From the moment he stepped up to the microphone to begin his press conference after Ohio State signed 24 players to its recruiting class of 2020 on Wednesday, Ryan Day’s excitement was palpable.
“What a great day this has been,” Day said in his opening statement. “This is going to be one heck of a class.”
Day had reason to be excited. With the exception of a pair of defensive backs – Clark Phillips, who is signing Thursday but could still be considering a flip to Utah, and Cameron Martinez, who opted to delay signing until February due to the departure of Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley – Ohio State signed each of its other 23 commits on Wednesday, while it also landed a signing-day pledge from four-star quarterback CJ Stroud.
Including the addition of Stroud (and still including Phillips and Martinez, at least for now), Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2020 is now ranked third nationally and just one day into the early signing period, the Buckeyes’ work on the recruiting trail for the current cycle is nearly done.
“24 guys, that’s a full class right there. I thought the staff did an unbelievable job,” Day said Wednesday. “You can’t imagine the amount of time it takes in recruiting, and to put together a class like this, it’s just great.”
While Ohio State’s class falls slightly behind Clemson and Alabama in the overall ratings, it doesn’t lack for star power. Five-star wide receiver Julian Fleming and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. both rank as the nation’s best prospects at their position and among the top seven overall prospects in the class, while four-star wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr. and Mookie Cooper, safety Lathan Ransom, Stroud and interior offensive lineman Luke Wypler also all wrong among the top 100 prospects in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
It’s also a class that addresses just about every one of the Buckeyes’ needs for their class of 2020.
No need was bigger for this year’s class than the quarterback position, where the Buckeyes really needed to land at least one top quarterback prospect – and ideally two – after failing to sign a high school quarterback in the class of 2019. With only two scholarship quarterbacks on the current roster who will be back next year, Justin Fields and Gunnar Hoak, the Buckeyes were looking to sign two quarterbacks this year in order to get back to Day’s optimal number of four scholarship quarterbacks, and they ended up with two potential future starters in Stroud and Jack Miller.
“Jack and CJ both bring different things to the table,” Day said. “Jack is somebody that has been committed all along. He was loyal from the get-go. I watched him throw when he was 16 years old, and I saw something in him, and he never wavered, either. And I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player. And then CJ is somebody who came on the scene a little bit later, and I think he has a high ceiling, as well. Both kind of different stories, but I think both are really excited to come in here and go fight for playing time.”
No part of Ohio State’s class of 2020 stands out more than the quartet of wide receivers, who all rank among the nation’s top 15 prospects at their position. Ohio State’s receiving corps is losing three key players after this season in K.J. Hill, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor, and Fleming, Smith-Njigba, Scott and Cooper are all talented enough to potentially contribute immediately and become stars of the Buckeyes’ offense in due time.
“This is probably the strongest class I’ve seen in a long time that I can remember,” Day said of the wide receivers.
Offensive line was another area in which the Buckeyes needed to bring in a big class of 2020, and they made that happen by signing six offensive linemen on Wednesday. Day acknowledged that Johnson and Wypler are the most likely linemen to compete for early playing time, while Josh Fryar, Grant Toutant, Jakob James and Trey Leroux – all three-star prospects – will likely need more time to develop, but he believes it is a “great mix” of players who will provide needed fortification to Ohio State’s depth up front.
“I thought going into this recruiting cycle, offensive line was a huge deal, and I thought Coach Stud did an unbelievable job,” Day said.
One critique of this year’s recruiting class could come at running back, where the Buckeyes missed out on their top targets for the class of 2020 – five-star Bijan Robinson landed at Texas, while highly touted four-star Kendall Milton signed with Georgia – and ended up with a less heralded three-star prospect in Miyan Williams.
That said, Day expressed Wednesday that he believes Williams, a Cincinnati product, will be a great fit for the Buckeyes’ running back room, where they needed to sign at least one quality prospect this year given that J.K. Dobbins is a strong candidate to enter the NFL draft after this season.
