Signed: Coach Larry Johnson, Lack of Depth at Defensive End Put Ohio State Ahead of Penn State for Tyreke Smith

By Andrew Lind on February 7, 2018 at 10:53 am

The future stars of Ohio State football officially begin their college careers, as standouts from all over the country put pens to their National Letters of Intent.

Though he didn't announce his college decision until the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4, Cleveland Heights four-star defensive end Tyreke Smith actually faxed his letter of intent to Ohio State on the last day of the Early Signing Period.

He's been a Buckeye for more than a month, but the program officially introduced him on Wednesday morning as part of National Signing Day.

The Smith File

  • Class: 2018
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 260 pounds
  • Pos: DE
  • School: Cleveland Heights (OH)
  • Composite Rating: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: 4 (DE)

The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Smith, you may recall, picked Ohio State over finalists Alabama, Oregon, Penn State and USC. But his pledge was far from a sure thing, despite his proximity to Columbus.

Smith did not play high school football until his junior season, but caught the attention of college programs all over the country thanks to his overall athleticism.

It was a little unusual to see Ohio State coach Urban Meyer spending some time Saturday with a player who has never played a down of high school football. Yet there Meyer was as the camp concluded, speaking with Tyreke Smith.

“It's been crazy! But I still remain humble, thanking God and working hard to get better every day,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “That's the mentality I have and I stick with.”

The Buckeyes invited him to campus for several games that fall and finally offered him a scholarship in January. However, a pair of trips to Penn State with his family over the summer quickly shifted things in favor of the Nittany Lions, as Smith grew very fond of head coach James Franklin.

Smith made national headlines in June when he wore a shirt that read “I hope I don't get killed for being black today” to Ohio State's one-day camp in June.

Smith lives in a county that saw a state-high 168 homicides last year, and he wants to use his platform as a star athlete to make a positive impact on his community.

“I decided to wear the shirt because I wanted to bring attention to the epidemic of blacks being killed at an alarming rate,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “What we would like to do is have people talk about these issues to reduce the murder rate of African-Americans.”

When Smith arrived at The Opening Finals in Oregon later that month, he announced a Top 5 of Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State and USC, and shared his intentions of taking official visits to each one before making a decision on his future.

The Nittany Lions continued to widen the gap over the next few months, but Meyer paid a visit to Smith's coaches during the open week in October to guage their chances. He took his official visit one week later, but it was clear the staff still had a lot of work to do if they wanted to keep him home.

“He shouldn't let him go without a fight because he's the top defensive end in the country, in my opinion,” Cleveland Heights head coach Mac Stephens said. “I will be curious to see Tyreke's indication after he takes his official visit and spends time really soaking up the Buckeye culture.”

When five-star defensive end Brenton Cox then reopened his recruitment in early December, Ohio State turned up the heat on Smith. The Buckeyes' lack of depth at the position and the chance to play for a coach like Larry Johnson tilted things back in their favor.

The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions planned to make their final pitch this week. However, sources close to the Penn State program told Eleven Warriors Smith's official visit to State College didn't go as well as planned and he cancelled his in-home visit with James Franklin on Tuesday evening.

That's certainly good news for Ohio State, who was on the verge of seeing one of the state's top players choose a conference foe.

Franklin and Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer attempted to conduct an in-home visit twice in the week thereafter, but were turned away both times.

Meyer, Johnson, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and running backs coach Tony Alford made the trip to Cleveland Heights just a few days later to watch Smith play basketball, and it was during the in-home visit afterward that he made them aware of his intentions to become a Buckeye.

“Ohio State feels like a family setting,” Smith said. “Also, they have my major [business] and good academics. The biggest thing that stuck out and put them ahead is that I feel that coach [Larry] Johnson and the rest of the Ohio State staff can develop me the best out of all the schools.”

As mentioned, Smith signed with the Buckeyes on Dec. 22, but kept his decision quiet in order to announce on national television during the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando.

I was nervous at first going up on stage, but I just thought to myself that I've worked so hard to be in this position. I was ready to tell the world that I was going to be a Buckeye and prove people wrong.

Even though I didn't grow up in Ohio, I think I've spent the crucial years of my life there, and the city I live in shows me love. It's a moment I'll never forget.

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