On the first day of Ohio State’s second semester, 11 Buckeyes from the 2023 signing class have officially enrolled at OSU, meaning they’ve gone from signees to officially Buckeyes.
Jermaine Mathews, Will Smith Jr., Joshua Padilla, Luke Montgomery, Austin Siereveld, Miles Walker, Noah Rogers, Carnell Tate, Bryson Rodgers, Jelani Thurman and Malik Hartford are each set to arrive on campus this week and all will be eligible to participate in spring football. The remaining nine signees – Brandon Inniss, Kayden McDonald, Lincoln Kienholz, Jason Moore, Calvin Simpson-Hunt, Joshua Mickens, Arvell Reese, Jayden Bonsu and Cedrick Hawkins – will arrive in Columbus in June for summer workouts.
As they begin their Buckeye careers, we take a look at what all of the 11 early enrollees could bring to Ohio State, separated by position.
Cornerback: Jermaine Mathews
There may be no early enrollee with more confidence than Ohio cornerback Jermaine Mathews, who arrived in Columbus on Sunday and may be one of the biggest candidates to contribute early in his freshman season. Barring any further additions from the transfer portal, cornerback seems to be one of the Buckeyes’ thinnest positions entering the 2023 season. True freshmen have earned starts in back-to-back years for Ohio State’s defense in Jyaire Brown and Denzel Burke, so Mathews hopes he can continue that trend should he make a standout first impression.
Lets Ride. https://t.co/S6VK7f5U46— Jermaine Mathews Jr (@Jr2Maine) January 9, 2023
“I’m super confident. I think like my technique and just my athletic ability, I think it ranks up there with a lot of people,” Mathews told Eleven Warriors earlier this month of enrolling early. “So I just really want to get my body right, my mind, learn the defense, really. I think I got a really good chance of making an early impact next year.”
Although Miami made a late push for Mathews in his recruitment, his allegiance never wavered, as he stayed loyal to Ohio State ever since he committed to the Buckeyes on July 1. After he finished school at Winton Woods, he wanted to see the team compete in the postseason, so he attended the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff contest against Georgia on New Year’s Eve.
Mathews earned his Ohio State offer with a camp performance that may have been the best of any recruit the entire summer on June 1. It certainly stuck out to Ryan Day.
“I will say this, I was really impressed,” Day said during his Early Signing Period press conference of Mathews’ camp performance. “Right off the bat. I first met him early on in the process, but then when he came to camp, he did a great job at camp. I mean, it was a hot day. It was a competitive day. Coach Knowles was going through the drills, and I mean, he was getting worn slick. At one point, I'm like, man, take it easy on this guy, he's gonna pass out, but he kept going and going and going and competing.
“And then I thought he had a great year this year, just playing really, really hard for Winton Woods and coach Murph, and I just was really impressed with his ability to go compete every single day. And this is another guy who went through a lot during the recruiting process and fielded a lot of calls. And a lot of people were blowing up that phone, and he was loyal to the Buckeyes. And I think he will have a great career.”
Defensive tackle: Will Smith Jr.
Smith has planned on enrolling early at Ohio State for a long time, trusting in the plan that the Buckeyes have for him to see the field as early as possible.
“They want me as a three-technique, and they want me to be 285 (pounds), somewhere around there,” Smith said about enrolling early on the day of his signing ceremony. “That’s really it. I’ve just been lifting, getting stronger, getting more conditioned and trying to get faster.”
Many fans need no introduction to Smith, as he’s the son of the late Ohio State great Will Smith, a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year for the Buckeyes. But Smith earned his offer from his offseason work of gaining more than 15 pounds in his senior year offseason and continuing to improve as a player.
“That (his father) wasn't gonna be the reason why we're gonna offer him a scholarship,” Day said. “We saw that motor in his junior film. But we sat down and explained to him what the expectation was if he came here. These are the things that we expect of you to be a Buckeye. And some of those things he and his mom and his family already knew because they had a perspective on that, certainly with his dad's background.”
Whatever difficulties come Smith’s way from the adjustment to high school to college, he’ll have a support system close by to cheer him on, as he comes to OSU by way of Dublin Coffman High School.
“I think it will be a big help,” Smith said of having family nearby. “I’m really glad that my mom will be just 20 minutes away. If I have a problem, I can just go to her.”
Offensive linemen: Joshua Padilla, Luke Montgomery, Austin Siereveld, Miles Walker
Considering offensive lineman is the position that arguably needs the most development time before a prep prospect is college ready, it should be a sigh of relief for both offensive line coach Justin Frye and Day that all four of their 2023 offensive linemen signees are getting a head start on their strength training.
“I thought Justin (Frye) did an excellent job,” Day said of his 2023 offensive linemen in his recruiting class. “I really think all three of (the Ohio linemen) have the ability to make an impact right away. These are guys who we've had in camp. We've seen work live.”
Montgomery is the most highly touted prospect of the four and will be given a chance to mark his mark at offensive tackle. While C.J. Hicks held the title of Captain Buckeye for the 2022 recruiting class, Montgomery arguably had the same role for 2023.
“He's kind of been the leader of this class,” Day said. “He's got a great personality. He and his family have been unbelievable during this process. But he's very, very talented. You can see him on the basketball court the way he moves his feet. He's got toughness and physicality. He could play probably all five positions, but we're gonna start his at tackle.”
