The question has been asked quite a bit already since Ryan Day became Ohio State’s head football coach in January, and a definitive answer won’t come for at least a couple of years.
Will Ohio State recruit the state of Ohio differently under Day than Urban Meyer?
Early indications are Day intends to be more aggressive in pushing for some of the state’s best players — and perhaps its diamonds in the rough — but only time will tell if that is a matter of how many national-level recruits happen to reside in Ohio in the 2020 and 2021 classes or the start of a different philosophy being put into place.
On the December afternoon he was announced as Meyer’s successor and again in subsequent interviews, Day said he intends to prioritize Ohio, but every coach says that at every school about local prospects.
Meyer, for that matter, repeated yearly how important recruiting Ohio was even as the percentage of Ohioans in his recruiting classes steadily shrank.
(That is not to question Day’s sincerity but to simply acknowledge reality.)
“It’s always a priority, so we want to make sure that in the next class that’s a huge emphasis, as well,” Day said on his first National Signing Day in December. “But we’re recruiting the kids from Ohio harder than anybody in the country, and it’s going to continue to be a priority.”
At least one Southwest Ohio high school coach has seen Ohio State change its approach this year and suggested there was really no other option given the way the world has evolved.
“My take on that whole thing is coach Day realizes they need to move a little faster,” Fairfield coach Jason Krause said. “I think Ohio State traditionally had the feeling we’re in Ohio, No. 1, if we offer an Ohio kid early they’re probably going to want to commit to us because we’re Ohio State.
“No. 2, I feel like they felt like they could come in late and flip a kid, but I think times have changed a little bit.”
Meyer famously had much success getting committed prospects (from Ohio and beyond) to change their minds early in his tenure but not so much later.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the percentage of Ohioans in each class declined from 44 in 2015 to 40 to 33 to 19 in the last class that was solely his (2018).
Tommy Eichenberg, a four-star linebacker from Cleveland St. Ignatius, flipped from Boston College to Ohio State after Day took over recruiting from Meyer, but a similar effort for Northmont’s Jestin Jacobs was unsuccessful.
“They kept on him,” Northmont coach Tony Broering said of Jacobs, who honored a summer commitment and signed with Iowa. "They stayed in touch with JJ and offered him late, but it was too late. He wasn’t gonna flip.”
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and the main recruiter for the Dayton area, acknowledged the Buckeyes are deliberate in making offers, perhaps more so with players in Ohio, and that can be frustrating to those on the other side of the recruiting pitch.
“As we’re making sure, sometimes all you’re doing is making people mad,” Wilson said. "(They might say) ‘Well coach why haven’t you offered him yet?’ Well is he fast enough? Is he going to be big enough? Not sure fo the competition yet. We’d like to see him in person. Haven’t met him yet. Really, how big is he? I saw he missed a lot of class his last semester, was tardy a lot. Is he an academic problem? Whatever.”
While those questions are certainly reasonable, they might not be as well received when coming at the same time offers are coming in from Ohio State’s competitors.
“You want to get to know the kid, but sometimes everybody throws out these offers and I don’t even know if it’s a real offer,” Wilson said. “Sometimes an offer just means they want to recruit you versus an actual scholarship. So to get a true scholarship here, you’ve got to be a good enough player, you’ve got to be a good enough kid and you’ve got to be a good enough student.”
However, two changes have conspired to make Ohio State taking as much time as it can before offering an in-state prospect a dicier proposition.
First came a shift in the recruiting calendar. Players piling up power conference offers and committing before the first day of summer is commonplace now, but it was not so much 15 or so years ago.
College coaches generally acknowledge they are uncomfortable with completing so many recruitments before seeing a player as a senior, but they grit their teeth and go along with it for fear or being left behind.
Then came Twitter.
Players being able to publicize every offer they receive as soon as it comes in has created a new dynamic for the prospects and the coaches, who are more aware of which players are being recruited and by which programs.
“Social media has changed the speed of everything,” Krause said. “Just the acknowledgement of numerous offers all across the state and the country. You find out about those things immediately now. I think coach Day realizes that and it’s kind of a change in recruiting philosophy they were going to have to make.”
