Nobody closed out recruiting battles like Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
In 2013, he snatched Vonn Bell away from Alabama and kept Ezekiel Elliott from Missouri. In 2014, he landed Glenville stars Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith in January after locking down Raekwon McMillan and Johnnie Dixon as early enrollees in December, pulling them away from the SEC. In 2015, he kept Mike Weber from flipping back to Michigan at the last minute and also landed K.J. Hill after Hill’s late January decommitment from Arkansas set up a battle between Nick Saban and Meyer.
In 2016, Ohio State landed Binjimen Victor, Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones on Jan. 18. Meyer then flipped Rodjay Burns from his hometown team Louisville and beat Michigan and Notre Dame for Jordan Fuller three days before signing day. In 2017, Meyer held on to Shaun Wade, who’d been committed for two years, after serious concerns about a flip to Alabama. He added Jeff Okudah, Kendall Sheffield, Jaylen Harris and Thayer Munford in the final month and also flipped Pete Werner from Notre Dame in December. Last year, he won big-time battles down the stretch by signing Nicholas Petit-Frere, Tyreke Smith, Tommy Togiai, Tyler Friday, Javontae Jean-Baptiste and Tyreke Johnson.
So yeah… pretty good.
New head coach Ryan Day’s success will in part be determined by how close he can come to Meyer’s uncanny ability to win over top recruits when the stakes were highest. Meyer’s closing ability helped stock the program with talent that ensured the Buckeyes consistently had a better roster than all but maybe one or two teams in college football. It would be unfair to expect Day to match those abilities as a first-time head coach with no record or titles to lean on, but if he can come anywhere close to Meyer’s salesmanship it will go a long way towards ensuring his long-term viability.
He’s already off to a great start, having kept together the majority of the 2019 recruiting class despite the retirement of a three-time national champion coach. Day kept both 5-star commits, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and center Harry Miller, and added another in 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison — an especially high-stakes win considering Harrison was local and chose the Buckeyes over Michigan and Penn State. He also gained a commitment from 4-star linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who chose Ohio State over Michigan after decommitting from Boston College.
It’s worth noting that Day was dealing with obstacles that most other teams weren’t. He couldn’t make staff changes until after the Rose Bowl, which meant that linebackers and safeties and offensive linemen in particular had no idea if their position coach would still be there two weeks after they signed. Having the staff makeup sit in limbo is a huge obstacle in recruiting, especially when the early signing period came before any resolution. The fact that Ohio State signed as many players as it did despite some of them not knowing who their position coach would be offers a big datapoint in Day’s favor.
The challenges he faces now in trying to land Ohio State’s remaining targets are interesting because the circumstances of each recruitment are so different. Huntington (W.Va.) Spring Valley 4-star offensive guard Doug Nester was Ohio State’s first commitment of the 2019 class, but he chose not to sign in the wake of Meyer’s retirement and has been taking visits. The Buckeyes have been able to keep him from flipping but haven’t been able to lock him down. Perhaps Day’s most impressive work has been coming out of nowhere to turn Ohio State into a legitimate candidate for Kahuku (Hawaii) High School 4-star offensive guard Enokk Vihami over the last two weeks. Getting this far with such a high degree of difficulty is a good sign in itself, but actually getting Vihami to choose Ohio State over USC or Oklahoma is the type of win that distinguished Meyer from his peers.
The Buckeyes are in safer waters with Indianapolis Ben Davis three-star offensive tackle Dawand Jones, having established themselves as the favorite since offering him in late November. However, Jones recently took an official visit to Penn State, so Day will have to hope that the Buckeyes can hold up against that visit. Lastly, there’s also the graduate transfer route. Ohio State is hosting Rutgers transfer Jonah Jackson, who could be plugged into a guard spot and give Ohio State more flexibility to try different lineup combinations.
All four recruitments developed differently, have different likelihoods of success and involve different levels of nuance. But they all have one thing in common. Four players at a position Ohio State needs more depth will make their decision at the end of the signing period.