Though Ohio State was putting the finishing touches on its 2018 recruiting class earlier this month, nine members of the second-ranked haul were already participating in the offseason workout program as early enrollees.
The players graduated early in order to take part in spring practices, which effectively gives them a leg up over those who wait until the summer to join the team — though they certainly won't be the only ones in the conversation to play as freshmen this fall.
“They have a better chance of playing early,” head coach Urban Meyer said during his National Signing Day press conference. “That's not an absolute, but they are officially in our weight program, they're eating all the meals that Ohio State athletes [are supposed to], so you see their bodies starts to grow. High school athletes a lot of times don't eat like that and they don't get trained like that.
“This is a chance [to prove themselves], but you have to grow up fast,” he continued. “It is a tough situation, but there's obvious reasons why it's a tremendous advantage to get here and get going.”
So, which of the nine newcomers are most likely to see the field for the Buckeyes this fall? Let's take a look:
ANTWUAN JACKSON JR.
Brenham (TX) Blinn College
6-foot-3, 305 pounds
Following in the same footsteps as the aforementioned Sheffield, Jackson comes to Ohio State after a semester at Blinn junior college. He transferred there from Auburn after being redshirted as a freshman. That's where the comparisons seemingly end, however.
While the Buckeyes were set to replace a pair of first-round picks at cornerback last fall, the program is loaded with talent at defensive tackle. Dre'Mont Jones and Robert Landers return, as does part-time contributors Jashon Cornell and Davon Hamilton. Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage — members of Ohio State's 2017 recruiting class — both hope to push for playing time, as well.
Jackson underwent surgery earlier this month for a fractured bone in his foot, but is expected to be fully healed for spring practices. He has all of the physical tools and gained significant experience during his junior college days that might help him push for reps right at way.
Pocatello (ID) Highland
6-foot-3, 290 pounds
Similarly, the overall lack of experience in critical situations could help Togiai crack the defensive tackle rotation this fall. He's coming off of strong performances at the U.S. Army All-American and Polynesian bowls, and has shown an eagerness to learn from defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
“I’m trying to just work as hard as I can and just get as much playing time as I can,” Togiai said. “I want to get on the field as much as I can.”
Jacksonville (FL) Trinity Christian
6-foot-1, 191 pounds
Despite seemingly a quicker path to playing time at safety with the departure of starter Damon Webb, Johnson is adamant about playing cornerback.
However, with Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah likely to occupy the top three spots on the depth chart and fellow cornerbacks Shaun Wade, Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep having a year in the program under their belts, it'll be difficult for him to crack the rotation as a true freshman.
Players with Johnson's size and overall athleticism don't typically stay in the program for more than three years, though, so Ohio State would be wise to get him on the field as much as possible early on. And given his overall confidence, big-hit potential and ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, we should be hearing a lot about him on special teams this fall.
MASTER TEAGUE III
Murfreesboro (TN) Blackman
5-foot-11, 210 pounds
The same can be said for Teague, whose strong work ethic has already impressed coaches at Ohio State.
With starting running back Mike Weber and freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins both returning — and third-string Antonio Williams hoping to hold on to his garbage-time role — getting carries as a true freshman will be difficult for Teague. But provided he's fully healed from an ankle injury that cost him most of his senior season, he'll have a chance to make an early impact on special teams.
“God gave me an opportunity here, a great opportunity, and I’m going to use it the best I can and glorify him in everything that I do,” Teague said. “And I think we got a lot of potential, we just got to work hard every day [and] don’t let up.”