Urban Meyer knows better than anyone the importance to recruit the fruitful ground of the state of Ohio into his college football program. Due to this perception, Eleven Warriors will look at the 12 Ohio high school programs who produced Buckeyes in 2015.
WORTHINGTON, Ohio — Liam McCullough didn't really have a choice: He was born to be an Ohio State fan, whether he liked it or not.
"Growing up as a kid in Ohio, you're a Buckeye fan and everyone, well, most everyone in the community and at my school is a Buckeye fan," McCullough told Eleven Warriors May 19. "I have teachers that are crazy Ohio State fans."
Most everyone in the state of Ohio has some sort of allegiance to Ohio State, whether it be because they or part of their family attended one of the largest institutions in the country or anything else. Saturdays in the fall are typically reserved for Ohioans to breathe Scarlet and Gray.
McCullough, a somewhat forgotten member of Ohio State's 2015 recruiting class because of his position, hardly disputes this fact.
"It's been really cool because everyone talks about Ohio State football in Columbus, everyone," McCullough said. "That's always the topic of conversation and to get to be a part of that and kind of know that everything's going on with that, it's kind of cool."
Ohio State fans from all over the state — and by extension the country — aren't shy about rooting for the Buckeyes regardless the time of year.
McCullough, believed to be just the second long snapper in school history to earn a scholarship, hails from Worthington Kilbourne High School — located not even 15 miles north of campus off State Route 315.
"Really for me I'm proud when my kids go play anywhere, whether it's Divison I, I-AA or II, or III," Kilbourne head coach Vince Trombetti, an Ohio State graduate, told Eleven Warriors. "I do have to admit, as a graduate, it's neat to have one of your kids go there and play."
But just like anything else, it wasn't easy for McCullough to receive an offer from his hometown school — the one everyone who grows up in Central Ohio wants to suit up for in college.
"A lot of my recruitment, because to be honest it's a weird position to get recruited at, as a long snapper," McCullough said. "I did a ton of stuff putting together my highlight film and everything, sending it out to coaches, reaching out to coaches, going to college camps and stuff."
It's that determination, willingness to go the extra mile and a skill few possess that got McCullough to Ohio State — examples of how Trombetti and his staff push the young men they tutor daily.
Liam McCullough won't ever forget the day he finally earned a scholarship offer from Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. Already offered by Michigan State, Wisconsin and Kentucky, McCullough knew in his heart he wanted to be a Buckeye all along, but when Meyer finally felt the same way, the 6-foot-2, 213-pounder was almost blindsided.
"It's every kid's dream if you grew up in Central Ohio to play football for the Buckeyes and that was always kind of a fantasy for me. Then when I got my offer, when it actually happened I had to take a step back and say OK, 'This is real now,'" McCullough said. "I had to sit down and weigh my options and not just try to jump to the school that I loved watching growing up but didn't really know too much about."
Meyer is about as real as you can get when it comes to college football coaches, especially now considering he heads the program looking to defend the first ever College Football Playoff national championship. He offered McCullough a full ride in February 2014, keen to how recruiting is evolving and offering a scholarship to a specialist is normal. They're that important.
"Recently, coaches have been realizing it's an important position. There's a lot of, there's a need for it nowadays because there's a lot of, special teams wins games in a lot of cases. Whether it's field goals, punts. It's momentum, too."– Liam McCullough
"Originally I was extended a preferred walk-on offer to Ohio State back in the summer after my sophomore year," McCullough said. "Then I went and got my other offers from Michigan State, Wisconsin and Kentucky and Coach Meyer realized that if he was going to recruit a long snapper he was going to have to offer a scholarship."
Trombetti added: "The biggest thing is I'm going to speculate that there's a need there. They see how important the special teams are, especially something with a long snapper. You get a bad snap and it could cost you a game."
Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger missed a pair of field goals (40 and 27 yards) early in the second quarter of his team's lone loss of 2014 to Virginia Tech.
The Buckeyes trailed 14-7 at the time of both misses, so they didn't solely cause the loss by any means, but an extra six points to cut the lead to one could have totally changed the course of the game.
"Recently, coaches have been realizing it's an important position. There's a lot of, there's a need for it nowadays because there's a lot of, special teams wins games in a lot of cases. Whether it's field goals, punts," McCullough said. "It's momentum, too."
McCullough didn't realize how important the position was until he gave it a try in junior high, only to eventually find himself on varsity special teams as a freshman for the Wolves.
"The story is, Liam's freshman year we really didn't have a long snapper and we were asking the kids, 'Do you guys know of anybody who can do this?'" Trombetti said. "And they suggested that we take a look at Liam, so we did and he was pretty good."
