In a shocking turn of events, it seems Ohio State’s Class of 2020 won’t be comprised solely of offensive recruits after all.
A lack of defensive commitments led to an angsty few months for some fans, but the rain cloud parked over Columbus seems to have made way for sunshine. Commitments from 4-star linebacker Cody Simon and 4-star defensive lineman Darrion Henry on June 29 capped a run of four commitments on the defensive side of the ball over the last two weeks of June. The quartet of booms helped push Ohio State into the No. 4 spot of the 247Sports team rankings for the Class of 2020.
Now, to be fair, this particular recruiting cycle has been a weird one. The 2020 class began with a run of almost exclusively offensive commitments. Until defensive back Lejond Cavazos re-committed to the Buckeyes on April 12, Ohio State’s seven commitments in the Class of 2020 had all been on offense. It was an impressive list, too, with 5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson and 4-star quarterback Jack Miller leading the way. Three more offensive players followed Cavazos — including 5-star wide receiver Julian Fleming — which meant as of June 15, with around six months until the early signing period, all but one of the Buckeyes’ 11 commitments played offense.
And yet, looking back, the Buckeyes have probably been right on track — or even ahead of the curve — this entire time given the circumstances involved.
For starters, the 2018 Ohio State defense was objectively bad. The linebackers were a mess. The defensive backs couldn’t stop blowing coverages or committing pass interference. The Buckeyes finished ranked No. 72 in total defense, No. 86 in passing yards allowed, No. 100 in first downs allowed and No. 113 in red zone defense. During a particularly rough stretch, the Buckeyes gave up 49 points to Purdue, 35 points to Nebraska, and 51 points to Maryland. None of those teams finished with winning records, and Purdue was the only one to even make a bowl game.
Between then and now, Ohio State has played zero games. There’s no chance for the Buckeyes to come out and impress recruits with the way their defense improved. By the time the season does roll around, every recruit will be so deep in the process that it’s wildly unlikely even surefire improvement would sway them.
Speaking of which, the coaches hired to produce that improvement are brand new. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson was the only holdover from the previous staff. The other four assistants are gone. In their place are co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley as well as linebackers coach Al Washington and assistant secretary coach Matt Barnes.
Recruiting is all about comfort and relationships. Those assistants have been grinding on the recruiting trail since they showed up, but there’s no way to make time move faster. Their biggest obstacle was the simple fact that they were not only recruiting players who may have been new to them, but also that they had to make sure they were recruiting the correct players. The Bullet position (a linebacker/safety hybrid) didn’t exist on past Ohio State defenses, so past Ohio State coaches didn’t necessarily recruit players who fit that mold.
“I think the biggest challenge early on is getting to know everybody,” Ryan Day said during his 2019 National Signing Day press conference.
Halfway through the calendar year, business is officially booming. The defensive assistants put in the work when it came to identifying targets they wanted to pursue and then developing relationships with those players. With so many new faces on the staff and no product to show recruits until the fall, it was bound to take time. But time has passed, and the Buckeyes are now reaping the rewards of their work.
The recent run started with 3-star defensive tackle Ty Hamilton, the younger brother of Ohio State defensive tackle Davon Hamilton. That was followed by 4-star cornerback Clark Phillips (a player plucked from California, no less) and then Simon and Henry. More names seem to be on the way. The Buckeyes either lead or are in good shape for 4-star linebacker Kourt Williams, 3-star linebacker Mitchell Melton and 4-star safety Lathan Ransom.
Patience was the name of the game when the staff was first hired, but the wait is now over.