…
Every week, it seemed like I was writing about how Ohio State was killing it in recruiting, and it started to become a bit of a challenge to come up with new ways to say Ohio State is killing it in recruiting.
My last interview with Jack Sawyer was actually funny when I brought that up to him last December, and he quipped back with, “Yeah, you came along at the right time didn’t you?”
So I compiled a list of the top-10 Ohio State recruiting storylines from my time here, which spans a little more than 19 months. Just to drive home the point, the following is not a list of the top recruiting storylines since Ryan Day took over (which is why things like stealing Julian Fleming out of Pennsylvania or finally landing Zach Harrison are not headlining the list), rather just during my time here.
Hope you enjoy, and I’m sure I got every single pick correct and you won’t have any issues with any on the list…
10. Ohio State flips Jordan Hancock
Individually, stealing Hancock was a big deal because, while Ohio State had defensive backs galore already in the class, it needed another top-tier stud in the cycle to make amends for some shortcomings in the previous couple of classes. Making it sweeter for the Buckeyes was to get one over on Dabo Swinney, Brent Venables and the Tigers.
That Ohio State-Clemson rivalry on the field became real, but the rivalry in recruiting was perhaps even more noticeable. That seemed to become more palpable in 2019 and was easily a top-10 storyline. The Hancock flip was as good of a microcosm of that as you’ll find.
9. Peer recruiting takes off
Mark Pantoni once said that the 2021 recruiting class did as good, or better, of a job recruiting each other and building relationships with each other as any class he had ever seen. Ryan Day holds the belief that recruits recruiting recruits is just as important, probably moreso, than even the coaches doing the recruiting.
The 2020, 2021 and 2022 classes – especially the latter two – for the Buckeyes were exemplary of that. Day has built a foundation in his program of keeping a family-like atmosphere within the class, and he seems to have done that. More on that in a moment.
8. Buckeyes flip pair of Oklahoma commits
The first big news in the fall of 2019 was when Ryan Watts finally let it known that he had decommitted from Oklahoma and subsequently committed to the Buckeyes. We could see that flip pay dividends for the Buckeyes in the 2021 season, and we could see the same with Jantzen Dunn as the third-string deep safety.
We covered the story in detail about Dunn’s one-hour flip from Oklahoma to Ohio State, which was the wildest story I’ve covered in the past year, and many analysts who have been doing this for a lot longer than me have said it’s up there as one of the strangest they’ve encountered.
Again, just like with the Hancock flip from Clemson, the overarching context of those two flips is what’s most important. Ohio State showed recruiting supremacy over Oklahoma, one of its main opponents on the recruiting trail. One of the more telling quotes that shows that came from Mitchell Dunn, Jantzen’s dad, who when I asked him what the main reason was that they chose the Buckeyes over the Sooners responded, pretty simply, “Shit, I mean, it’s Ohio State, bro.”
7. Keeping it up during pandemic
The COVID-19-induced dead period had been less than a week old when Ohio State landed a commitment from borderline five-star corner Jakailin Johnson. And then another one came. And another. And another. Pretty soon, the Buckeyes had become the biggest national story in recruiting during March and April of 2020 (and, with the sports world on pause, it really became a national story outside of just the ‘croot-sphere).
Day and Co. not only kept momentum rolling in landing blue-chipper after blue-chipper; they also kept the infrastructure of the 2021 class intact throughout those coming months through Zoom. The best example of that was the class-wide virtual meetups the coaches had when they would get the entire 2021 class and their families on one Zoom call for bonding purposes. Those served a similar function as team dinners.
6. Clark Phillips flips to Utah
I got absolutely eviscerated when I made a huge deal out of the former top-50 overall player and top-five cornerback in 2020 making a last-minute decision to flip from Ohio State to Utah when Jeff Hafley left for Boston College.
Again, I admit that I was a bit hyperbolic when I said it was a devastating blow for the Buckeyes. And we had yet to report that Kerry Coombs was returning to Ohio State and that defensive back recruiting was going to be just fine despite the Phillips flip.
Phillips looked awesome for the Utes in his freshman season, and the Buckeyes absolutely could have used his talent during a 2020 season in which the passing defense was abysmal and the downfall in the national championship game. Ohio State doesn’t beat Alabama with Phillips on board, but he certainly would have helped. And he would have fought for a starting spot in 2021 and 2022 even though slot corner is in a good spot with Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez.
5. Receiver recruiting skyrockets
Brian Hartline already had four top-100 prospects in the fold in 2020. It would’ve been hard to duplicate that in the 2021 class. So excuse for him only landing three top-100 guys in the 2021 class. Oh, and then another five-star and another borderline top-100 guy in 2022.
