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Football: Ohio State makes recruiting splash with six commitments in 12 days

Members of the Ohio State football team sing “Carmen Ohio” following the Ohio State-Oregon State game on Sept. 1. Ohio State won 77-31. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Multimedia Editor

Since 2008, Ohio State football has had a recruiting class ranked outside the national top 10 just twice: 2010 and 2019.

Both were final years for head coaches, as Jim Tressel left amid NCAA violations following a season in which the Buckeyes’ 12 wins were vacated, and Urban Meyer’s January exit was marred in the aftermath of his suspension and Zach Smith controversy.

Buckeye recruiting bounced back in 2011 under a new coach, as Luke Fickell pulled off the No. 6 rated class. First-year head coach Ryan Day appears poised to do the same, after a late-June recruiting haul that saw five four-star recruits commit to Ohio State’s next two classes in the final 10 days of the month.

This was all part of the plan for Day.

“This month is a big month for us,” Day said in a press conference June 5. “It’s really, ‘Where are we gonna be at the end of June?’ That’s when I think we’ll have a better handle on the whole class.”

Rewind to the beginning of June. Ohio State had only two defensive commits for its 2020 class, a troublesome sign for a program coming off its worst statistical defensive season in history in 2018.

That slow start, along with a near-complete overhaul of the defensive coaching staff in the offseason prompted reporters to question Day on the progress of recruiting at his lone press conference appearance of the summer thus far. 

Day knew, though, that the Buckeyes had big things on the horizon.

The weekend of June 21 saw official visits from 15 prospects, and no time was wasted before commitments began flooding in.

Jayden Ballard, a 6-foot-2, four-star wide receiver, and the No. 5 prospect in Ohio per 247Sports, joined the Buckeyes’ 2021 class with a social media announcement. Just 15 minutes later, the No. 4 cornerback in 2020, California-native Clark Phillips, also announced he would be donning scarlet and gray.

Phillips is Ohio State’s highest-rated cornerback prospect since 2017, and will strengthen a position group looking to rebound this year after a much maligned 2018 season.

Ohio State wasn’t initially on Phillips’ radar for recruiting, but he was swayed away from in-state powers such as USC and California by first-year co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley.

Hafley, a defensive backs specialist with NFL experience, now has his second four-star defensive back of the class, along with Florida’s Lejond Cavazos, as he looks to shore up a weak spot for the Buckeyes.

In the following week, Ohio State locked down the No. 2 ranked in-state recruits for both 2020 and 2021 in defensive tackle Darrion Henry and offensive tackle Ben Christman.

With 6-foot-4, 279-pound Henry, Ohio State will begin rebuilding a defensive line that will likely lose junior defensive end Chase Young and senior defensive tackles Jonathan Cooper, Davon Hamilton, Robert Landers and Jashon Cornell as key contributors after the upcoming season.

Henry will join offensive lineman Paris Johnson, his Princeton High School teammate in Cincinnati, in the Buckeyes’ 2020 class, meaning they have secured the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the state.

This is also true for the 2021 class, as Christman will join five-star defensive end Jack Sawyer out of Pickerington, Ohio, to make it back-to-back No. 1 and No. 2 in-state recruits playing on opposite sides of the line.

Ohio State has not had the top two in-state commits in consecutive years since 2013 and 2014.

Committing on the same day as Henry was 2020’s No. 10 outside linebacker, Cody Simon, who became the third four-star defensive commit to join the class in just an eight-day span.

Bolstered by the flurry of commitments, Ohio State’s class jumped from a No. 9 national rank prior to Phillips’ announcement to No. 4 following Henry’s decision, putting it in an elite tier with Clemson, Alabama and LSU in front.

Day may have circled the end of June as a target date for recruiting stability, but even more top-level talent may be headed to Columbus in the coming month. 

Three-star tight end Joe Royer became the sixth Ohio State recruit in 12 days Tuesday, and Lathan Ransom, the nation’s No. 2 safety, will announce his commitment on July 16. Ohio State is in his top three schools.

While Day and his coaching staff haven’t had much trouble attracting recruits to the program in the last few weeks, even the new commits are getting in on recruiting. When asked by four-star defensive tackle Jacolbe Cowan where he should go to school on Twitter Saturday, Henry didn’t mince words.

“Come join the family,” Henry said.

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