GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ryan Day and Ohio State are just a little more than a week removed from the December signing period, but the most important recruiting effort may take place over the next two-and-a-half weeks.
Heading into his second year in charge, Day has to find a way to convince an Ohio State defensive standout or two to return for one more go ’round with the Buckeyes.
In 2020, Day’s program could field an epic offense. Justin Fields will return for his junior season. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams will lead a receiver room that will soon welcome in a quartet of top-10 talents from the latest class. The Buckeyes tight ends will all return with the exception of Rashod Berry, and this week’s news that Thayer Munford, Josh Myers and Wyatt Davis all intend to play another season in Columbus means the high-powered offensive unit built at Ohio State isn’t likely to slow down — even if J.K. Dobbins departs for the NFL as expected.
But for Ohio State to truly be positioned for a return to the College Football Playoff and a chance to avenge Saturday’s bitter defeat against Clemson, Day could really use the help of a player like Chase Young, Jeff Okudah or Shaun Wade.
On Thursday, during the Fiesta Bowl’s all-team Media Day, Okudah suggested that he and his teammates could have a challenging decision to make if this season ended without a national title.
“J.K., Chase and I, we’ve all said that we don’t want to leave here without a national championship,” Okudah said. “For us, that’s one of the goals we set — even in recruiting — that’s what our goal was to do, win a national championship.
“To leave here without winning one, I think that’d be something you’d really have to consider when making a decision about the next level.”
If that group leaves now, they’ll be leaving without wining it all. That 2017 recruiting class included Myers, Davis, Young, Okudah, Dobbins and Wade, among others. It’s one of the best-recruiting classes not just in Buckeyes history but in the modern recruiting era. Now, three years into their careers, it’s a group that has finally tasted the College Football Playoff but leaves unsatisfied but also undoubtedly hurt, disappointed and angry.
But has the Fiesta Bowl left a bad enough taste in their collective mouths to put NFL dollars on hold for another year in the hopes of college football immortality?
It’s hard to argue against an early run to professional football by Young and Okudah, each of whom appears to be lead-pipe locks to be drafted in the top-five spots of the NFL Draft next spring.
Wade’s impact on the Ohio State defense is much more clear than his NFL projections, and that’s one reason he’s the perfect choice to step into a leadership role in the secondary next year. Ohio State needs Wade to provide some continuity in a defensive backfield that would otherwise be completely turned over. And Wade needs to show NFL talent evaluators that he has the athleticism to line up on and shut down outside receivers.
He’s versatile and tough — that’s not in dispute — but another year in Columbus could give the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Wade a chance to show a skill set that some don’t think he possesses.
Following an All-American junior season in 2001, Ohio State captain Mike Doss put off the NFL and spoke of what it meant to him to return to the Buckeyes.
“Twenty years from now I won’t be playing football. I hope to be doing your job, be asking some junior at Ohio State what he’s deciding to do about his future,” Doss said when he announced his intent to return. “I just felt that I should go ahead and stick it through. I’m here on scholarship. I came to Ohio State to get an education as well as play football.”
The departure of Jeff Hafley could be one of the biggest hills for Day and Ohio State to overcome. Wade has been through three defensive back coaches in his three seasons in Columbus. The end of the Buckeyes season means the administration will have the chance to go full-speed ahead in replacing him and the focus remains on Kerry Coombs, the coach who recruited Wade out of Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian and who the former 5-star prospect committed to and played for in 2017.
Earlier this week, Randy Wade — Shaun’s father — said on social media that his son was “50-50” about his future. If that’s true, then there are few things as important in the next two weeks ahead of the Jan. 15 deadline for entering the NFL Draft than for Day to work with the junior defensive back and his family on a clear-cut plan for how he’d be utilized in the event of a return to school.
That recruiting process for Ohio State and Shaun Wade starts now.