COLUMBUS — If recruiting is all about relationships, and it usually is, then there’s no doubt that one of the ways for Ohio State to be as successful as it can be is to develop better, stronger bonds with its recruits than other teams.
Brian Hartline has been exceptional in that part of his job since taking over as wide receivers coach for the Buckeyes in August of 2018.
He quickly cemented the bonds with Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams in the Class of 2019, partly because he’d been integral in recruiting them as an assistant receivers coach prior to his unexpected promotion. But those recruitments were somewhat telling about what Ohio State could expect from Hartline moving forward.
If the four-man 2020 recruiting class that included three 5-star receivers in Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott was the explosion, the duo in 2019 may have been Hartline lighting the wick.
It’s not just Hartline that brought about the avalanche of big-time receivers knocking at the Buckeyes door. There’s a comprehensive approach taken at Ohio State that allows for coaches to build their most important relationships with their personal top targets while Mark Pantoni and his recruiting staff handle the minutiae that is so pervasive in the early part portion of a recruit’s process.
“It’s a group effort,” Hartline said. “What [Mark] Pantoni and his staff does is in this building is tremendous, and then the help I get in the room from [assistant receivers] coach Keenan Bailey is just phenomenal. The list goes on — it’s not a two-person operation, three-person operation. It’s a whole program operation.”
But what is most interesting is that while the Buckeyes were waiting on Fleming and Mookie Cooper to make their public decisions in the 2020 cycle, there were already major questions being asked and decisions being made for the Class of 2021. Ohio State had to assess the roster in the present and future tense to sort out what was needed in 2021, but also when it was needed because a slew of highly-ranked receivers from around the country appeared to be thinking about early decisions. That group included Jayden Ballard, Marvin Harrison, Lorenzo Styles and Beaux Collins and would shape Ohio State’s plans significantly.
The Buckeyes knew they risked their positions with other coveted players — guys like Collins and Troy Stellato, who are both now committed to Clemson — by taking Ballard and Harrison when they did. But that duo’s upside and talent as top-70 overall prospects couldn’t be passed up.
And the time, energy and resources put into building the relationships couldn’t be discarded.
A year later with Harrison and Ballard now committed, Hartline and the Buckeyes have been able to turn the focus almost exclusively to Washington 5-star receiver Emeka Egbuka — again banking on the long-time relationship and Hartline’s NFL experience as the big draw for the nation’s top-ranked receiver. For Ohio State to win that battle against schools like Washington, Oklahoma and Clemson, it will have to point to the fact that it has been there from the start, doing the legwork to make sure there’s no question about where Egbuka sits on the recruiting board.
Ohio State has become so good on the recruiting trail that it seems like the public is hearing the same names over and over again throughout the process. That’s intentional and a byproduct of Buckeyes coaches like Brian Hartline knowing exactly what he’s looking for in a player and a person, identifying it early and cultivating it over time. As Hartline said last year, nothing is more important than that.
“If you don’t spend time in the relationship, building it, it’s almost impossible to make it up,” Hartline said. “Getting to know these guys early and spending time with them so they really can know me is invaluable.”
That approach is proving quite valuable for Ohio State. And the results are particularly clear at wide receiver.