Ohio State's Pursuit of Versatile Athletes is Paying Off Both on the Field and on the Recruiting Trail

By Andrew Ellis on April 15, 2018 at 8:30 am
Tony Alford and the Buckeyes have made tremendous use of a number of talented athletes.

Demario McCall's talents were on display yesterday in the Horseshoe, and the redshirt sophomore is one of the many versatile weapons that the Ohio State roster will feature in 2018. The versatility of players like McCall has certainly been on display in recent years.

The H-back aka "Percy Harvin role" has gotten the bulk of the fanfare, and it's been for a good reason dating all the way back to Meyer's days in Gainesville. That trend has continued in Columbus with players like Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel, and Parris Campbell all bringing some unique skills to the offense.

A few months from now Meyer will get to tinker with another player in that same mold when former Westerville star Jaelen Gill arrives on campus. The offense isn't short on talent, but Gill is someone who could make some noise – at least in some capacity – as a true freshman. 

When it comes to Ohio State's signing of talented athletes, however, it's gone well beyond the hybrid role that's become such a staple of Meyer's offense. And the staff's focus on bringing in such versatile prospects seems to be paying off in a big way on the recruiting front.

The competition for the country's elite talent is always stiff, and the Buckeyes are annually faced with a number of challenges. Obviously going up against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida State and other programs is a tall task in itself, but with a plethora of talent consistently on the roster, showing these players how much the program needs them can also be a bit tricky. 

This is especially true with all of the negative recruiting that takes place each year. We saw it last year with the rumors of Larry Johnson's alleged retirement, but the numbers game is another strategy that programs often use against one another; especially when it comes to teams that are always stacked with talent. 

One of Ohio State's top 2019 targets is in Blacksburg this weekend for an official visit, and Devyn Ford then heads to Columbus in two short weeks before announcing his intentions in May. Ford is the nation's No. 6 running back prospect, and the Buckeyes just so happen to already have a pledge from Avon, Indiana's Sampson James

Guess what — the Hokies' staff is probably making sure that Devyn Ford and his family are well aware of Ohio State's backfield situation. It's the oldest trick in the recruiting handbook, and quite honestly you can't blame schools for using it to their advantage. 

The "athlete" label has been one way the Ohio State coaching staff has been able to deal with the dreaded numbers crunch and all of the scrutiny that goes into examining a team's depth chart, positional needs, current and future recruiting classes, etc etc. 

Less than 48 hours ago the staff reeled in one of its top targets when four-star athlete Ronnie Hickman announced his commitment. Where will the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder end up playing? He could find himself in the defensive secondary, wide receiver, or perhaps he even grows into an outside linebacker. 

Why risk scaring off other prospects or enhancing the negative recruiting simply due to a label? If there's a player who could project at a number of spots, then just refer to them as an athlete and move on.

It's even becoming an issue along the offensive line. The Buckeyes like both Harry Miller and Zeke Correll as interior linemen; potentially at the center spot. Either one of the 2019 four-stars could man any of the three interior spots, but you really only need one to project at center. Right now Ohio State is in the position where schools – especially the one in South Bend – are using this to their advantage. 

And again, it's a fair play by the competition. It happens everywhere. 

We've seen players like Darron Lee, Malik Hooker, Malik Harrison, and all of the aforementioned running back/wide receiver/hybrids bring a whole lot of versatility to the table. And for the most part, the coaching staff has found the correct way to make use of this talent.

Programs like Ohio State and Alabama constantly dealing with a big old negative recruiting bullseye simply because of the absurd amount of talent and depth on each roster. In these situations – even if you have a pretty good idea where a kid may end up – being as vague as possible can have its advantages. 

Devyn Ford is slated to be in Columbus for what is expected to be his final official visit. Tony Alford and Urban Meyer certainly could spend a ton of time talking about all of the running backs they've sent to the league, Ohio State's recent success, and the chance to play for one of the country's elite programs.

A lot of the discussion, however, is likely to focus on depth, roles, and utilization. Do the Buckeyes have a great need at running back at the moment? That could be a tough point to argue, but the Ohio State coaching staff has repeatedly proven that it knows what to do with its athletes. 

The track record speaks for itself.

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