Nigel Smith didn’t need to camp at Ohio State to earn an offer from the Buckeyes, but he didn’t want to pass up the chance to learn from Larry Johnson.
Smith, the No. 41 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2024 per 247Sports’ composite rankings, already received an offer from Ohio State in January. Even before he camped at Ohio State on Monday, Smith was already one of the Buckeyes’ top defensive line targets in the rising junior class.
But Smith thinks so highly of Johnson that he came to Columbus for the chance to soak up as much coaching as he could get from Ohio State’s defensive line coach.
“I don't understand why some guys think that camping is just for no reason. With a dude like that, there's no reason to not come out here and get better,” Smith said after Monday’s camp. “All you can do is learn. His knowledge is just so deep that you're not going to come here and not learn anything. Some camps will be just to evaluate you, run 40s, stuff like that. But that's not what this camp is for. So I'm going to camp to get better and just have fun, enjoy it.”
While his workout with Johnson and the other defensive linemen at Monday’s camp lasted only a couple of hours, Smith felt like he learned a lot in just a short amount of time.
“It was definitely a great, great time to get to be able to actually see his coaching style in action,” Smith said. “I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t like a camp that took forever, but you got a lot of drills that you can take back. I already got a whole bunch of drills from him, probably over an hour-long video of just straight drills, so I've got a lot that I took back and used at home. So it was just great to be able to actually see his coaching style in person and get coached by someone like that.”
Smith said the biggest thing Johnson has preached to him is the importance of having a high motor.
“He explained that you can have alright technique, he'll teach that to you, but it's just all in the motor,” Smith said. “You're gonna be a great player if you always have a high motor, always high pace, stuff like that.”
Monday was Smith’s third time visiting Ohio State, as he was previously on campus for the Michigan State game last November and the spring game in April. He’s expressed high interest in Ohio State since making his first visit, and he says Johnson’s history of developing elite defensive linemen is the biggest reason why.
“He spits dudes out into the league and I mean, he's one of the biggest developers out there. His knowledge is very, very extensive,” Smith said. “And he's real genuine. Like he’s not going to BS you.”
“I don't understand why some guys think that camping is just for no reason. With a dude like that, there's no reason to not come out here and get better.”– Nigel Smith on working out with Larry Johnson
At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Smith showcased his versatility at Monday’s camp, lining up both on the edge and inside and winning one-on-one reps from both spots. That said, Johnson has told Smith he would likely spend most of his time at defensive end if he chooses Ohio State.
“He explained to me that he sees me as an edge,” Smith said. “But he wants his best pass-rusher everywhere on the field. So he wants me rushing from the (3-technique), he wants me doing pretty much everything, wherever I'm best at. He just wants me on the field, so I was doing pretty much everything.”
Smith, who lives in Melissa, Texas, started his month of June by visiting Rutgers and Pittsburgh. He’s also planning to head to Oklahoma, Alabama and Miami later this month. In the fall, Smith plans on making game visits to various schools each week.
Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2024 got off to a roaring start last month when the Buckeyes landed a commitment from quarterback Dylan Raiola, the No. 3 overall prospect in the composite rankings for the 2024 class. Smith said that will have no impact on his recruitment, however, as he’s focused solely on picking the school that he thinks will help him have the best career.
“I just want to go to a place where I feel I’ll get the most developed. A place where I feel there’s a family atmosphere,” Smith said. “Other than that, it really doesn’t matter. If I feel like I'll get really developed at a smaller school, then I’ll go there. It doesn’t matter to me.”
If Smith’s comments about Johnson are any indication, that could give Ohio State as good of a chance as anyone of landing him.