Inked: Five-Star Linebacker Justin Hilliard, from Cincinnati, Ohio, is Officially a Buckeye

By Jeremy Birmingham on February 4, 2015 at 8:50 am
Justin Hilliard is officially a Buckeye

The future stars of Ohio State football officially begin their Buckeye careers today as standouts from all over the country put pens to their National Letters of Intent. Signing Day is here.

Eleven Warriors would like to officially welcome Justin Hilliard to the Ohio State football program.

The Hilliard File

  • Class 2015
  • Position LB
  • Size 6-0/225
  • School St. Xavier (Cincinnati, OH)
  • Composite ★★★★★
  • Rank 2 (OLB)

When you sign a new recruiting class, every player is important. You don't like to acknowledge that maybe Player A is "more important" than Player B because that kind of limb gets you remembered forever in this Internet Age, when people screenshot this, that, or the other thing. That said, it's difficult to imagine a player "more important" than Hilliard, the five-star linebacker from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

Before his decision to attend Ohio State, Hilliard was linked with a number of other schools, all of whom seemed to have the inside track to land the linebacker. The Buckeyes noticed Hilliard early – they offered him the summer before his junior season – but most believed Urban Meyer's staff was playing catch-up from the start. Hilliard camped at a number of schools that summer and earned offers across the country and made himself a player-to-watch for recruiting analysts from coast-to-coast. The Buckeyes were among those impressed.

"I went to Arkansas, Iowa, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame," Hilliard said of his summer. "I thought all of the visits and camps went really well. I went up to Ohio State to camp. I didn't really get to see the campus while I was in Columbus, but the camp went really well, they offered me afterwards."

After the Buckeyes offer, Hilliard earned a number of big offers, including Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Florida State and others. He and his father began a whirlwind tour of college visits starting in the fall of 2013. Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame; rinse and repeat. Throughout his junior season and the spring following, Hilliard made as many visits to schools in the region as any in the country. Notre Dame, Michigan and Iowa — where Justin's brother CJ signed in February of 2014 — all maintained a perceived lead over the Buckeyes. It was not until a mid-May visit to Columbus that really began turning things in Ohio State's favor.

Following that visit, a "Top Five" was shared with the world on Twitter.

As May came to an end, rumors that the Buckeyes had surged into the forefront of Hilliard's recruitment started swirling and it became apparent that only two teams had a real shot to land him: Ohio State and Notre Dame. He made a weekend long visit to Notre Dame for their premiere recruiting event in June and with that, his research was over. It was going to Ohio State or Notre Dame and despite initially preparing a late season announcement, Hilliard was ready to commit. He planned a July 2nd commitment and let the world know it.

"There's no significance to that date," he said. I just wanted to commit at the right time and I felt that was it. I'm glad the process is ending because it's time for me to be a recruiter. I'm excited to go out and get a class together that will hopefully be a top-three class nationally. I've been thinking about that since I got my first offer. I want to win."

As one of the country's top linebackers, Hilliard's recruitment was influenced heavily by Ohio State's Luke Fickell. As a Cincinnati-native, Kerry Coombs was also a key part. As a charismatic leader who is a five-star person as well as prospect? That's where Urban Meyer steps in.

"Coach Meyer is very involved in my recruitment," he said of the Ohio State head coach. "We talk almost every day. He's very personal outside of football and all business when he's involved in the game. It still makes me laugh that I have the ability to pick up the phone and call Coach Meyer, Coach Saban, Coach Ferentz, Coach Kelly, or Coach Hoke. My recruitment has come with plenty of benefits, it's been an enormous blessing."

A week later, Hilliard was a Buckeye, and Ohio State's 11th commitment for 2015.

He told Eleven Warriors' readers the choice to commit to the Buckeyes was one made from his own personal comfort. 

"Over the last two years I’ve visited Ohio State eight times but I didn’t know 100-percent I wanted to (be a Buckeye) until my last visit. During that last visit we talked zero numbers, no depth charts, no academic talks, no campus tours – nothing. I simply spent time with the players and coaches, spent time meeting their families and talking about everything except football," Hilliard shared. "On that visit I really learned what the Buckeye family was about, even more than I had before. The "Dream '14" had always shown me love but just seeing them in person and seeing how close they all were really attracted me to the Buckeye family. After that visit I was 150-percent Buckeye."

Following his pledge, Hilliard headed west to Oregon and participated in Nike's The Opening where he was an active recruiter, trying to get to know as many Buckeye targets as possible. He performed well on the field as well.

"I came out of the camp with linebacker MVP honors and some hardware but I learned a lot," Hilliard said of the time in Beaverton. "I know I have to keep working as hard as I am to stay at the top of my game but also I think we all learned that there is more to being a football recruits than just football. It was really cool to see all different kind of personalities and egos coming together and have a blast. The Opening was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Everything was over the top and it also turned out to be a great way of promoting Buckeye Football to recruits and people across the nation."

Hilliard never looked back, eagerly recruiting for the Buckeyes at every turn and in doing so he became the face of the "Elite '15".

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