Skull Session: Ohio State’s View of the Transfer Portal Took a 180 in 2023, Archie Griffin Helped Homage Evolve and the Buckeyes‘ Recruiting Pitch Should Be “NFL Before NIL”

By Chase Brown on May 12, 2023 at 5:00 am
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch

Welcome to the Skull Session.

The best news of the offseason arrived on Thursday. Avery Henry's cancer is in remission.

 ADAPT OR DIE. Since he was hired as Ohio State's head coach in 2019, Ryan Day has been oh-so-close to the top of college football's metaphorical mountain many times.

With a 45-6 record across four seasons – one of which, 2020, was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic – two Big Ten titles and three appearances in the College Football Playoff and one trip to the national championship, perhaps no one in recent history has been closer to the precipice without crossing the threshold than Day.

That's why, as 247Sports' Chris Hummer argues, Day has embraced a new transfer portal strategy this offseason. He's abandoned the program's “retention instead of addition” approach of old and welcomed talent at necessary positions, harkening on “Compete,” “Fight,” and “Tough Love,” the four words Day touts for Ohio State to succeed.

Hummer took words from the horse's mouth to support his claim that Day's mindset toward the transfer portal has changed over the last year.

Day in 2022: "We really haven't spent a lot of time focusing on the transfer portal. Because I think if you want to sustain the program for a long period of time, I think recruits and their families, when you recruit them and talk to them about the plan for them to develop in your program, they want to see that happen. And they really don't want to see a transfer come in and jump somebody in line.”

Day in 2023: “As you guys know, we’ve been very careful to add pieces here. But we know it’s a necessary thing, and so we have to sit down at the end of spring and identify what positions do we feel good about. Where do we have depth that we feel strong about because we know we’re gonna lose guys along the way and guys are gonna have to step up.”

"We haven't spent a lot of time on the transfer portal," and "We know it's a necessary thing" is quite the switch! But, to borrow from Day, the switch was "necessary." In college football, programs must adapt or die. Ohio State has understood that better than anyone for half a century, proven by the team's stellar record and lack of losing seasons for 50 years. This time around, however, the Buckeyes were a bit behind the 8-ball.

In 2022, as the Alabamas, Georgias and USCs of the sport attacked the portal, Day prioritized keeping his roster intact over pursuing transfer pieces that could've disrupted locker room harmony (see: Eli Ricks). But in 2023, Day recognized his mistake from the previous season and altered course, which he does exceptionally well, by the way, and doesn't receive enough credit for (see: Kerry Coombs in 2021). Ohio State hit the portal hard, adding Ja'Had Carter, Davison Igbinosun, Victor Cutler Jr., Josh Simmons, Lorenzo Styles and Tywone Malone in four months.

Hummer continues:

Transfer additions are part of a modern roster construction strategy needed to win national championships. If you have a hole, fill it. Bringing in transfers feels more in line with the urgency that’s in place for every head coach at Ohio State, where there's an annual national title expectation.

Day is unquestionably successful as a head coach. But he’s yet to reach the mountaintop that Buckeye greats like Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes have before him.

The margins preventing him from getting there in the past have been remarkably small. An injury here, a bad call there. By adopting a more aggressive transfer strategy, Day is giving his roster more insulation from the variance than can prevent a great team from winning a championship. Retention is great. But it works a heck of a lot better when you can augment a roster at the same time with experienced pieces.

That's what Ohio State did this offseason, and I think the Buckeyes will be better for it. Perhaps it will be just what the doctor ordered for Day to shake the Michigan monkey off his back and finally reach that mountaintop. One can hope, at least.

 WHO ELSE BUT ARCHIE? The Columbus-based apparel brand Homage was founded in Ohio's capital city in 2007. The company initially sold items out of a small, hole-in-the-wall shop in the Short North but has since expanded with two locations in Columbus and one each in Cleveland and Cincinnati. It also has a popular online store featuring all of its in-stock apparel.

Homage's rapid growth occurred after it became the go-to brand for Ohio State apparel, as its T-shirts, hoodies and sweatpants were seen as a comfortable alternative to the school's Fortune 500 partner Nike. However, that evolution would have never occurred without help. Good thing they received some from college football's only two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, a Buckeye football legend.

In an interview with Bill Shea of The Athletic, Homage founder and CEO Ryan Vesler said he believes – beyond the many tremendous runs and touchdowns Griffin scored at Ohio State – Griffin's most important carry happened when Vesler put the fate of his company in Griffin's hands, allowing the former running back to secure a licensing deal with the university that made Homage the brand it is today.

Vesler, 40, said landing a t-shirt deal with Archie Griffin, the Ohio State running back that won back-to-back Heisman Trophies in the 1970s, helped Homage negotiate an Ohio State apparel license — a major launching point for the company.

“(Griffin) really gave me a chance to do it. The brand was one no one had ever heard of. It was the start of good things to come,” Vesler said.

Ohio State merch remains Homage’s backbone even as its NFL line matures and other IP sells steadily. The licensed “Script Ohio” graphic collection remains Homage’s best-selling product line. A recent “Price Is Right” winner wore an Homage red and white “Script Ohio” t-shirt on the gameshow, and his family joined him on stage after he won, all wearing the same shirt.

