Stay in touch or be left out because Ohio State recruiting is a 24-hour, seven-day-per-week obsession. What’s the latest news as the Buckeyes build for the future? Get that and more Sunday through Thursday on Lettermen Row. Sunday’s notebook has the latest on the Buckeyes pursuits at safety and runs down a trio of big-time 2023 offers in Georgia.
Top Ohio State targets Zion Branch, Xavier Nwankpa shine in Phoenix
The 7-on-7 season is officially underway as states around the country re-open for competitive sports. Arizona hosted a pair of big-time events this weekend, a Pylon 7-on-7 event in Bullhead City and a Battle 7v7 tournament in Phoenix.
Lettermen Row was in Phoenix for the Battle event and will have thoughts and updates from that event throughout the week. But the headliners as they relate to Ohio State recruiting included wide receiver Kyion Grayes and defensive back prospects Xavier Nwankpa and Zion Branch.
Nwankpa came to Arizona from Iowa for the event, arriving Friday afternoon, staying with Grayes at his home and lining up with the Tucson Turf team at his request. That pair has developed a close friendship with each of them being targeted aggressively by C.J. Hicks, Dasan McCullough and the rest of the Buckeyes 2022 class.
On Saturday, that Turf team faced off against a group from Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in their first game, which pitted Grayes and Nwankpa against Branch and a pretty loaded — but very young — Gorman contingent. That was the first of three games in a three-hour stretch for each program, and with each game the impact of both top-tier safeties was felt more and more.
Ohio State has made both Nwankpa and Branch a priority to this point, and each player mentioned Saturday that the relationship they have with the program is very strong and getting better. That said, each player was adamant that the inability to visit this coming spring — as the NCAA extended the dead period again — is preventing them from really considering any sort of decision in the near future.
The Buckeyes are very much in the race for each of these uber-talented defensive back prospects. Lettermen Row will have more from each player over the next few days.
Three other safeties to keep monitoring in 2022 class
While Xavier Nwankpa and Zion Branch may be at the top of the list when it comes to Ohio State’s safety recruiting in 2022, there are a handful of guys still in the conversation for Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes. Two of them decided this weekend was the right time to narrow their college focus.
The first, Kamari Ramsey, is down to four West Coast programs and Ohio State. The country’s No. 9-ranked safety told Lettermen Row two weeks ago that he was very interested in the Buckeyes, so their inclusion on his list isn’t a major surprise.
“Ohio State speaks for itself,” he said. “They have a nice football program and their academics are overlooked. But they do a great job of getting internships for their players. It’s hard building a relationship over the phone compared to being in person, but it is what it is. We can’t control it, so we have to make the best of it.”
Soon after Ramsey’s tweet, Aledo (Texas) safety Bryan Allen followed suit, dropping his top-schools list to a pretty robust top seven. The former LSU verbal no longer includes the Tigers on his list, but he does have Ohio State, USC, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Auburn and Jackson State. Allen is the country’s No. 5-ranked safety.
Ramsey and Allen — along with Florida’s Markeith Williams, who has Ohio State in this final three alongside Florida and Alabama — are all still real options worth watching for the Buckeyes. That’s especially true for Williams thanks in part to his 6-foot-3 frame. It feels like a broken record to keep writing it, but nothing would be better for Ohio State right now than the chance to see these defensive backs, and everyone else in the Class of 2022, in person so they can evaluate them more closely.
Ohio State offers trio of top Georgia standouts
To make hay in hard-to-recruit areas of the country like Georgia, the Buckeyes have to get up and involved very early. That could explain why Ohio State extended a trio of offers to sophomore athletes in the Peach State over the last three nights.
The first was to two-sport start Lebbeus Overton, the early No. 1-ranked prospect in the country for 2023. Offering the top-ranked player in the country isn’t a surprise, but what makes the offer to the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end interesting is that Overton’s offer is for football and basketball, a very rare thing for the Buckeyes athletic department to throw out. The Milton (Alpharetta) High School star does play with an Ohio State commitment — 2022 basketball standout Bruce Thornton — but it’d be surprising if that plays much of a part in his recruitment moving forward. Overton’s father played at Oklahoma and the Sooners have the lone, very-early crystal ball prediction.
The Buckeyes then offered Stantavious Smith from Dougherty Comprehensive in Albany, Ga., becoming the school No. 15 to do so. Smith is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman who will likely move inside down the road as he develops on the football field. He indicated that Florida State is the favorite in his recruitment, though he’s been talking with Larry Johnson occasionally.
“I’ve been hitting Coach Johnson up for some months now,” Smith told Lettermen Row. “Just building the relationship. I like the vibe coach gives off. He is very laid back and cool, but you can tell he really mean business.”
Finally, Ohio State offered standout defensive back prospect Caleb Downs on Thursday night. The Mill Creek (Hoschton) star is a potential 5-star in the 2023 class and has offers from Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and almost 15 others. He’s close friends with Buckeyes 2021 signee Jordan Hancock, who has been trying to get him onto the Buckeyes radar. That finally happened when Ohio State assistants Al Washington and Matt Barnes pulled the trigger on the offer.
“As a kid they were one of the schools that you just dream of having the opportunity to go to,” Downs told Lettermen Row. “It’s the way the way they develop players as people.”
It’s never easy to pluck the pick of the litter from the heart of the SEC, but it can’t happen if Ohio State doesn’t start early. They’ve now done that with these three potential standouts.
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