Ohio State Uses Its NFL Success As “a Big Part” of Its Recruiting Pitches, 2021 Buckeye Commits Aim For “Most First-Rounders Ever From a Class”

By Zack Carpenter on April 22, 2020 at 10:45 am
Chase Young, Jeff Okudah

From Thursday night to Saturday this week, at least nine Ohio State players are expected to hear their names called as NFL Draft selections.

Encouraging prospective Buckeyes to flip on the TV and watch the players who have been developed in Columbus take center stage is about as perfect and easy a recruiting pitch as there is.

Basically every top-500 recruit – and hundreds more ranked lower than that – has an ultimate dream of reaching the NFL. So, really, that year-after-year success of sending players into the draft, helping them get multi-million dollar contracts and become All-Pros at their position all sells itself.

“Their track record speaks for itself with the people they develop,” Ohio State's most recent commit, Tunmise Adeleye, told Eleven Warriors. “They know how to put guys in the league, and that’s what they’re gonna continue to do as long as they’re there.”

“I’m telling you right now, if JC (Latham) comes to Ohio State, in three years, you’re gonna see the most first-rounders ever from a class. We’re gonna break some records.”– Tunmise Adeleye

Even though it “speaks for itself,” the Ohio State coaching staff certainly is never bashful about letting high schoolers, with dreams of achieving those same NFL goals, know the program's professional prowess – even if those players are already aware of that themselves.

“That’s a big part. It’s certainly not the only part, but we certainly don’t shy away from it,” Ryan Day said when asked how often Ohio State uses its propensity for putting guys into the NFL as a recruiting pitch. “We’re very proud and proud of our development. When you look at how many guys have developed in three, four or five years – everybody has their own story, from DaVon Hamilton to Jeff Okudah, J.K. Dobbins. Everybody has their own story in different development. Everybody has their own journey, but we’re proud of our development – that not only do guys get drafted but they have great careers.

“If you look at Michael Thomas, the Bosas, Zeke Elliott, the list goes on and on. Not only are they going to the NFL, but they’re playing and going on to have long careers. That goes to obviously recruiting, but also our development and the strength and conditioning area and also the football area of our technique and our styles of offense and defense that we’re running.”

When we talk with a player who has recently committed to Ohio State, every single one has said, in some order, it came down to relationships with the coaching staff, the opportunity to win a national championship with one of the five programs best set up to do so every year and the ability to use development at Ohio State as a springboard into making millions for themselves and to be able to take care of their families with those pro contracts.

The Buckeye coaches have done a good job of making that NFL success one of their main pitches in the 2021 class, and the recent commits of Adeleye and Jantzen Dunn attest even further to how simple that pro pitch can be.

“I know that 100 percent, if Coach (Larry) Johnson didn’t believe I was a first-round capable talent, he wouldn’t have accepted my commitment,” Adeleye said. “If I wasn’t the type of caliber of athlete that Coach Johnson thinks I can be, he wouldn’t have even bothered recruiting me. It’s mutual. They understand the path that I see for my life and what I wanna achieve. They’re all on board and willing to help me. I just have to listen and take coaching. It’s so many factors in this, but I know I made the right decision at the end of the day.”

Looking even further ahead in recruitments, the Buckeyes are already using it as a pitch to sophomores as they get their foot in the door with the nation's top 2022 talent. It's one of the biggest bonuses for bringing back Kerry Coombs for a second tenure in Columbus. 

“Coach Coombs didn’t mention any names, but he asked if I was aware of any of the players he’s coached,” said Denver Harris, who is ranked the No. 5 cornerback and No. 26 overall player in America's 2022 class and was offered a scholarship by Coombs and Matt Barnes last week. “And, of course, I immediately thought of guys like (Denzel) Ward, (Bradley) Roby, Okudah and (Kendall) Sheffield. He also talked about Jeff going first round this week, and I definitely want to have success like those guys did and hopefully be able to be mentioned along side of them in the future.

“Academics and social environment are important, obviously. But after that, I’m thinking about which program will help me best develop my craft and get me to where I’m trying to go. I don’t just want to make it to the NFL, I want to have success and longevity.”

Johnson, however, says it can be dangerous territory to put too much weight on NFL development when recruiting. Instead, he says “the most important thing” is “selling the whole program” and “just selling your brand,” and he believes recruits truly see that when he talks with them.

“I think you have to be careful selling that dream because everybody doesn't meet the qualifications to be an NFL player,” Johnson said. “I'm reminded of this all the time, talent is a gift. To be elite, you have to choose to be elite. So when you start talking to a kid, you'll know if the kid wants to be great and have an opportunity to play in the NFL. I think everybody has that thought, but not everybody gets that goal. So you have to be careful selling that all the time.

“I think education's still important, and that's why you come to school, to get a good degree. That's what the parents want for them. I hear mothers say it all the time – I could care less about the NFL, coach. I want him to get a degree. And to me, that resonates. It hits home to me. If I can help any kid reach their goal, then it's a bonus for me as a coach, mentor and role model. I think those things are important, more than just selling the NFL. We have a lot to sell here at Ohio State, and I think it sells itself because we have a great program, a great culture and a great head coach.”

