Located in a football-rich state, the city of Cincinnati is one of Ohio's hot spots for prep talent. Eleven Warriors recently spent a couple of days in the Queen City and will bring you a series of Ohio State-related stories over the coming weeks. Come along for the ride, won't you?
CINCINNATI — Steve Specht, the three-time state-championship winning head coach at St. Xavier High School, doesn’t need fingers or toes to count how many times Tommy Tuberville, the former head coach at the University of Cincinnati, visited his office over Tuberville’s four-year tenure as the leader of the Bearcats’ program.
The answer is a nice, round number.
“I can tell you exactly how many times [Tuberville] was in my office and that was zero,” Specht recently told Eleven Warriors. “He was never in my office, and that spoke volumes about what, in my opinion, UC lacked.”
It’s rather stunning Tuberville never visited St. Xavier, one of the top high school programs in the country that is located fewer than 10 miles from Cincinnati’s campus. But Specht was hardly the only area prep coach to tell Eleven Warriors he never received a visit from the former Bearcats’ head man. And that’s precisely why many of Cincinnati’s high school coaches feel the area’s college program struggled at the end of the Tuberville era.
That changed a bit after Luke Fickell was announced as the Bearcats’ head coach Dec. 10, 2016. Fickell is getting back to what Cincinnati was founded on — recruiting the Queen City itself — and it’s being noticed.
“You look back to the Mark Dantonio days to Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, they owned the city,” Specht said. “They pushed hard and they took fliers on some kids just to keep them local and the results spoke for themselves. I think that’s what Luke is starting to do again.”
Added Larry Cox, the head coach at West Chester Lakota West: “He’ll do a great job. Luke knows what’s important in this state and more specifically, he knows what’s important in Southwest Ohio. He’s got people around him, as well, that are going to help. Luke is just so damn smart.”
“Everything that was said about Luke and how he was preparing for this job, you can tell. The moves that he made, the coaches that he hired, he was ready for the UC job and it shows.”– Cincinnati Moeller Head Coach John Rodenberg
Cincinnati currently has six verbal commitments in its 2018 recruiting class. All six are from the state of Ohio and four of the six are from the Cincinnati area. There’s a noticeable emphasis on recruiting one of the country’s top areas for prep talent.
“The energy was really bad and that can be because you had three prior guys who focused on Cincinnati and then your last staff there was not a tremendous priority. Luke walks in and it’s almost like — it’s a shot of energy again,” said John Rodenberg, the head coach at Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller. “Young guy that wants to make Cincinnati great again and everybody is like, ‘Wow, let’s go. We saw what this was like a few years ago and we’re ready to go again.’”
One of Rodenberg’s star players, Aeneas Hawkins, a four-star defensive tackle prospect in the 2018 class who has multiple Power 5 scholarship offers, said he wasn’t recruited much by Tuberville and the old staff at Cincinnati. That might make some sense when you look at Hawkins’ offer list — which features Ohio State, USC, Penn State and more — but this particular case is a little different. Hawkins’ father played for the Bearcats.
Fickell wasted little time going after one of the top uncommitted prospects in the area.
“As soon as [Fickell] was officially in, I got his number and shot him a text and said, ‘Hey, my name is Aeneas Hawkins.’ He responded like, ‘I know exactly who you are.’” Hawkins recalled. “He sent me a list of different names who he wanted to come with me to Cincinnati. … He’s already doing big things and that’s cool to me.”
Fickell's success as a head coach will ultimately come down to wins and losses on the field. That's all that will truly matter in the end. Does he win games?
But for now, the buzz surrounding Bearcats football is back. And the plan is for it to stay around for the foreseeable future.
“You can feel it around town," Rodenberg said. "Everything that was said about Luke and how he was preparing for this job, you can tell. The moves that he made, the coaches that he hired, he was ready for the UC job and it shows.”