Pretty good turned into exceptional with the help of Chris Rubio, the long snapping guru who teams up with Chris Saler to form the top specialist camp in the nation.
"He started as a freshman as our long snapper and then his dad started taking him to the Rubio snapping camps and would start to take him on college visits and things like that," Trombetti said. "And that's really where the recruiting process for him was really centered."
Such is life as a specialist — putting in the extra work outside of Friday nights to subtly push your skill on top college coaches to get noticed. In McCullough's case, though, an extra incentive lit a fire under Meyer to keep the top-ranked long snapper in the country home.
"When I went in that February and talked with Coach Meyer, that was a big thing that he stressed," McCullough said. "He basically told me 'I'm not going to lose you to a school out of state, especially Michigan State.' He said he didn't like Michigan State. He said he wasn't going to lose me to a team out of state."
He didn't, and with redshirt senior long snapper Bryce Haynes exiting the program following the 2015 season, McCullough said he plans on redshirting this fall and stepping right in come 2016.
Current Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston figures to be gone after this season, too, which made the commitment of top-ranked punter Drue Chrisman from Cincinnati LaSalle High School all the more important.
The battery of Chrisman-McCullough secures Ohio State's special teams for years to come.
"He and I, we talk just about every day," McCullough said of Chrisman. "We're going to start working together soon because he and I are going to be together for three years. All the way from Bryce, Cam and Sean to me to Drue to even the other guys that are there in the specialists group and other guys on the team, everyone is like a family."
The lack of spring football in Ohio puts a strain on people like Kilbourne head coach Vince Trombetti, the man who led the Wolves to an 8-4 record and a win in the 2014 state playoffs to earn OCC Coach of the Year honors.
"I think Ohio High School Athletic Association is a great governing body, but for this particular issue, they are really putting our kids at a big disadvantage," Trombetti said. "I'm not asking for, I wouldn't ask for full blown spring practice, pads, contact and all that stuff. But just to have the opportunity to work with those kids, I think that our kids really are at a disadvantage because so many of the other states allow schools to do things with the kids."
The protocol doesn't appear to be changing any time soon, however. That's OK, Trombetti says, because the people in Ohio make it work to prepare their kids for not only fall on Friday nights, but fall on Saturday afternoons.
"I think we have great coaches in the state of Ohio. When you go to the clinics ... and all these coaches just from all the over the country come in, they often comment about that," Trombetti said. "I know part of it is them being polite, but I think if you look at the fact that there are so many states that allow for example spring ball and the fact that we're restricted, we're not allowed to do that and we're still churning out high quality players like we are, I have to think that a big part of that is the coaching the kids are getting."
Players like McCullough, an intelligent and driven high schooler with plans to attend medical school someday, notice the time and effort their coaches put into making their programs better every single day.
Read up on how McCullough caught Ohio State's eye,
his recruiting process, commitment and more
in his Better Know a Buckeye feature.
"The talent's there, but even when you look at a school like Ohio State, when you get these three-star recruits that turn into these Darron Lees, the Cardale Joneses, stuff like that, the big difference is the coaching," McCullough said. "That's in Ohio at the collegiate level and even at the high school level as well."
Lee was a quarterback in high school that Luke Fickell demanded get an Ohio State scholarship offer, in a similar way McCullough's expertise at long snapping demands the attention of the man in charge, Urban Meyer. It stems from all those involved with high school football all the way down to the communities that surround them.
"What do you do on Friday nights in Ohio? You go to a high school football game," Trombetti said. "I think that ESPN or somebody was looking at having college games on Friday nights or something and if you do that, nobody's going to watch because they'll all be at the high school games."
He continued: "I think it's coaching, I think it's that blue-collar mentality, I think it's that Midwest toughness. Everybody says that the Midwest teams will never beat the SEC teams because the SEC is too fast and all that stuff."
Ohio State downed Alabama in the Sugar Bowl New Year's Day to earn a trip to the national championship game and complete one of the best three-game runs in the sport's recent memory.
"I made the comment, I'm surprised that the coaches from Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon aren't in Ohio more," Trombetti said. "With the ass-whooping that they took from Ohio State at the end of the year, finding out what we're putting in the water over there or something. It was so fun to watch that."
Trombetti's proud of his alma mater for getting back to the zenith of the sport, and even prouder that one of his own players finally earned a scholarship from the hometown school embedded deeply in Central Ohio.
"Liam having that opportunity to join that program and learn from Urban and Kerry Coombs and all those guys down there, it's just a great opportunity," he said.