The Buckeyes got the No. 1 receiver in 2020 (Julian Fleming) and 2021 (Emeka Egbuka) and stacked it in 2022 (Caleb Burton was ranked No. 1 at the time of his commitment before sliding to No. 3 because of an injury that kept him out of his junior season).
Ohio State is going to have either the best or second-best receiver units in college football for the foreseeable future, and that can’t be listed as anything less than a top-five storyline.
4. Kerry Coombs returns
As alluded to above, when rumblings of Coombs’ return popped up in December 2019 to replace Hafley, it was about as safe of a bet as any that defensive back recruiting, and specifically cornerback recruiting, would be in good hands. Coombs proceeded to spearhead the charge for the Buckeyes to land Jakailin Johnson, Hancock, Andre Turrentine, Jantzen Dunn and Denzel Burke over the next five months, and they added five-star Jaheim Singletary and four-star Jyaire Brown in 2022.
Coombs still has work to do in a 2022 recruiting class that is filthy with cornerback talent, but the position has been stockpiled for the future.
3. Buckeyes land TreVeyon Henderson
I came to the beat a few months removed from the Bijan Robinson-Kendall Milton-Jaylan Knighton saga in which the five-star Robinson was silently committed to Ohio State before he changed his mind and went to Texas. Ohio State settled for three-star Miyan Williams in that 2020 class, but Williams could wind up being the real deal.
But Tony Alford needed to hit a home run in the 2021 class, and instead he hit a grand slam. Just 11 days landing four-star and top-80 overall talent Evan Pryor (the No. 2 all-purpose back in the country), Alford and the Buckeyes secured a commitment from five-star TreVeyon Henderson. Hailed as the most complete running back prospect in the past decade, Henderson signed with the Buckeyes as the No. 1 running back in the country and was the No. 3-ranked running back signee in Ohio State history behind Beanie Wells and Sam Maldonado.
Henderson is going to be a star in Columbus for the next three years before heading off to the NFL. Getting him was nearly the most impactful one-player haul at skill position as the Buckeyes got over the past year-and-a-half.
2. C.J. Stroud commits, Quinn Ewers flips
We say nearly because it’s obvious who holds that No. 1 spot: Quinn Ewers. The highest-ranked Ohio State commit in program history, the five-star quarterback who is ranked as the No. 1 overall player in the 2022 class is also one of just six players ever to hold a perfect 1.000 score in the composite rankings.
Preceding Ewers picking the Buckeyes was fellow five-star signal caller Kyle McCord committing to the class of 2021 (the first five-star quarterback signee for the Buckeyes since Braxton Miller in 2011), and then the Buckeyes pulled fast-rising 2020 four-star C.J. Stroud out of California during the early signing period.
Hand-picking McCord over eventual Michigan five-star signee J.J. McCarthy was the first major move at the position for Day (in high school recruiting, that is, as he had already gotten Justin Fields to pick the Buckeyes after his transfer from Georgia). Then to get Stroud was the next step that signaled Ohio State was becoming a haven for the best quarterback talent in the country. Landing Ewers put it over the top.
Day has not been shy about wanting to make Ohio State QBU, competing mainly with Oklahoma and Clemson for that crown. He may one day get his wish, and the country’s most talented passers are already seeing that vision.
1. Ryan Day keeps the train moving
When he was first hired, Day seemed to push all the right buttons in recruiting from the jump. He prioritized the exact three players he needed to prioritize in Zach Harrison (who I know I said at the top I wasn’t going to mention here, but here I am mentioning it anyway), Paris Johnson Jr. and Jack Sawyer in successive classes.
And he did so strategically, going to see them in person and spending time with them and not being overly pushy about getting Harrison to the Buckeyes, trying to give any sort of ultimatum to Johnson or pushing for a commitment from Sawyer.
That part happened before my time here. What happened over the last 18 months was a tad absurd.
As Colin detailed just a couple weeks ago, there were real questions about whether or not Day could keep up with what Urban Meyer had built when he took over. Fans and media came by those concerns honestly. Meyer was arguably the best recruiter in college football history, so how in the hell would Day be able to at least match it?
Flash forward all this time later, and it’s arguable that he’s done even better. He kept almost all of the 2020 class intact, signed one of the best classes in program history (second-best in terms of average player rating) that is already paying dividends less than five months into its tenure, and he looks well on his way to signing another top-three or top-four class in 2022.
As our own Andy Vance once said, Ohio State is in its golden age right now, and it looks as if it’s in the right hands on the recruiting trail to keep the shine going for the next several years.
I’m sure I missed one or two big ones, or perhaps some low-key storylines. Which ones should have made the list and which ones should have been left off? Let us know in the comments.