COLUMBUS — Jeff Hafley can recruit anywhere for Ohio State.
But a little local knowledge can also go a long way.
When recruiting for a place like Ohio State, it’s not about selling recruits on a product. It’s about selling recruits and their families on the people coaching them. That’s pretty easy when New Jersey-native Jeff Hafley is recruiting New Jersey-area kids.
“We listen to Bruce Springsteen, and we like the bagels and the pizza,” Hafley told Lettermen Row ahead of a homecoming with the Buckeyes visiting Rutgers on Saturday. “I know a lot of the guys in that area. I grew up with a lot of those guys. I know a lot of those guys that are coaches now who were coaches even when I played in high school.
“New Jersey people stick together and we all kind of understand each other.”
It sounds so simplistic, so cliché, but when the recruits from New Jersey talk about the recruiting process, it seems to ring true.
Even for the players who aren’t going to be coached by Hafley in college, he resonates in a little different way.
“Coach Hafley grew up around the corner from my high school,” Ohio State offensive line commitment Luke Wypler told Lettermen Row. “In the same town, no less. We’ve had, roughly, the same high school experience. That’s always a topic of conversation. He’s just so relatable and he understands what it means to be tough and from Jersey.”
“He’s a straight-up guy. He doesn’t beat around the bush, and he tells you how it is, good or bad. I believe that a lot of recruits respect that.”
Hafley came to Ohio State after a seven-year college football hiatus that saw him coach in the NFL from Cleveland to Philadelphia to San Francisco. His youth — he’s just 40-years-old — belies his experience in a lot of ways, but his reputation as a recruiter and as a developer of talent was one of the reasons why Ryan Day picked him to run his first defense in Columbus.
“I remember when we were with the 49ers,” Day said during his Tuesday press conference. “I told Jeff that he had an unbelievable combination of recruiting — because he was a great recruiter when he was in college — and an ability to relate to players.
“He can be an All-Star. I think Jeff is an All-Star. I thought that when he was at Rutgers and at Pitt. I felt like that when I worked with him in the NFL. I feel like that now. His work in Jersey is and is going to pay us dividends in the end.”
The dividends have been evident on the recruiting trail already, and they aren’t just limited to one part of the country.
Hafley has been the primary player in Ohio State’s recruitment of defensive backs Clark Phillips, Lathan Ransom, Cameron Martinez, Kourt Williams and Ryan Watts, proving that his style works coast-to-coast. It just hits a little bit different in the Garden State.
“He understands a lot of what we go through in Jersey,” linebacker Cody Simon, a 4-star commitment from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, told Lettermen Row. “Overall he’s a very relatable guy. He’s passionate but you also get that authenticity from him.”
It’s just that simple for Hafley: Be himself and let the rest take care of itself.
“I know it sounds cliché, but if you’re not from there, you may not understand,” Hafley said. “It’s more than where we’re from, it’s who we are.”
There’s talent and good pizza in the Garden State. Nobody knows that any better than Jeff Hafley.