COLUMBUS — While the majority of the college football recruiting world has been slowing down, Ohio State has been heating up.
The Buckeyes have added four commitments in their 2021 class in the last two weeks and also picked up a commitment from graduate transfer Trey Sermon in that time, landing the Oklahoma tailback on Sunday.
Sermon’s relationship with Ohio State goes back years. Tony Alford was recruiting him as hard as any running back in the country back in 2016, and when he decided to leave the Sooners intersected with Ohio State’s need for a running back, the longterm relationship meant an almost perfect fit for both sides.
Most recruiting relationships don’t get built that far ahead. But Sermon’s situation helps shed light on why Ohio State has had the success it has had both in the past and present on the recruiting trail. The ability to work ahead in recruiting is absolutely vital.
“Recruiting is sped up, but I think we did a great job in a tough spot this winter,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said Wednesday. “We got ahead of this thing, even in the last year, Mark Pantoni, our staff, have done a great job staying in touch with this class. From this time last year we were working so far ahead that those relationships are really, really strong.
“We’re doing a great job communicating right now and I think there’s a lot of excitement around the program and what we’re building on both sides of the ball. Again, I think, we’ve been doing this for a while now with this class, so there’s been a lot built up. This is not something we just started a few months ago.”
For Ohio State, the latest commitments are a result of the coaching staff’s tireless work. But as Day suggests, that’s not a recent push. Day has been a lead recruiter for the Buckeyes since arriving on a campus as an assistant coach in 2017, and his current coaching staff has five of the country’s top-10 recruiters according to the 247Sports.com coach rankings.
The Buckeyes have 14 commitments and are leading to land 5-star running back TreVeyon Henderson in the near future. It’s a comprehensive effort spearheaded by Day and supplemented by the current crop of commitments, who’ve built up some exceptional rapport with their peers around the country.
But the chance to work ahead now for the Buckeyes? That’s the byproduct of working ahead a year ago. When Jack Sawyer committed last February, he helped set the tone for Kyle McCord, who helped set the tone for Ben Christman, and then Reid Carrico and so on and so forth. That group has become instrumental in Ohio State’s recent recruiting victories. They’re embracing the possibility that a historic recruiting class is within their reach and bringing other players into the fold.
Relationships aren’t built overnight and though recruits may occasionally get caught up in the whirlwind of their friends committing and then follow suit, none of that is possible without a ton of work that happens well before the end result hits social media. Recruiting half a recruiting class, or a quarter of a recruiting class, isn’t as daunting as needing to recruit a full group and the ability to do it successfully is made significantly easier when it’s not just 10 coaches doing the recruiting.
Recruiting is about comfort and relationships, and the Buckeyes have been focused on many of the same players in the Class of 2021 for the last year or longer. The ability of Pantoni and his staff to identify top prospects early in the process is an invaluable edge in a world that’s constantly speeding up. In most cases, Ohio State isn’t just trying to get familiar with their targets now, and the kids being recruited by the Buckeyes aren’t just now getting to know Day or talk to him.
The Buckeyes aren’t in build mode or evaluation mode. That happened a year go. They’re in maintain mode in a time that sees most other programs still looking for answers.
“We’re doing the best we can to communicate with these families — using FaceTime and different things to communicate and try to answer their questions as best we can even though right now they’re not able to visit on campus,” Day said. “We’re doing a lot of things like that.
“But most of the guys we’re recruiting have actually been on campus, they’ve seen it — not all of them — and so we’re trying to do the best we can, whatever questions they might have, of answering those questions. But so many of them have been on campus already because [recruiting] just goes so far into their freshman and sophomore years.”
Working ahead has put the Buckeyes at the head of the 2021 class in the Big Ten and around the country, and there doesn’t appear to be anything slowing them down.