Of the coaches who spoke with the Ohio State media contingent on Wednesday, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with a bigger smile than James Laurinaitis.
The former Ohio State linebacker joined the Buckeyes’ coaching staff as a graduate assistant at the end of January, and has already set a goal for himself of being “the best linebacker coach in the country.”
One of the biggest ways Laurinaitis can bolster the Buckeyes is through recruiting. Though he’s not able to travel for recruiting because he’s only a graduate assistant, Laurinaitis can speak with players via phone and speak with them in person while on campus. He’s already had plenty of experience recruiting while on Marcus Freeman’s staff at Notre Dame last season.
Linebacker recruiting in particular is an area where OSU could use a boost. Former senior advisor and analyst Matt Guerrieri handled a good chunk of the linebacker recruiting duties last season, and he recently joined Kevin Wilson’s staff at Tulsa as defensive coordinator. Laurinaitis has already hit the ground running for OSU recruiting linebackers with defensive coordinator Jim Knowles as OSU searches for its first linebacker commitment of the 2024 class.
“Recruiting is relationship-building,” Laurinaitis said Wednesday. “And you’re trying to figure out what’s important to not only the kid, but what’s important to the family. And you just have to be willing to be consistent and build those relationships. And if you’re not willing to put in the work and the time to make phone calls, to consistently – the only thing that I haven’t done in recruiting, because I’m a GA technically, is being able to actually go on the road and see high school coaches. But as far as that, like, I met with all of our linebacker recruits (at Notre Dame) as if I was the linebacker coach. So I would have a 30-minute meeting with them, and then I would take them to, the DC/LB coach (Al Golden), and then he’d go to Freeman. So I had recruiting presentations, I had ways of connecting with the family, I was responsible for phone calls.
“So you have to just be consistent in that respect. And really just, you’re building a friendship and you’re getting to know people. And so the way that you always start to like people, as you get to know any friend, is you have to listen and you have to ask questions and you have to just be authentic. If you’re trying to kind of cut it all short and skip all that, people will find you out really quick.”
Laurinaitis will join a staff that includes one of his former Ohio State teammates, offensive coordinator Brian Hartline. Hartline has become one of the top recruiters in all of college football, landing a bevy of highly ranked receivers since becoming Ohio State’s wide receivers coach. Laurinaitis isn’t shying away from the lofty goal of reaching his former teammate’s level on the recruiting front.
“Well, that’s the goal. I mean, I’d be lying to you if that wasn’t the goal,” Laurinaitis said. “Ohio State’s such a storied program, and such a unique place, that it should be Wide Receiver U, it should be LBU, D-line U. You should have all that. I truly believe that. Now selfishly being a linebacker, I believe that any defense stems from having alphas in the linebacker room. I feel like they have to push the whole defense forward. So yeah, that’s the end goal. It’s a lofty goal. But I mean, when you’re at a place like Ohio State, you come here, and once you’ve lived it, you understand what the standards are.”
Laurinaitis will no doubt have a hand in helping to recruit some of OSU’s top linebacker targets in the 2024 cycle, including Sammy Brown, Justin Williams, Aaron Chiles, Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa, Kristopher Jones, Edwin Spillman and Payton Pierce. He already has a relationship with some of those recruits from his time at Notre Dame.
“It takes a special young man to understand like, the standard is to win every single game,” Laurinaitis said. “And sometimes, when you’re playing teams that aren’t up to your talent level, it’s not just to win it but win it impressively. Like that’s the standard of what being a Buckeye is, and that pressure isn’t for everybody. So you have to find the right kids, the most talented kids, the kids that fit and want to be mentally and physically tough. And then try to get them to come here.”
While Laurinaitis has already developed a bit of a reputation in the industry as a recruiter on the rise, he believes being at Ohio State will give him an even bigger advantage in recruiting because he knows firsthand what it’s like to be a Buckeye.
“It’s gonna be, it’s a lot more natural, obviously, when it’s somewhere where you’ve played,” he said. “And Ohio State to a degree sells itself. But when you have somebody who’s been in it, walked through it, gone through the same stresses; times change, all that changes, social media, I get all that. I’m not naive to all that. But it’s still the same. It’s the same stuff as a young man that you’re going, what you’re going through, so I can relate to a lot of these young men, what they’re going through, and I can help kids who haven’t been here that want to come up and visit, give them an absolute honest perspective of what it’s like to play here.”
Spillman to visit OSU in spring
One of those linebacker prospects has already planned an Ohio State visit. Tennessee product Edwin Spillman told 247Sports he plans on visiting OSU in the spring when practices begin.
Spillman has been a frequent visitor to Ohio State, most recently attending the Michigan game in November. Spillman also attended OSU’s spring game last year and Knowles visited him at his high school in January. Laurinaitis has also been in touch with Spillman.
“Coach seems like a great man who is all about relationships and building his players to become the best version of themselves,” Spillman told 247Sports about Laurinaitis.
Collins decommits from Alabama
A former Ohio State tight end target has reopened his recruitment. Four-star Georgia prospect Martavious Collins decommitted from Alabama on Monday and will re-engage with teams as he looks to find a different collegiate home than Tuscaloosa.
Recruitment BACK OPEN!! @CoachHazelray @FootballRome @Mansell247 @ChadSimmons_ @RecruitGeorgia @247Sports @On3Recruits pic.twitter.com/zVxDQdrTPa— Martavious Collins (@Martavious122) February 6, 2023
Collins, considered the 174th-best prospect per 247Sports’ composite rankings, visited Auburn in January and is also considering Miami after his decommitment from Alabama. It’s uncertain if OSU will resume its pursuit of Collins or focus on other targets such as Damarion Witten, Brady Prieskorn, Walter Matthews, Jaden Reddell and Max LeBlanc.