“That graphic is intertwined with our origin story,” Vesler said. “It speaks to the customer for a lot of different reasons.”

The more I look back on the touchdown he scored in Ohio State's 2023 spring game, the more appreciative I am of that moment. While I never saw him run the ball in his prime, I will always remember Griffin receiving the handoff from Kyle McCord and running 25 yards down the sideline for a score.

Archie Griffin is the best. He means so much to many people, and this story from Vesler and The Athletic is the latest example. Cheers to him for being the classiest representative Ohio State could ever ask for.

 “IT'S NFL BEFORE NIL.” At Sunday's Under Armour Next camp in Columbus, an event Dan Hope and Garrick Hodge attended for Eleven Warriors, twins Deontae and Devontae Armstrong explained their decision to commit to Ohio State in the 2023 class over other programs who competed for their services.

From Pete Nakos of On3:

"That's what we go there for, you know, national championships, get developed and then go to the league," Deontae told On3 on Sunday at Fortess Obetz sports complex. "It's NFL before NIL."

Ohio State has the evidence to back up the NFL development in the offensive line room. Former five-star recruit Paris Johnson protected C.J. Stroud this past season at left tackle. He went 11 games without allowing a sack on his way to earning consensus first-team All-American honors.

Johnson went No. 6 overall to the Arizona Cardinals in last month’s NFL draft as the first offensive tackle from Ohio State to go in the first round since Taylor Decker in 2016. The Buckeyes had two more offensive linemen taken in the draft with Luke Wypler and Dawand Jones.

“Their development is second to none, especially with the help of coach Mick [Marotti],” Devontae said. “We’ve seen it in the draft, you know, with Paris Johnson. That just speaks to their coaching staff.”

I refrained from a shameless plug to Eleven Warriors Dry Goods in the section about Homage. However, I have to name-drop our fantastic Ohio State-themed store here because, man, “NFL before NIL” is a marketable quote to slap on a T-shirt – similar to the Catholics vs. Draft Picks. I need to talk to Jason about that.

In all seriousness, that quote from Deontae is a killer and is a message the Buckeyes' coaching staff should repeatedly send to the top recruits in the country, albeit in a more careful fashion, not to disregard NIL opportunities at Ohio State completely.

We looked at the numbers in Wednesday's Skull Session. C.J. Stroud, Paris Johnnson Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba will combine to make almost $80 million from their rookie deals. Add in Zach Harrison, Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler, and that number could exceed $90 million for Ohio State's draftees. Good luck securing that kind of cash at [REDACTED] (you know what schools I refer to).

 YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND IN ME. This spring, a boy named Conlee found a friend – well, several friends, really –  at an Ohio State baseball game. But it wasn't a fan in the stands or red coats who he became friends with. It was the team itself, as head coach Bill Mosiello and his squad took time out of their preparations to meet and develop a relationship with Conlee.

Conlee suffers from cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects the respiratory system, digestive system, sinuses and more. According to Team Impact, the organization that told Conlee's story, only about 40,000 people in the United States have CF. Still, over 10 million Americans are carriers of the disease and may not know it.

From Team Impact's article:

A common misconception about people living with CF is that they are limited in their physical abilities, but this is not true for everyone. Conlee has a high tolerance for physical activity and is able to live an active life. He started playing tee ball as soon as he was old enough and loves running around, playing basketball and baseball, and being active.

While Conlee’s life may look typical on the outside, at home, he works hard to stay healthy, attending countless doctors’ appointments, getting plenty of sleep, and keeping up with schoolwork. Despite the challenges of living with CF, Conlee has learned to adapt and mature quickly, surprising even his parents with his resilience. “Because of CF, Conlee has been forced to mature much more quickly than most kids his age,” Kristina said, “and we’re constantly amazed at his resilience and ability to adapt to everything asked of him.” 


Conlee has always been interested in sports and staying active, so hearing about Team IMPACT felt like a perfect way for him to make new friends, build his confidence, and help him come out of his shell. He was matched with the Ohio State Baseball team in September of 2022 and recently celebrated his Signing Day with the team. Even though the match is relatively new, Conlee’s family is already noticing positive changes in him because of his new team.

“We have noticed Conlee’s confidence has already improved tremendously,” Kristina said. “He can be pretty shy and nervous, especially when meeting new people, but since meeting the team, he is much more social and outgoing with them in particular, but also in other social situations. He holds conversations with some of the players and even walks up with them to give high fives and encouragement without his dad or me walking with him, which is a huge step forward.”

To read more about Conlee's story, click here.

Conlee's treatment for CF will continue into adulthood, as there is no current cure for this disease. That's precisely why Team Impact has looked to bring awareness to the condition through Conlee's story. While it is possible to help control symptoms of CF in the present, Team Impact's goal is to find ways to eliminate the disease entirely so Conlee and many others can live pain-free, everyday lives.

Hat tips to Coach Mosiello and his players for partnering with Conlee during this process. Their friendship means more than they could imagine and undoubtedly makes Buckeye Nation proud.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “You've Got a Friend in Me” by Randy Newman.

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