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Ohio State running back recruiting isn’t lacking despite 2020 intrigue

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Miyan Williams is a productive and talented running back who fits Ohio State's offensive approach. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Recruiting Question of the Day

Ohio State running back recruiting isn’t lacking despite 2020 intrigue

Have a question about Ohio State recruiting? This is the place for you, five days a week. Submit your questions on Twitter or on the Lettermen Row forums. Check-in daily to see what’s on the mind of Buckeyes fans all over the country. On Wednesday, we talk running backs and the belief that Ohio State is struggling to recruit them.

Ohio State Recruiting Question of the Day

There has been no narrative more pervasive throughout the last year of Ohio State recruiting news than the idea that Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford isn’t a good recruiter.

Alford arrived at Ohio State in the spring of 2015 when he replaced Stan Drayton, who left the Buckeyes for the NFL and the Chicago Bears. In his first recruiting class for Urban Meyer, Alford helped reel in North Ridgeville 4-star Demario McCall, the country’s No. 44-ranked prospect. He also played a major role in Ohio State’s decision to move on from Kareem Walker, who was the top-ranked tailback in the country but had committed to the Buckeyes prior to Alford’s hiring. In Walker’s place, Ohio State signed Antonio Williams. Walker played just five games at Michigan before transferring to a junior college and eventually landing at Mississippi State, where he didn’t play last season. Williams transferred to North Carolina following two years in Columbus and scored eight touchdowns in the last two seasons for the Tar Heels.

McCall was the second-ranked all-purpose running back, Williams the No. 7-ranked running back according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.

In 2017, Alford was one of the reasons that J.K. Dobbins committed to Ohio State out of Texas without ever visiting Columbus. Dobbins was the No. 46-ranked overall prospect in that class, and like McCall, the No. 2-ranked all-purpose back in the composite rankings.

“If Tony Alford couldn’t recruit, then I wouldn’t have been at Ohio State,” Dobbins, who developed a special relationship with Alford, told Lettermen Row this week. “Coach Alford was important.”

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Tony Alford was a major reason that J.K. Dobbins, the second-leading rusher in Buckeyes history, chose Ohio State. (BIrm/Lettermen Row)

A year later, Alford was the reason the Brian Snead, ranked as the No. 3 overall running back in the Class of 2018, committed to the Buckeyes following the Friday Night Lights camp in July of 2017. From Florida, Snead never visited another college and signed with Ohio State with high expectations, but he left the program amid off-field troubles that sidelined him early in the 2018 season. No. 30-ranked overall player Jaelen Gill, the country’s second-ranked all-purpose running back and Master Teague, the No. 11-ranked running back in the class, also signed in the Class of 2018.

The Buckeyes class of 2019 saw just one true running back commitment, No. 26-ranked Marcus Crowley, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, a state that isn’t short on talented players. That recruitment was short but sweet after the decommitment of Sampson James, who opted to stay home and play for Indiana. Crowley rushed for 38 fewer yards than James as a true freshman on 56 fewer carries before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Maryland in November. Ohio State also added talented two-way standout Steele Chambers in 2019, though he was ranked as an athlete, not a running back because some believed he could play linebacker in Columbus.

The idea that Alford is a subpar recruiter is one not based on objective fact. Yes, the Buckeyes struggled in the Class of 2020 to secure signatures from Bijan Robinson and Jaylan Knighton, each of whom at one point actually committed to Alford. But the decision to quickly renege on their verbals isn’t because the soon-to-be sixth-year Ohio State assistant dropped the ball.

Maybe it’s geography or a family preferring their son to stay close to home. Maybe it was the rumors that Alford was a candidate for a head coaching job at Colorado State that everyone assumed would open up. Maybe it’s the fact that the Buckeyes offense has begun to morph into something different than it was before. Maybe kids erroneously believe that the running back position isn’t a priority anymore in Columbus. Maybe it was all those things in one perfect storm of bad lucks for Alford in this recruiting cycle.

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Miyan Wiliams is a 3-star prospect who ran for almost 6,000 yards in high school. (Twitter/Miyan Williams)

Whatever the reason, the kids involved changed their minds.

And it was a surprise to everyone involved and a reminder that recruiting is a very fickle business. Still, Alford is the same man and coach who secured a commitment from Dobbins without a visit and who helped keep him committed when Tom Herman was being cast as a program-savior at Texas trying to sway Dobbins from leaving the Lone Star State. Alford is the same coach who landed Snead and held on to the Florida standout for more than 18 months without a single moment of concern or fear of attrition.

There is a line of thinking among people outside of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center that because of the long history of Ohio State success running the football that running backs should just line up wanting to play in Columbus. But it’s 2020, and the average running back prospect just doesn’t care about Archie Griffin or Eddie George. As Ohio State narrows its recruiting search to fit a different profile of prospect, the odds become even longer to land one of the two or three 5-star running backs every recruiting cycle.

The last 5-star running back to pick Ohio State? That was Lettermen Row contributor Beanie Wells in 2006, and there’s been no shortage of success from the position from those who succeeded him.

It’s folly to think that’s going to stop anytime soon, because the proof is in the pudding with the Ohio State offense.

Stars matter in recruiting. But so, too, does fit, personality and character. When those things are all aligned, even if it’s just in a 4-star prospect like Dobbins, Ohio State and Tony Alford are going to get big-time production and success out of that player.

Need more Ohio State recruiting #Stuff? Join the conversation below in the comments and sign up for Scarlet Sunrise, Lettermen Row’s morning newsletter that will get your day started with all the important Ohio State news you need to know. Prefer video? Follow Buckeyes football on YouTube with Lettermen Row. You can also get your recruiting fix by subscribing to Talking Stuff: The Ohio State Recruiting Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher


Birm is Lettermen Row's Director of Recruiting and the site's primary Ohio State sports photographer. A Toledo, Ohio native, Jeremy has been in similar roles for elevenwarriors.com and Landof10.com and has been covering the Buckeyes for seven years.