Paris Johnson Jr., Darrion Henry and Jaheim Thomas are the three top prospects from the city of Cincinnati in the recruiting class of 2020, and it’s no secret that they’d all like to play their college football together.
The trio from the Queen City has visited several schools together, including Tennessee and Notre Dame, and are close friends who frequently text each other in a group chat and hang out together – including Saturday night, when they all attended the Touchdown Club of Columbus banquet as members of this year’s Buckeye Blue Chips squad, which recognizes Ohio State’s best high school football players.
“We’ve already taken like seven visits together, and we’re sort of thinking that it would be good for us to go to school together,” Johnson said while attending the banquet on Saturday night. “If it all fits what we want, if it checks all the boxes for all three of us, then I think that would be a good decision for us all.”
With 10 months to go until any of them can sign with any school, they are all still in the process of exploring their options and building relationships with the coaches they could potentially play for.
The one school that sits at or near the top of all of their lists, though, is Ohio State.
Johnson, the No. 1 overall prospect in the state of Ohio and the No. 1 offensive tackle in the entire country for the class of 2020, has been committed to Ohio State since June. Since Urban Meyer’s retirement in December, however, Johnson has made some visits to other schools, keeping his options open until he’s had more time to get to know new head coach Ryan Day and the rest of the Buckeyes’ new coaches.
Still, the 6-foot-8, 295-pound offensive tackle from St. Xavier High School remains committed to Ohio State, and he likes what he’s seen so far from Day and the new coaching staff. It helps that he already had a relationship with Al Washington, the Buckeyes’ new linebackers coach, that began with Washington recruiting him in his previous jobs at Cincinnati and Michigan.
“I really like Coach Day. He’s a good coach. And the offensive staff, I really like,” Johnson said. “I like how they brought in Coach Washington, a coach that I’ve known for a very long time since he was at UC and The Team Up North and then him being down here at Ohio State, so I’ve known him for a little while.
“I’m still building that connection and that relationship with Coach Day, but right now, that’s what’s going on,” Johnson continued. “I’m just trying to spend more time with them the way I did, because it took me a year to commit to Coach Meyer, since I got the offer in December (2017) and then committed in June, so it was that time for me to build that relationship with Coach Meyer. So now, it’s my opportunity to build that relationship with Coach Day.”
Johnson said he has been in regular contact with Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, and had an opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them better on Feb. 2, when he – along with Henry and Thomas – made an unofficial visit to Ohio State.
“It was a good experience,” Johnson said. “It was just time for us all just to reconnect with the staff, and then we all had an opportunity to talk about it afterwards, our thoughts about everything.”
Henry, a defensive end from Princeton High School who is ranked as the No. 2 prospect in Ohio and the No. 46 overall prospect in the country, also enjoyed his experience visiting Ohio State and getting to know the Buckeyes’ new coaching staff. In particular, Henry is excited about the additions of Washington and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who both recruited him while they were at Michigan.
“It was great,” Henry said. “To get to talk to Coach Day in person for the first time and get around Coach (Larry) Johnson and the rest of the staff, Coach Al and Coach Mattison that just came down, so it’s pretty great to talk to them guys again.”
Larry Johnson, of course, is a returning member of the staff and regarded as one of the best defensive line coaches in the country, so the potential opportunity for him is a big factor in Henry’s interest in Ohio State, too.
“Coach Johnson is a great guy,” Henry said. “He doesn’t drink, smoke, he’s a God-fearing person, so a pretty good father figure.”
Cincinnati, Clemson, LSU and Notre Dame are among the other schools that Henry remains interested in, but Ohio State is among the frontrunners in his mind. Like Johnson, Henry said the factor that will determine whether he chooses Ohio State – or any other school – is the strength of his relationships with that school’s coaches.
“If you got a great relationship with me, you have a great shot at getting me,” Henry said.
Henry’s relationship with Johnson and Thomas, and the chance to play with them at the collegiate level, could certainly play a part in his decision, too.
“I think that’s really in our conversation,” Henry said. “Us playing together, I think that would be great if we played together. We all kind of grew up together, so that would be a great relationship we would bring anywhere we go to.”
Thomas, the No. 4 prospect in Ohio and the 254th-ranked overall player in the class of 2020, is the lone member of the trio who hasn’t actually received an offer from Ohio State yet, potentially complicating matters. Ohio State has still shown interest in Thomas, though, and he has a relationship with Washington that dates back to when the Buckeyes’ new linebackers coach was at Cincinnati.
“I’m cool with Coach Day, and I’m cool with Coach Washington, he offered me at Michigan,” said Thomas, who is Henry’s teammate at Princeton and ranked as the 17th-best outside linebacker in the class of 2020.
Like Johnson and Henry, Thomas is still getting to know Day. He said his visit to Ohio State earlier this month was “a lot different without Urban being there, but it was pretty good.”
Other schools that Thomas is seriously considering include Cincinnati, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin, who have all offered him. If he ultimately receives an offer from the Buckeyes, though, Ohio State will certainly rank among his top choices.
“It was my dream school growing up as a kid,” Thomas said. “I always watched Ohio State.”
When the recruiting process comes to a close, Johnson, Henry and Thomas will each ultimately have to make the decisions that are best for them individually, which could lead to one or all of them heading to different destinations. But with Johnson already committed, Henry already offered and Thomas also interested, the possibility of all three of them playing together in Columbus is one that will likely continue to be a big part of their conversations.
“We’ve been grinding together lately and we’ve been doing a lot of things together,” Thomas said. “So we want to play with each other in college.”