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 — On April 18, Malik Vann, a four-star defensive end prospect from Fairfield, Ohio, announced his commitment to Cincinnati.
This wouldn’t usually be a huge deal — a Cincinnati-area kid pledging to play his college ball for the Bearcats — but because of how the last few years played out, it kind of became one. UC hadn’t really recruited that well in its home city under former coach Tommy Tuberville. In fact, Tuberville never even stepped foot inside some of Cincinnati’s most storied high school programs.
Vann’s commitment signified something changed, though. Luke Fickell had arrived.
According to 247Sports’ composite ratings, Vann is the No. 265-ranked prospect in the country for the 2018 class. He is the third-highest rated recruit of all time to commit to Cincinnati. Vann had additional scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan State, Notre Dame and more. Many had him pegged to commit to the Spartans; Vann chose the Bearcats.
Vann did not have the scholarship offer from the school every Ohio kid drives of receiving — Ohio State — but that should not be a knock on his talent. He’s really good.
Instead, it raised an interesting question: If Fickell is already beating out some of the Midwest’s top programs to land Ohio recruits, is it only a matter of time before he knocks off Meyer and Co. for a kid Ohio State truly covets?
“Boy, that's a really tough question," said Steve Specht, the head coach at Cincinnati St. Xavier High School — one of the top high school programs in the state — and someone who has seen Fickell place an added emphasis on recruiting the city.
For as long as Meyer has been in Columbus, if there’s a player the Buckeyes want from the state of Ohio, he’s gotten him. Ohio is one of the top states in the country for prep talent and Ohio State is the only Power 5 program in the conference. Meyer has a stranglehold on the state.
But Cincinnati is one of the top areas within the state’s borders for talent, and if the hometown Bearcats can rise back to prominence under Fickell, perhaps a Cincinnati-area prospect in the very near future — one who has a committable offer from Ohio State — would want to stay home.
A handful of Cincinnati-area high school coaches praised Fickell for his targeting of local talent, but most feel it’s a bit early to tell if that’s a realistic possibility at this point in time.
“Time is going to tell on how that plays itself out, but the reality right now — and I’m not saying it won’t change — but the reality right now is that if Ohio State wants a kid out of the city of Cincinnati, they’re going to get him,” Specht said. “What I love about Luke, though, is he’s going to battle. He’s going to fight for that kid.”
Added Larry Cox, the head coach at Lakota West High School: "I think Luke is going to make it harder on Urban because Luke is going to be pretty good at building those relationships with some of these kids. I think that’s going to be a big deal. I think it might make it a little tougher to do. But at the same time, it is what it is and Ohio State is Ohio State."
A rather obvious big hurdle mentioned was Cincinnati’s league affiliation. The Bearcats are in the American Athletic Conference and for players with offers from Power 5 schools, that’s a difficult obstacle to overcome. But because Fickell already did just that with four-star prospects like Vann and tight end Josh Whyle, it’s not out of the realm of possibility he steals a kid from Ohio State.
It just might not happen right away.
“I think that’s a tough thing to answer because there’s a separation,” said John Rodenberg, the head coach at Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School. “It really hurts UC, the league affiliation. … I think Luke is banging on people’s doors, but you’re going to have to give him a couple of really special years to see if he can hang with Ohio State in recruiting.”
As with anything, at the end of the day, Cincinnati must win games on the field for this to become a realistic possibility. If Fickell’s teams don’t find much success in the early going, the Bearcats won’t become a threat to snag recruits from Meyer and Co.
But if UC finds a way to return to national relevancy under Fickell, the Bearcats could be players here. Ohio State's approach to recruiting shifted a bit recently, and the Buckeyes are taking things a bit more nationally, so there could be potential for Fickell knock off Meyer for a top prospect under the right set of circumstances.
At some point in the near future, Meyer and Fickell will likely go head-to-head for a Cincinnati-area prospect both coaches really want. And while this certainly seems like a mismatch on paper that heavily favors Meyer and Ohio State, one thing is already clear about Fickell from his short time as the Bearcats' head coach.
He won't go down without a battle.