CORNELIUS, N.C. — Evan Pryor did his homework on the Ohio State depth chart.
The four-star running back knew all the names of the stars who had been on it before, and he certainly was aware of the current situation on the Buckeyes roster.
It’s a little odd that a program that has historically had one of the richest backfield traditions in the country would also be one that was about to go through spring camp with just one healthy scholarship tailback. But it’s also hard to deny how appealing that would be to a high-end recruit like Pryor — a unique sales pitch that Ohio State would probably have preferred not to have but is already leading to impressive results.
“Yeah, that was an eye opener,” Pryor told Lettermen Row. “Just looking at it, when you look at a place like Ohio State and they’re thin at that position like that, how could you walk away from campus without taking that spot? That was something I had seen, and it was something I definitely had to jump on.
“I studied it, I looked at it. But I also saw all of it, that [running backs coach Tony] Alford worked with Zeke [Elliott], one of the best in the league, then J.K. [Dobbins] potentially being a first-rounder. At the same time, Coach Alford gave me the idea that if I come in and work, you know what you’re doing and he feels like he trusts you, there will be opportunities to play. Even though the depth chart looked thin and all, if I’m doing my thing and performing for these guys, I feel like I would play.”
Pryor is almost certainly not going to be the only elite prospect to absorb that message and want to jump on the opportunity to become next off Ohio State’s NFL assembly line. And that’s also something he studied and embraced, actually hoping that somebody like top-rated tailback TreVeyon Henderson joins him with the Buckeyes to potentially allow them to share the workload and save some wear-and-tear for the next level.
That, of course, is a discussion for well down the road. For now, Alford and Pryor were focusing more on the short-term possibilities as Ohio State transitions into a post-Dobbins backfield coming off a recruiting cycle that certainly didn’t go as planned when two guys who were believed to be committed in the summer instead went elsewhere. Eventually those misses led the Buckeyes to Miyan Williams. And while they love his upside, that did leave them a bit thin during the pandemic-shortened spring camp after Master Teague tore his Achilles and with Marcus Crowley already on the shelf recovering from a knee injury.
Now, Pryor or possibly Henderson or Donovan Edwards obviously can’t help Ohio State this season. So, any additional help would likely need to come from a graduate transfer like Oklahoma’s Trey Sermon to leave the path clear for the next class, though the Buckeyes still have enough talent on hand already to manufacture a productive ground game. But there’s no clear-cut star power for Ohio State ready to roll right now, which makes for a unique situation and silver-lining for Alford as a recruiter.
“Before I put the thought in his head of me committing, he asked me: Do you know what it takes to be an Ohio State running back?” Pryor said. “The attention that comes along with it, are you strong enough mentally to take criticism or the celebration and stay level headed? And that was a conversation we had for about an hour, making sure we had everything understood.
“I can handle it. He was giving me examples and stuff, and I was just like: I got you.”
What are the Buckeyes going to get in return?
Pryor isn’t done at Hough High School yet, so he’s still not done growing yet despite all the accolades, ridiculous piles of yardage and jam-packed highlight reel he’s put together down in North Carolina. But he’s earned a three-down back stamp of approval from Huskies coach Matt Jenkins, and that ability to handle every responsibility is exactly what got guys like Dobbins and Elliott into the lineup shortly after they arrived at Ohio State.
“It’s a pleasure to coach him, it really is,” Jenkins said. “He’s grown and matured as a human, which is the most impressive part. His work ethic has reached an elite level, specifically over the last year. I think he goes as hard at practice right now as anybody we have in the program, and he plays with a bunch of guys who are going to go play Division I football. His skill set is remarkable.
“One of his goals when he got here was to become a three-down back and have the ability not to ever have to come off the football. He gets closer to that every day, and he’s a willing blocker, good in protection schemes, understands them and picks up blitzes. He’s got remarkable hands as a running back. Great vision. Does a great job between the tackles, and he runs through tackles now — which was kind of the next evolution for him. When you’re as fast as he is from Day One, that next step is running through tackles and he’s doing that. And more importantly, Evan understands that if he wants to play on Sundays, which is his ultimate goal, it’s all about his work ethic up to that point.”
For Evan Pryor and maybe one more coveted recruit, it’s also about opportunity and picking a place with a proven track record of getting running backs where he wants to go.
Right now, Ohio State has the perfect balance of both to put together a potentially historic class.