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Another area coach whose roster typically has multiple Division I prospects, Jeff Graham of Trotwood-Madison, agreed the evolving calendar has been a factor in recruiting over the last few years.
“The recruiting is what it is sometimes, and sometimes kids might want to make decisions early,” said Graham, an Alter grad who played at Ohio State before spending 11 seasons in the NFL. “They might want to make decisions before their senior year, and if Ohio State wasn’t one of the top schools on their list you’ve got to respect their choices, too.”
Of course, to pick Ohio State, the player has to feel like Ohio State wants him as much as his other options.
“If I’m being recruited by Ohio State but I’m not talking to Ohio State in my recruiting process, it is kinda hard to think about (committing there). I’m more interested in the other 4-5 schools that are starting to peak my interest because they’re interested in me,” Graham said during an area-wide recruiting combine in May that brought dozens of area coaches to Trotwood, including Wilson.
Broering got to see first-hand how Ohio State juggled getting to know in-state players and trying to maximize the roster with national talent under Meyer.
Ohio State was heavily interested in not only Jacobs but also Thunderbolts defensive end Gabe Newburg in the class of 2019.
“With Gabe and JJ, we went up there last spring, and we had a great day,” Broering said. “The coaches couldn’t have been better. They did a great job. I was in the room with (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson talking to Gabe. It could not have been done better. I walked out of that room with Larry Johnson and I was ready to sign. He’s an impressive guy. But when we met with coach Meyer he did not offer them.”
Newburg committed to Michigan last April while Jacobs gave a pledge to Iowa in May, and both ultimately signed with those schools in December.
“(Meyer) said he couldn’t (offer) at that time,” Broering said. “He wanted them to be patient and wanted them to come to camp in the summer, and he was in a tough spot because if he offered every good player in Ohio, he wouldn’t have enough spots.
“So Gabe immediately went to Michigan and that was it for Gabe. Jes just didn’t want to wait. He liked (Iowa coach Kirk) Ferentz, and I did too when he came to visit us. He was amazing too. And that was it.”
Ultimately, everything worked out for both sides when it comes to Newburg and Jacobs.
Both landed at winning Big Ten programs, and Ohio State signed a top 15 class that included a pair of highly regarded defensive ends from Ohio and two four-star linebackers from the Buckeye State.
Broering appreciated the approach Meyer took, though he acknowledged an adult high school football coach might understand all aspects of the situation a little more clearly than teenage players.
“The one thing I liked was he didn’t B.S. them,” Broering said of Meyer. “He told them the truth, and the truth was right at that moment in time he could’t do it. So you couldn’t be too mad about it. I know some people got all upset that they both left and both went somewhere else.
“Like Coach Wilson said to me many times, ‘I don’t want to have to coach against ‘em for four years,’ and there’s that part of it, too. But it really wasn’t anything that Ohio State just didn’t do right. They did everything correctly. They’re just in a tough spot because they are trying to recruit the kid in Georgia and the kid in Texas and the kid in Florida.”
With the first Ohio State summer camp this week giving coaches one of their chances to evaluate prospects up close and personal, it’s time to ask again: Will there be more spring and early summer offers for in-state prospects this year and beyond?
Or is another wave of Twitter announcements of Ohioans committing to other schools coming this summer?
To borrow a relationship status from the early days of another social media network, it’s complicated.
Day will have the same dilemma Meyer did when it comes trying to maximize each class with highly-touted national prospects while saving room for the best in the Buckeye State.
And what happens will largely result from how Day decides to approach it, how many he decides are too good to risk losing rather than hoping to hit a December Hail Mary.
Beginning the evaluation process earlier and getting to know players at a younger age could give both sides more flexibility when assessing their options as decision day comes, whether that is in May, June, December or February.
“That’s what I’m saying about the relationship point more so than does Ohio State really look at our kids,” Graham said. “They come down, you saw Kevin Wilson here, he’s always down here and looking for the talent. I just think if the relationship is built there between the player and the coach everything else will satisfy itself.”
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