COLUMBUS — Every win on the recruiting trail is important for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes are one of the country’s premier football programs because they win a lot of important recruiting battles. Few brands in college football are as big or recognizable as Ohio State. Having the Block O logo on a shirt will elicit random shouts from strangers in airports all over the world.
To paraphrase the famed newsman Ron Burgundy, the Buckeyes are kind of a big deal.
And the coaching staff at Ohio State knows it. They are aware that having that brand behind them makes their work on the recruiting trail easier. But easier doesn’t mean easy. Finding the right young men from the right families for the Buckeyes program is a daunting, endless task. One bad apple can spoil a bunch. Snd Ryan Day, buoyed by the well-oiled machine Urban Meyer assembled, has deftly avoided the rotten fruit to this point in his tenure as a head coach.
Day has signed three recruiting classes since taking the helm from Meyer, and he’s picked up right where his predecessor left off. Ohio State has signed a top-five-ranked class in 2020 and 2021, and currently sits as the No. 1-ranked class in 2022.
But which recruiting wins have been the most important for Day? That’s what Lettermen Row is here to discuss. These are the recruitments, in descending order, that have set the tone for the continued success Ohio State is enjoying on the field.
Ohio State pulled off huge upset in landing Julian Fleming
When Ohio State decided to put its hat in the ring for Julian Fleming, it did so fully understanding the uphill battle it was facing. The country’s top-ranked receiver prospect lived down the road from Penn State, and the Nittany Lions were on him aggressively and early in his high school career. As a program, Penn State needed Julian Fleming much more than the Buckeyes did. But Brian Hartline provided something the hometown school couldn’t match. The aftershocks of Fleming spurning James Franklin resonated throughout the 2020 and 2021 cycles: Penn State signed only one of its state’s top-10 prospects in 2021.
Ohio State signed two: Kyle McCord and another wide receiver, Marvin Harrison.
TreVeyon Henderson showed recruits that Buckeyes were elite
Recruiting was a mess throughout 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Ohio State persevered, signing the country’s No. 2-ranked class. One of the key moments in that cycle was the decision made by TreVeyon Henderson. The country’s No. 1-ranked running back made an early commitment to the Buckeyes despite never visiting Ohio State. He stuck with his commitment 100 percent of the way, becoming a class leader and helping recruit a number of other big-time players to join him. To do all that without making a visit was risky.
But by choosing Ohio State when he did, Henderson helped other kids around the country realize that the Buckeyes program was too elite to pass up, even sight unseen. The fact that Ohio State was in major need of star tailbacks after the 2020 cycle was just gravy on top.
C.J. Stroud picked Ohio State because he trusted Ryan Day
Ohio State had a long-time quarterback commitment in Jack Miller. But C.J. Stroud had no doubts about joining the Buckeyes 2020 recruiting class. When Ryan Day first reached out to Stroud in the summer of 2019, he was a relatively unknown prospect. When he committed to Ohio State on Signing Day, he was a 5-star quarterback, an Elite 11 Champion and a player who could have gone anywhere he wanted.
He picked the Buckeyes because he trusted that Ryan Day’s tutelage would be the best for his development. Now two years later, Stroud is the favorite to lead to Ohio State onto the field this fall and is set to take his swing at stardom. The Buckeyes needed a second quarterback in 2020, but there was no reason to expect a 5-star prospect to be that guy. The fact Stroud chose to be was a huge win for Ryan Day.
Paris Johnson showed Ryan Day had big-time coaching savvy
The country’s No. 1-ranked offensive tackle, Paris Johnson, was an early commitment for Urban Meyer. When Meyer retired, the battle to salvage his verbal was a huge early test for a first-time head coach.
Day navigated a potentially landmine-filled situation like a seasoned veteran. Ohio State never tried to force things with Johnson, Day never issued any hardline ultimatum and instead decided to treat the recruitment like a new relationship.
Because it was. Ryan Day had to prove himself to Paris Johnson and his family and he took the time to do it the right way. The Buckeyes are not set to reap the benefits as Johnson emerges into a leadership position on the offensive line as a sophomore.
Zach Harrison set tone for Ohio State under Ryan Day
Let’s call a spade a spade: If Ryan Day hadn’t taken over as the coach at Ohio State when he did, it’s very unlikely Zach Harrison would be preparing to terrorize Big Ten quarterbacks this fall as a Buckeye. In fact, he’d be suiting up for Penn State or Michigan instead.
It took about two weeks for Day to pass his first major test as the coach at Ohio State. Harrison was a raw but freakishly talented prospect in Columbus, and there was not much time to salvage the recruitment. Somehow, he and Larry Johnson — perhaps aided by a 62-39 whipping of Michigan weeks before — did it.
A likely monster recruiting upset for a big-time rival turned on its head, quickly, and set the tone for everything Ohio State has done on the recruiting trail since.