Ohio State added the final piece of its 2024 high school recruiting class last weekend when defensive end Dominic Kirks became the Buckeyes’ 21st commitment in the current cycle.
The recruitment of the talented four-star in-state standout had plenty of ups and downs with Kirks committing to Washington in June, visiting other schools in the fall and eventually decommitting from the Huskies earlier this month following Kalen DeBoer's departure to Alabama. Eight days after he took his official visit on Jan. 12, Kirks committed to Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes three defensive linemen in the 2024 class.
To find out more about OSU's final commit for 2024 (because Julian Sayin technically counts as a transfer, not an Ohio State signee, even though he's a freshman), we caught up with Dave Bors, who coached Kirks for one season at Riverside High School in Painesville, Ohio. Bors spoke about Kirks' recruitment, his interest in OSU and what type of player he could be in Columbus.
This interview has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Q: Dominic’s recruitment was full of twists and turns in the last two months or so, how happy were you to see him find a new home and commit to Ohio State?
Dave Bors: Extremely happy. Obviously being an Ohio guy along with almost my entire staff, we have the utmost respect for Ohio State as a top-four program. Just seeing him have some closure, because even though people were still communicating with him through the Washington commitment (before the coaching change), I think with the commitment to Ohio State, people finally realize this is it, it's the final landing spot for him. It's great to see him make that decision, Ohio State is getting a good one and we're just excited all around here.
Q: From your understanding, what was the Ohio State decision like for him? It would seem during his recruitment it would go quiet between the two parties with OSU still evaluating him and then an injury making it even more difficult to evaluate him. What did he need to hear from Ohio State before he felt comfortable committing to the Buckeyes?
Bors: I don't know if there was an exact formula or a magic pill if you will. Obviously, they just offered him on his official visit, he didn't even have an offer before that but he was always open and communicated with them. I had been in contact with them throughout the season and like you just said, they were following him and still trying to evaluate him as the little injury crept in. That put it on the backburner a little bit. Then they came back and started looking at him again, they did their due diligence.
They finally had him down for a visit with Mom and Dad. Coach Larry Johnson has been in heavy communication with both Dom and myself. With Dominic, they got him around the other guys in the defensive line room to see if he was going to be a fit and if he also felt comfortable. It's Ohio State, so I don't know if there needed to be major convincing from Ohio State's part or for Dom and his family. It was more of taking a deep breath and asking yourself one more time if this was a fit.
Coach Johnson was just in my office on (Jan. 19) just for a follow-up visit. I had an opportunity to listen to the conversation, and it was nothing but first class. You can tell why they are who they are and why coach Johnson is so highly respected.
Q: Just for clarity, what was the specific injury that Dominic had and when did it happen?
Bors: He had a tweaked knee in Week 3. We were actually using him in the slot on offense and a defender went down low to tackle him like you have to do with him. He just twisted his knee a little bit, it was more precautionary. He actually was frustrated with us for not letting him go sooner when he came back. We kept him out for a handful of weeks to make sure he was good. Obviously with his recruitment, he has a lot bigger things to accomplish than just the senior season of his high school year.
Q: To your knowledge, did he grow up an OSU fan?
Bors: I don't know that either way, but I do know in the conversations we had with him this year, he did say if Ohio State ever offered him, it would be very difficult to pass up. That conversation happened when coach DeBoer was still at Washington. Ohio State has always been very high on his list.
Q: From his build at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, do you envision him playing as a defensive end or moving into the interior at some point? It seems like he could do either if necessary.
Bors: That's a great question, and I think it could go either way. It's interesting because coach Johnson when he came in reminded him that when he comes to OSU, he doesn't have to worry about bulking up at this point in time. That'll evolve and take care of itself. But he wanted him in shape and to hit the ground running. His weight that he's at right now is totally fine with Ohio State. They want to see how his feet improve, his hips and his flexibility, his use of hands and things like that. Once they see what he can do with their tutelage, then they'll decide 'Alright, we have this guy that can do this, we'll put another 25 on him then move him inside' or 'We really like what we've been doing with him on the outside, we'll keep him here and tweak the things we think he needs to tweak.' I could see it either way.
Q: What do you believe he can bring to Ohio State from an overall skill set? What have you seen from him that's really stood out to you on and off the field?
Bors: A couple of things. One, he transferred here his senior year, so I haven't seen him his entire career. But with that said, after having the chance to evaluate him with the rest of my coaching staff, we think the ceiling is very high for him. There's a lot that he can work on and he knows he can work on it. He's such a gifted athlete right now but that's a very positive development.
But one of the biggest things that impressed us was when he first came in during the summer, we started getting to know him and the team started getting to know him, and it must have been day three that he was here and he's already breaking down the post-workout huddles. He was breaking it down and guys were rallying around him. It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. The leaders that were already part of our program embraced him and allowed him to do that, but his leadership and personality also was a natural fit.
Going back to his personality, when coach Johnson visited, he said one of the most important things to him was that the guys that were already in Ohio State's locker room felt comfortable with Dominic. They weren't going to offer him until all the boxes were checked. Sure enough, they were very high on him as well. Dom is like a 28 to 30-year-old in terms of his mentality. You start talking to him and he's very mature. He'll be a great fit on the field and off the field.
Q: This one is more of a 30,000-foot view question of where college football recruiting in general is right now, but Dominic's story is a great example of how tumultuous it can be. Obviously before the DeBoer departure, Dominic still wanted to take recruiting visits to make sure Washington was the right fit so he didn't sign in December. I'm sure given what happened that ended up being one of the greatest decisions of his life. What have you learned from this that you'll use to advise future prospective recruits, or maybe just what's your opinion on what it's like for kids to navigate as compared to say, three, four or five years ago?
Bors: Obviously with a guy the caliber of Dominic, a guy with the potential to possibly play in the NFL someday, the mindset is a little bit different than if you're advising someone that's going to play Division II or Division III. But I will say this, the gap has interestingly gotten a little closer in terms of how you advise them. One of the most important things I still tell our guys that aren't going to the Power Five, is that make sure that if a football is ever taken away from you, whether that's via injury, a coaching change or a circumstance that you have no idea about, that you can see yourself getting an education at that school that will set you up for the rest of your life. Now I would have that message even stronger for the Power Five guys, because that coaching staff may not be there, things may change. Still make sure you love that place.
I also will say this, and I don't like this part about it, but being a coach in a mentoring position, I definitely need to throw this at my guys now: With the portal and stuff like that, I'd also remind them 'Guys, you're not locked in.' Don't be so stressed out about this decision so that once you make this decision as an 18-year-old adult it's suddenly going to affect you for the next four to five years. With the transfer portal, that stuff doesn't exist anymore. It's opened things up for the athletes to have more of a say and more power if you will.
The portal has also made things more interesting because these kids coming out of high school, I don't want to say they're on the backburner, but they're maybe not as coveted right away as they were before because colleges are looking at players in the portal and seeing what happens.