Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his assistants put together a recruiting class in 2012 that was good enough to squeak into the top five nationally — not bad for having been on the job together for barely two months.
But Meyer didn’t feel that effort was indicative of what they could do if they had a full year to target elite prospects and convince them of the merits of becoming Buckeyes.
“Our first year together as a coaching staff last year did not count because that was not a coaching staff. That was a bunch of guys coming together like gypsies trying to find players anywhere we could find them,” Meyer said. “We did very good, if you look at the kids who helped us win last season. But I wouldn’t consider that a great recruiting effort. It was a bunch of cowboys out there trying to find players.”
The laser-focused Buckeye coaches climbed even higher in the recruiting ratings this year and finished off their 2013 class in spectacular fashion Wednesday, venturing into SEC country to land two stars making signing-day decisions and locking down a third who had flipped from Oregon to OSU on Monday but was wavering.
Five-star safety Vonn Bell of Georgia picked the Buckeyes over Tennessee and Alabama. Four-star receiver James Clark snubbed the home-state Florida Gators. And all-purpose back Dontre Wilson of Texas reaffirmed his commitment to OSU by faxing in his letter-of-intent.
The late surge allowed the Buckeyes to leapfrog Michigan for the No. 1 class in the nation in the Scout.com ratings. They went from a tie for second to second alone in Rivals.com. And they climbed from sixth to third in the ESPN.com rankings.
“It was a very eventful day,” Meyer said. “We went to bed last night with three guys very much on the edge. I thought if we hit one out of three, it’d be a good day. Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three would be knocking it out of the park. And we hit that.”
The biggest shocker was Bell, whom analysts had universally pegged as being bound for Tennesee, the team he rooted for growing up.
He made his announcement on ESPN and let Meyer know just moments before facing the cameras at 10 a.m.
“Vonn Bell called me two minutes before he walked on stage or whatever he was doing and said, ‘You know I’m in, right?’ I said, ‘No, I didn’t know you’re in. Congratulations,’ ” Meyer said.
Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers was instrumental in Bell’s decision.
“Everett Withers, from start to finish, his efforts on Vonn Bell were as good as I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said. “It’s the octopus approach — surround him and wrap your tentacles around him, every person in his family, his coach and people in his support group. And the way we closed that, if you saw his press conference, I was so proud the way we handled that.”
Bell told reporters Meyer has recruits looking at the Buckeyes in new ways.
“Coach Urban Meyer has the juice, has the energy for those young guys,” Bell said. “He’s gonna get us guys from down South, where he knows them from, because he was at Florida. He knows where to get them.”
Receiver Taivon Jacobs of District Heights, Md., backed out of his pledge, but that hardly took the sheen off the 24-player class.
The Buckeyes added speed galore, a key component to Meyer’s spread offense. Wilson, Clark, Middletown’s Jalin Marshall and St. Louis running back Ezekiel Elliott will all be able to pressure opponents on the edges.
“We wanted to get some playmakers, and we have two sub-10.5 100-meter players coming in here (Clark and Wilson), which is real fast. (That’s) kind of a benchmark of what we’ll use from here on out. That’s what we’re looking for,” Meyer said.
“The talent level was pretty good last year. We went 12-0. But we didn’t have the home-run hitter or explosiveness or open-space players on offense. Some guys grew up and did a nice job. (Junior wideout) Philly Brown did a nice job. … We just didn’t have enough make-you-miss guys on offense, and I think we addressed that.”
The OSU class is made up of 10 Ohioans and 14 out-of-state players.
“I would rather probably get three or four more from in-state than what we have from now on,” Meyer said. “We’re much further ahead now (on Ohio prospects) than we’ve ever been. We’d rather not be so much national. We do want to cherry pick nationally. But we’d rather have more of a base here and branch out.”
OHIO STATE RECRUITS
Player Pos. Hometown
Eli Apple CB Voorhees, N.J.
J.T. Barrett QB Wichita Falls, Texas
Marcus Baugh TE Riverside, Calif.
Vonn Bell S Rossville, Ga.
Joey Bosa DE Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Cameron Burrows CB Trotwood
James Clark WR New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Gareon Conley CB Massillon
Ezekiel Elliott RB St. Louis, Mo.
Timothy Gardner OL Indianapolis
Michael Hill DT Pendleton, S.C.
Trey Johnson LB Lawrenceville, Ga.
Derron Lee Athlete New Albany
Tyquan Lewis DE Tarboro, N.C.
Evan Lisle OL Centerville
Jalin Marshall Athlete Middletown
Mike Mitchell LB Plano, Texas
Donovan Munger DT Shaker Heights, Ohio
Billy Price DT Youngstown
Corey Smith WR Scooba, Miss.
Tracy Sprinkle DE Elyria, Ohio
Jayme Thompson DB Toledo
Dontre Wilson RB DeSoto, Texas
Christopher Worley LB Cleveland