“He’s a big, strong, physical back,” Day said. “He’s very, very productive. Everybody in that area just talked about how strong of a runner he was, how productive he was, and so after we kept going through it over and over again, we looked at a lot of people throughout the country, we’re like wait a minute, we’ve got one right in Ohio here. And I think that meant a lot to us. I just think he’s going to have a great career. He runs with an edge. He runs tough, he runs hard. It’s like he’s angry when he runs, and we like that.”
Ohio State’s offensive class is rounded out by three-star tight end Joe Royer – another Cincinnati product – who fills its lone vacancy at that position for the 2020 class, and Jake Seibert, who is ranked as the second-best kicker in the class and will grayshirt his first year on campus while being groomed to succeed Blake Haubeil as the Buckeyes’ starting kicker in 2021.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State started by signing a trio of versatile defensive linemen who could each potentially play both outside and inside in Jacolbe Cowan, Darrion Henry-Young and Ty Hamilton. Cowan and Henry-Young are both four-star prospects, while Hamilton – the younger brother of current starting defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton – is a three-star prospect but one that Day believes made impressive strides in his senior year at Pickerington Central.
“He had a great year. He was kind of terrorizing every team he played,” Day said of Hamilton. “Played big, played strong and I think he’s got a chance to be really good. I think he probably has a chance to have a bigger impact early on in the career than we maybe thought going into this season.”
The Buckeyes added two true linebackers in Cody Simon and Mitchell Melton – which is all they needed at that spot this year, as Malik Harrison is currently the only scholarship linebacker set to leave after this season – as well as Kourt Williams, who Ohio State listed as a safety on Wednesday but could also end up playing the strongside linebacker that Pete Werner currently plays.
“First off, Kourt, I’ll be surprised if he’s not a captain when he’s here,” Day said. “He’s got a lot of versatility. He can do a lot of things. So we’re going to find different ways to get him on the field.”
The big, lingering question coming out of Wednesday is in the secondary, where the Buckeyes are in need of a big class of reinforcements – Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller are both seniors, Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade are both candidates to leave early for the NFL and Isaiah Pryor and Brendon White have both opted to transfer – and will need to find replacements for the 2020 class if Phillips opts to sign with Utah or Martinez opts to sign elsewhere in February.
Nonetheless, Ohio State did ink a pair of cornerbacks in Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts and a safety in Lathan Ransom – who Day said “is going to be as good a safety as we’ve had here in a long time” – on Wednesday, just four days after Boston College announced the hiring of Hafley, and Day was proud of the effort his staff put in to reassure those DB’s that they were making the right decision by signing with the Buckeyes this week.
“To get these guys here, going through the turmoil that we went in with losing Jeff, just goes to show you how much these guys love Ohio State, how much they want to be here and how much they believe in the development that goes on here,” Day said. “They made their commitment to Ohio State and I know Buckeye Nation is really happy they signed today.”
Regardless of what happens with Phillips on Thursday, Ohio State’s work for the recruiting class of 2020 won’t be quite done yet. While Phillips would bring the Buckeyes to 25 signees for 2020, which is technically the limit for a recruiting class, there are loopholes Ohio State can use to sign a couple of extra players – provided it’s under the 85-man scholarship limit by the start of next season – and if there’s a good enough player still available who wants to be a Buckeye, Day and his staff will explore those possibilities.
“We might be able to make some room,” Day said with a sly grin. “We’re kind of right at the number right now, but there’s some wiggle room in there.”
By and large, though, the vast majority of Ohio State’s 2020 recruiting class is already locked in. And as Day and the Buckeyes now turn their full focus back to preparing for their College Football Playoff semifinal game against Clemson on Dec. 28, that’s a great place for them to be.
“This is a great day for us,” Day said. “You want to know where the program is headed? Obviously you look at how we did this year, that’s great, but when you want to look at the future, you look at recruiting. And not only do we have great players (coming in), we have great families and great students and great people and great leaders who are loyal.”