Siereveld will start his collegiate career at guard. Siereveld was the last of the Ohio offensive linemen to commit, but the Buckeyes are thankful to have him nonetheless.
“(Siereveld is) a very big and strong and powerful guy,” Day said. “You can see when you get up on him the size of his legs. I think his family said that they can't find him a pair of pants. So he either wears sweatpants or shorts. That's how big his thighs are. But he's very, very powerful and big inside and kind of that road grader you're looking for and guard.”
Padilla is passing up his senior wrestling season in favor of getting a head start with the Buckeyes, and considering he was always a state contender in his weight class, that’s no small concession. Padilla will start his college career at center despite never playing there in high school, but he has had conversations with OSU center Luke Wypler about the position.
“This is a guy whose dad is a wrestling coach. He was a wrestler,” Day said. “He has all the traits you're looking for in a center. The quickness, the ability to leverage the noses and the guys that he's gonna have to go against every day. And he's got a toughness about him.”
Walker may need the most development of the four offensive linemen. But considering the transformation of his body thanks to a year-long process, Walker could turn into a hidden gem at offensive tackle despite being the only three-star recruit in OSU’s 2023 class.
“Miles is from Brunswick, a school up there in Greenwich, Connecticut, and you look at his length and his athleticism and his size,” Day said. “He's going to start (his career) at tackle for us as well. He brings a lot of potential there. So all four of those guys early on we’re excited about. Hopefully, we can get these guys going and make a push.”
Wide receivers: Noah Rogers, Carnell Tate, Bryson Rodgers
Nearly all of Ohio State’s wide receiver signees will be early enrollees, with the exception of Inniss. You’d think it’d be a tall order for any to earn major roles next year, considering the depth Ohio State has at that position with Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egubka and Julian Fleming all expected back. But considering how highly-touted these receiver prospects were, early playing time can’t be discounted, even if it’s of the limited variety such as the roles Harrison Jr. and Egbuka played two years ago.
“You look at Brandon, Carnell, Noah and Bryson Rodgers. I think all four of these guys are gonna be really good players for us,” Day said. “And all four of them are looking to come in and make an impact.”
The first wide receiver commit of 2023 was Rodgers, who resided in Florida but has strong Ohio roots. Rodgers profiles as an outside receiver and an excellent route runner.
“Bryson had a big-time season this year,” Day said. “His family has ties up here in Ohio, the Warren area. From early on, he jumped on this thing and was a Buckeye all the way. And his loyalty during this whole thing has been excellent. I think he's gonna have a really bright future here.”
Tate was the second receiver to commit after a lengthy recruiting battle where the Buckeyes bested both Notre Dame and Tennessee. The IMG Academy product impressed during All-American Bowl practices and games and has a chance to have a big-time career in Columbus.
“Carnell, that was quite a recruiting process,” Day said. “I thought Brian and everybody did a great job there. But I think he always knew he wanted to be a Buckeye as well. He's got a chance to be an impact player for us.”
Finally, Rogers sealed off what was arguably the highlight of the 2023 cycle for Ohio State with three wide receiver commitments in three straight days in June. It’s hard to think of a top-50 prospect nationally as underrated, but the playmaker from the Tar Heel State may be slept on in some recruiting circles because of the presence of Inniss and Tate.
“Noah from down in North Carolina, again, recruited him from the jump,” Day said. “There were a couple of twists and turns along the way, but he was pretty loyal and had a big-time season. I think you're really gonna like him and just his personality and makeup.”
Tight end: Jelani Thurman
Like Mathews, Thurman was also at the Peach Bowl rooting for Ohio State. Unlike Mathews, Thurman had only a 20-minute drive from his hometown of Fairburn, Georgia, to watch the Buckeyes in Atlanta, so the lone tight end commit in 2023 also stopped by several practices before the Peach Bowl.
Practice underway for OSU. Miyan Williams is here today. 2023 signee Jelani Thurman is back to watch practice for the second straight day. pic.twitter.com/ZMGCJaB2nK— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) December 29, 2022
Thurman, who is known for his love of Spider-Man, may find it difficult to swing his way into early playing time considering Cade Stover decided to return for another season at Ohio State. But considering the remaining tight ends on the roster have limited experience, perhaps Thurman will have a shot at seeing some snaps early if he impresses. While tight ends, like offensive linemen, can need multiple years of development before being college-ready, Thurman’s pass-catching ability may be too exemplary for Day and company not to let him see the field early in his career.
Safety: Malik Hartford
Hartford turned some heads in San Antonio while participating in All-American Bowl practices, and now the Lakota West product will be vying for a role as a free safety or strong safety in Jim Knowles’ defense. Which position Hartford sticks at is irrelevant to him.
“I take pride in every aspect of the game, so whatever will help my team win and help me get on the field, I'll definitely take advantage of,” Hartford said after his commitment to Ohio State in April.
Hartford is the second Lakota West player in as many cycles to sign with the Buckeyes, joining Jyaire Brown. Hartford will now hope he also gets to see the field in some capacity his freshman year, just as his high school teammate did for Ohio State in 2022, and his special teams prowess – he blocked six kicks in his junior year of high school – should increase his chances of doing so.