Bonds build during recruiting process

Relationships are always the most important factor in recruiting, but having an infrastructure in place to push guys into the NFL isn't too far behind in many circumstances. 

The 2021 class is showing us that those two are going hand-in-hand.

It's a collection of guys that is already as tight-knit a group that Ohio State has had on the trail before ever officially coming into the program. We keep talking about how the 2021 class may finish as the Buckeyes' best recruiting class ever, and perhaps the best of all time, and we are often comparing it to the heralded 2017 class.

Those are all numbers-based comparisons. Dig a bit more, though, and the comparisons are deeper than rankings.

“Ohio State’s just a different atmosphere there,” Adeleye said. “Look at Chase (Young) and Jeff – one guy from Texas, one guy from Maryland, but you see the bond that they made just in the recruiting process. Those guys are gonna be brothers forever. Ohio State is just – there’s just something about it, man. It draws elite athletes to the program.”

When discussing one of the reasons Adeleye committed to Ohio State, he talked about how close he is with his fellow commits, and he referenced an appearance by Okudah on ESPN's NFL Live in which the former Buckeye star grilled draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. about why Damon Arnette wasn't being considered one of the top defensive backs in the draft.

That might be something little, but so are the margins in recruiting.

“Look at what Jeff did for his teammate Damon. It’s stuff like that,” Adeleye said. “He asked an NFL analyst why his teammate’s not a first-round DB. Football is a brotherhood. You’re gonna look out for the guys next to you, the same guys in your class. It’s all about relationships and bonds, and it’s really about a brotherhood at Ohio State. 

“In the NFL, you look at all the guys that are playing in the NFL that went to Ohio State and played together, they’re always trading jerseys after the game. They’re always with each other and whenever they’re around each other, you see the brotherhood in their eyes.”

“We’re gonna break some records”

Adeleye noticed that brotherhood on his first, and only, visit to Ohio State in June, but he's continued to notice that from afar.

And without any of them having taken a step or two on campus with a letter of intent having been signed, it's starting to feel like these juniors have already formed a joined-at-the-hip bond that so many current Buckeyes reference almost daily.

Even though they can't interact face to face, the coronavirus-induced shutdowns have actually helped the 2021 commits form a tighter bond from afar.

Group chats see heavy traffic by the minute, competition in Madden, NBA 2K, Fortnite and Call of Duty happens just about every day, and there will soon be a group Zoom meeting that is supposed to be released on Hudl in which some of the commits break down each other's film.

“I'm already close with all those guys,” Adeleye said. “All these elite guys are wanting to come and play on the same team. I think that's making our brotherhood stronger. We’re all elite. We all have a vision. We all wanna be first-rounders so we’re all gonna push each other to be that and to attain that. We’re all elite guys who wanna be elite at the next level. We’re gonna continue to push each other.

“We know this class has a chance to be historic. When the draft comes around, they’re gonna be talking about how we formed this class. From the guys and the talent that we’re getting, if you really sit down and look at the film of every single commit and look at the talent – just look at what we do on the field – it’s gonna be a problem for a couple years. We all know what’s coming. The coaches know what’s coming. It’s gonna be a lot of fun in Columbus for a couple years, and we all have a vision of being at that draft one day.”

During the 2024 NFL Draft, when each of the players in his class will be draft eligible, Adeleye says something special will take place. 

“We’re very proud and proud of our development. When you look at how many guys have developed in three, four or five years – everybody has their own story.”– Ryan Day on developing players into nfl successes

“Just looking at all the talent that the coaches have developed in the past and seeing the talent that we’re bringing in with this class, it’s setting up to be something that’s gonna be historic,” Adeleye said. “You’ll see. I don’t even know how to explain it to you. All the players know what’s gonna happen these next couple years. 

“It’s gonna be domination that’s never been seen. The talent that’s come into Ohio State with the coaching staff we have here, it’s gonna be a lot of fun. College football’s gonna be a lot of fun for the people in Ohio. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

One of the next big puzzle pieces to fit into this class is landing a commitment from Adeleye's teammate at IMG (Fla.) Academy in offensive tackle JC Latham, a player who is likely to finish this cycle as a composite five-star player and finish as a top-10 overall prospect.

His recruitment is looking like it's coming down to LSU and Ohio State, and if the Buckeyes land him, the class as a whole is shaping up to be even more special than what Clemson did in last year's draft of getting its entire starting defensive line drafted, including three first-rounders. 

“I’m telling you right now, if JC comes to Ohio State, in three years, you’re gonna see the most first-rounders ever from a class. We’re gonna break some records,” Adeleye said. “You saw what Clemson did with its defensive line? We’re gonna do that with everybody – offense and defense, everybody’s gonna get drafted. The team that we’re building, with the work ethic that everyone has, we’re gonna do some amazing things in college. I can just see it right now.”

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