COLUMBUS — After skipping the conventional Junior Day weekends during the bitter winter months of January and February, Ohio State is ready to start warming up its recruiting machine just as the weather and the calendar are hinting at spring’s arrival.
With the Buckeyes “Student Appreciation Day” as one of the primary backdrops, Ryan Day, Mark Pantoni and the rest of the Ohio State football staff is preparing for the first major recruiting weekend of Day’s head coaching career.
There will be dozens of big-time prospects from all over the country descending on Columbus, and some have already arrived. While it’s impossible for us to know every player that is expected, Lettermen Row is doing its best to keep the focus on some of the priority targets we know about.
It’s a major weekend for the future of Zone 6 …
At the risk of sounding dramatic, this could be the most pivotal weekend of the recruiting cycle when it comes to Brian Hartline’s 2020 receivers group. It’s the weekend when Ohio State could find out if the class will end up being very good or potentially historically great.
Southern Columbia (Catawissa, Pa.) 5-star receiver Julian Fleming and his family will arrive in Columbus on Friday, and he is unequivocally the single most important recruit stepping on campus this weekend for the Buckeyes. The nation’s top-ranked receiver prospect has been Hartline’s top target for months, and the relationship that pair has continues to put Ohio State into a very favorable position with the 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver and his family.
The 247Sports crystal ball predictions are still heavily slanted toward Penn State. But I just can’t buy it and continue to believe that despite a top group of schools that currently includes Georgia, Alabama, Michigan and Penn State, the real battle right now for Fleming is between Ohio State and Clemson.
It’s highly unlikely that Fleming will commit this weekend, but it is very likely that the Buckeyes will know exactly where they stand with this priority target by the time he leaves campus and that a plan for his ultimate decision is rounding into shape.
… and a key moment in the B.I.A rebuild efforts
Fleming’s visit is the biggest thing to watch this weekend, but running a close second are visits from two of the Buckeyes top cornerback targets in the Class of 2020.
Former Ohio State commitment Lejond Cavazos is back in town for the first time since his decision to reopen his recruitment in December after Urban Meyer retired. Day has done a remarkable job getting to know Cavazos and his father, who is very close to Meyer. He’s been showing the Cavazos family that the program and Lejond’s future are in good hands with him and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.
Also coming in from Florida is Miami Central 4-star cornerback Henry Gray. A former Miami commit, Gray is very high on the Buckeyes, and the feeling is absolutely mutual. Everyone is excited about Ohio State’s chances with 5-star cornerbacks like Kelee Ringo and Elias Ricks, but Gray — the sixth-ranked corner in the country — is a player who is much more likely to pick the Buckeyes when all is said and done.
What makes Gray’s trip unique? He’s going to be in Columbus until Tuesday, and that means three very long, very intimate days with a player Ohio State would love to lock up this weekend.
Michigan athlete Cameron Martinez will also be making his first visit to Ohio State since being offered in February. I believe that Ohio State is a serious contender here, and they’ve made Martinez a priority in recent months because of his versatility and ability to play anywhere in the secondary or even on offense. Ohio State could really separate itself with a good visit, though a planned trip to Michigan on Sunday adds some intrigue. Will the Wolverines increase their own efforts in the pursuit if they feel him slipping away? Northwestern is also very much in the mix.
A host of top-ranked 2021 prospects will be on campus
One of Ohio State’s top quarterback options for 2021, J.J. McCarthy from La Grange Park (Ill.), is heading to town for the weekend. McCarthy has been to Columbus before and is a player that Day and Mike Yurcich have become very familiar with over the last few months, starting with his visit during the 2018 season. With the recent commitment of Tyler Buchner to Notre Dame, Ohio State becomes the clearcut favorite for McCarthy — and it’s a big weekend visit for the 6-foot-2, 180-pound prospect and his family.
With McCarthy will be a host of 2021 standouts in what could be an important weekend for peer-to-peer relationship building. Buckeyes commitment Jack Sawyer intends to be around again, and he’ll be getting to know McCarthy as well as Steilacoom (Wash.) receiver Emeka Egbuka, who arrived in town on Thursday night.
— Emeka ‘21 🃏 (@emeka_egbuka) March 22, 2019
Egbuka may be as wanted by Ohio State as any other noncommitted player in the 2021 class right now, so his decision to make an early cross-country visit with his mom and stepdad to see campus is huge. Another receiver with an early offer is Pickerington Central’s Lorenzo Styles, a close friend of Sawyer’s and a Buckeye legacy who will be back on campus on Saturday. Styles has grown close with McCarthy during visits to Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish — along with Michigan — are battling the Buckeyes for his future services.
Sawyer will also likely spend some time with a player that could end up being his counterpart on the Buckeyes defensive lines of the future, Missouri 2021 star Travion Ford. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound defensive end has picked up 13 offers and is a fast-rising player to watch.
Are there any players really on ‘Commitment Watch’?
I know this is always the big question when it comes to these big recruiting weekends, and I’m going to do what I always do and advise patience because we’re talking about some of the country’s highest-profile recruits. In most cases that means players waiting to decide a little bit longer.
If pressed to make predictions on potential decisions, I’d suggest that a few players could be closer to a decision than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to scrap commitment timelines for an immediate pledge because of a rush of post-visit euphoria.
Colorado lineman Reece Atteberry has been close to saying yes to the Buckeyes in the past, so he’s obviously a possibility. But I think he’ll take more time to decide, and that’s likely fine with Ohio State as it sorts out the big board along the offensive line with two more spots open for it.
Cavazos and Gray are an interesting pair when it comes to “Commit Watch,” but I don’t have a particularly strong feeling that either will make any kind of public declaration. I am sure the Buckeyes would welcome both as they’re eager to add someone on defense in the 2020 class. Cavazos has proven to be a very good recruiter in his own right, and I know that Ohio State would appreciate him back in the fold to do some of the heavy lifting on defense.
In 2021, unless a player like Solon’s Najee Story or Richfield Revere lineman Ben Christman shows up, the only real threats to pull the trigger would be McCarthy and Styles. I believe it’s more likely that it’d be McCarthy do that, but it’s also more unlikely that the Buckeyes are ready to say yes to a quarterback in 2021 as they’re still evaluating a few potential options at the position.
Of course there is a chance someone shows up that we’re not aware of and decides to commit, but there aren’t many guys close to a decision right now.