Ryan Day couldn’t have hoped for a better start for his first full recruiting class at Ohio State.
The first-year Ohio State coach landed a huge prize on Super Bowl Sunday as Pickerington North defensive end Jack Sawyer committed to the Buckeyes. Although no consensus rankings are out for the Class of 2021, Sawyer is widely expected to be a 5-star recruit when recruiting services put out full rankings for that class. He is listed as the No. 3 prospect in his class according to 247Sports, whose 2021 prospect rankings currently include 108 players.
Why is the commitment of a high school sophomore so significant? After all, Day will officially wrap up the Class of 2019 with National Signing Day on Wednesday, and then attention will turn to the Class of 2020. While there’s always an eye on the future, the Class of 2021 is still a distant thought for everyone, including recruiting services.
However, those two recruiting classes are exactly why the 2021 one matters. Day helped hold together the 2019 class after Urban Meyer retired, but that class was almost entirely pieced together with Meyer in charge. Even Ohio State’s Class of 2020 is made up of five players who originally committed to Meyer, including 5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson.
This is different. The 2021 class will be entirely the work of Day. There will be no claims that Meyer helped build the class, and by the time those players sign Day will have already coached two seasons for the Buckeyes. It will be his program, and when this class signs there will be far less instances of attributing any success Day has to the players Meyer left him or recruited.
(As an aside, there’s a zero-percent chance Day is personally affected by how he’s perceived. And he shouldn’t be, because it’s largely pointless what other people think. But perception unfortunately is an inseparable part of recruiting, and any time Day proves he’s not just babysitting Meyer’s program Larry Coker-style is a valuable win.)
The hay was largely in the barn for the 2019 class, and the 2020 class was off to a ridiculous start when Day took over. It will be up to the 2021 class to show that there won’t be any drop off in the recruiting department. With that as the goal, it’s not possible for Day to have landed a better recruit at a better time. Ohio State challenged Sawyer this fall to take the mantle for this class, and the message apparently worked.
“They’ve actually talked to me before about how I could be that guy to build a class there since I’m a local kid and all,” Sawyer said in November. “They talk to me about being that special player you see every so often, and how that could lead to building that class.”
He was game for that challenge, and now the Buckeyes have a class leader for the Class of 2021 with 22 months until that group’s early signing period. Oh, and he happens to be one of the best players in the country. The effect of a class leader is sometimes overstated, but it’s very real. Elite players gravitate towards each other. Even more importantly, a 5-star eagerly putting his future into Day’s hands is a signal to other recruits that it’s business as usual in Columbus despite the coaching change. And don’t dismiss his status as a local recruit. Remember Jackson Carman signing with Clemson? Remember how hard Ohio State had to work for Zach Harrison? There are no sure things.
With Sawyer’s commitment coming so early, that’s less time Ohio State has to spend recruiting one of the best players in the country and more time the Buckeyes can use figuring out how to get other 5-stars to join him. And speaking of the best player in the country thing, it’s probably time to mention those benefits. Jack Sawyer is really good at football! While all the other possible ripple effects are nice, perhaps the basest victory is the simple certainty that an insanely talented recruit is going to play for Ohio State.
Here’s part of what Birm wrote in his analysis of what the Buckeyes are getting from Sawyer:
There are many recruiting analysts who watch football around the state who believe the sophomore defensive end from Pickerington North is Ohio’s best football prospect regardless of class.
Yes, that means a better prospect than 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison. Yes, that means a better prospect than Paris Johnson, a 5-star player and top-10 talent in the Class of 2020.
That’s how high the ceiling is for Sawyer on the field. He’s already 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and a quick-twitch athlete capable of beating offensive linemen with an explosive first step or by running through them. He has all the tools already to warrant his lofty national ranking and is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he is capable of becoming. A very good basketball prospect as well, Sawyer has elite athleticism. At the risk of putting too much pressure on a player this young, in the search for a Bosa-type defensive end, this is about as close as there is outside of that gene pool.
All in all, not a bad start for Ryan Day’s first full recruiting class at Ohio State.