There’s no higher priority at cornerback for Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2023 than landing AJ Harris.
AJ's father, Daniel Harris, spent a few minutes on the phone with Eleven Warriors Monday to answer a few questions about Harris' recruitment and how the Ohio State visit went. Topics discussed ranged from the visit itself to the elder Harris' previous concern over AJ's lack of a relationship with defensive backs coach Matt Barnes, considering Barnes has taken over play-calling duties from Harris' primary recruiter, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs, and Coombs' future with the team seems murky at best. While Ryan Day told reporters last week he had not fielded any questions to that point from recruits or their families about the shifting of responsibilities on his defensive staff, let's just say that changed this weekend.
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Q: What were your overall impressions of the visit?
Daniel Harris: “It was great. I know one thing we really learned as a family is it’s important for AJ to get around the guys. (At other visits), AJ always meets a DB or a player or two, but coach Coombs invited us to the team hotel Friday night when we got there, we got to go around and his mother and I got to go around and meet parents and AJ got to meet the players. That’s a dynamic we all really realized is important because the love from the players is more important than love from the coaches and the staff, because you’re going to be around the players more than you’re going to be around the coaches and the staff. That was an important dynamic to us, that was a nice little twist.”
Q: What did you think of the scheme Saturday? It seemed like they played a lot of press but they also mixed it up with other different schemes a little bit.
Harris: "Well, it’s funny you say that, to be honest, they hadn’t been mixing it up, they were being stubborn and staying in straight press-man. I noticed that there had been some scheme changes this weekend, so that was a nice little twist for us to see as well. We know that the pro scouts have man as the bread and butter of course. But one of AJ’s trainers works out with (Carolina Panthers cornerback) Jaycee Horn, and he was saying with all of these pick routes and rub routes, sometimes you can’t man that up. Nowadays, the pro scouts are looking for how well you play cover two, man, cover three, so that was important that they are becoming more diversified.”
Q: How does that atmosphere of Ohio Stadium rank compared to everywhere else you’ve been? I know you’ve been to some great stadiums already.
Harris: “I can’t lie to you. This year on the recruiting trail, we have already been to Alabama and LSU, but man (Ohio Stadium) was the loudest stadium, by far. Then one big thing to me, it’s amazing to me how the Ohio State fan base is insane. They not only love their team, but they know their football. They’re even aware of the recruits. We went out Saturday night out on the town to try to take it in and get a feel for the people of Columbus, and AJ got love left and right. People saying things like ‘Come home. We need you.’ I’m just like, ‘Wow, how do they know this high school kid that ain’t even in the state?’ It was just amazing.”
Q: I noticed you were talking to defensive backs coach Matt Barnes for a long time before the game Saturday. Last we spoke, you voiced concern he hadn’t talked to AJ a whole lot. What was that conversation like?
Harris: “It was definitely a priority. I talked to him a lot while we were there. At the end of the day, we really should pick a university because of the education and because you love the university. But being real, relationships are big. It’s important that right now it’s almost like Coombs is like ‘This is my guy, I found him, I’m going to see it to the end,’ and it’s like everyone else (on staff) has been hands off. Well, if Coombs ain’t there, you gotta have some relationships with other guys in the building and feel comfortable with the decision you’re making. We just kind of started talking about him starting to rev up his relationship with AJ and not letting coach Coombs hoard him. Also (running backs coach Tony) Alford said he wants to reach out to AJ a little bit more. I think they definitely got our point to where we were coming from to where there should be more people reaching out to AJ than just coach Coombs, so we’ll see.”
Q: It’s been put out there elsewhere that you were very direct asking Ryan Day about the direction of the defensive coaching staff moving forward and you appreciated how direct his answer was. Is that right?
Harris: “That we probably appreciated more than anything over the whole weekend. I’ll keep it in the room, not that he shared much, because he didn’t owe me that, he’s a head coach. I prefaced the question with ‘Coach, I may be overstepping my bounds here, but the elephant in the room for us is x, y and z, and I need to know.’ It was not like, ‘Yeah, you are overstepping your bounds and I’m not going to go there with you.’ He could have easily said that and I wouldn’t have been mad. But he gave us an answer that was very eye-opening and we were very appreciative of his answer. I love that about coach Day. He definitely won some brownie points with us on that one.”
Q: It seems to me that C.J. Hicks is the biggest recruiter I’ve ever seen and yet he’s a recruit. But it seems like he was leading AJ around the sideline all of Saturday. Tell me what that was like for AJ and what their relationship is like.
Harris: “The few people that follow AJ may be aware, but AJ and C.J. met at The Opening in July, and they got put on the same team. Man, the chemistry was phenomenal. They’ve been in touch ever since. So really, Saturday was nothing but a continuation of the relationship they already had started to build. Some people may think that was a surprise, but that’s a relationship that was already there.”
Q: I know you had already visited Columbus over the summer, but your second visit this fall, did you see anything that maybe surprised you besides the scheme changes you mentioned earlier?
Harris: "I keep going back to the fan base. When we came this summer, we were very thorough. We didn’t miss anything. We went to the dorm rooms, we went to the academic buildings, we went to the library, we took in a lot this summer. But just being at the game and even during the game listening to fans in situational football third-and-6 and knowing what we should be looking for, I’m just like ‘These people really know the game.’ Walking around Lane Street, High Street, seeing how the fans knew us, not even just AJ, they knew us already. I even had people reach out on Twitter saying ‘We saw you in the trophy room but we didn’t want to speak to you’ or whatever and just being respectful of us. That was big for us right there. His mother and I feel a lot better about AJ coming there. We know he’d be taken care of."
Q: I know there’s more visits to take and the commitment date is a few months away, but how tough of a decision is it going to be after seeing Ohio State on a game day?
Harris: “We always created a rule from the summer where we’ll wait 48 hours to really engage AJ so we all can come totally down off of that high of emotions. I haven’t really talked to AJ yet. This is a nugget I haven’t really told anybody, AJ is going to commit Dec. 13 or Jan. 11, that’s out there, but if need be, we’ll go longer. If we need to go longer, I will have to advise him to go longer. I’m not saying that’s in the works now, I’m not AJ’s mouthpiece, but if it is too tough for him, I teach him to be a man of his word. If something don’t look right or we need to know a little bit more, we’ll take the time. AJ has already told me and his mom, I’m not a needy person. I don’t need to go on five official visits or whatever. So pretty much whoever AJ commits to is probably one of the only official visits we’ll take, we may not take three or four official visits. But if we need more time, we’ll take more time. So I’m telling you, stay tuned come December or January because we could be putting out a whole other narrative if need be.”