COLUMBUS The adage goes that at places like Ohio State, they don t rebuild following another ultra successful football season they just reload.
A critical element of that reloading process involves recruiting, and with just over two weeks left before national signing day, when high school players announce which college they intend to play for, the Buckeyes look to be a few rounds short of a full magazine.
Ohio State does have firm commitments from premium talent such as Ohio high school player of the year Brandon Saine (6-1, 205), the state record holder in the 100-meter dash who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season, and the versatile, all-purpose athlete Dane Sanzenbacher (6-0, 185) from Toledo Central Catholic. But a recruiting strategy that had Ohio State zero in on certain other elite players and focus a lot of energy on landing them has not yet paid the expected dividends.
Ohio State has missed out on several of those choice picks, and according to recruiting expert Steve Helwagen, managing editor of Bucknuts Magazine, Ohio State will need a strong finish to the recruiting period in order to end up with a recruiting class that is in the top 10 nationally.
Helwagen said there are enough blue-chip players still out there for the Buckeyes to make such a move.
Ohio State has proven over the years that they can recruit anywhere in the country, and come back with some of the best players, so that s not in question, Helwagen said.
But what has hurt them so far this year is that they had three guys they really wanted who were in the top 100 players nationally, and they thought they were in pretty good shape on them, but then all three announced at the All-American Bowl that they were going elsewhere.
Helwagen said Ohio State really coveted Cincinnati defensive end Ben Martin (6-5, 230), the No. 1 player in the state, and just about everyone in the recruiting game expected Martin to choose the Buckeyes. But the LaSalle High School product stunned a lot of folks in his home state by committing to Tennessee.
Ohio State also had been the perceived leader in the sweepstakes to land defensive tackle
Joseph Barksdale (6-6, 323) of Cass Tech in Detroit, and since he plays a position where the Buckeyes have an immediate need, he looked like a near lock to end up in Columbus, Helwagen said. But Barksdale opted to go to LSU.
Offensive lineman Anthony Davis (6-6, 330) from Piscataway. N.J., the same hometown as current Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins, was another prize the Buckeyes desperately wanted, but he decided to stay in the Garden State and play for Rutgers, just minutes from his home.
If they get just two of those three guys, then we re talking about a top five class right now, Helwagen said. But realistically, they will probably now struggle to end up with a top 10 class, and that s where they consistently are. With Jim Tressel as coach, Ohio State usually gets a recruiting class that is in the top 10 in the country.
Helwagen expects the Buckeyes coaching staff to be determined to spend every waking hour until national signing day gets here on Feb. 6, trying to enhance that recruiting class.
That will be the first day that a high school recruit can sign a letter of intent to attend a certain school, and prior to that point, only nonbinding oral commitments have been made, some of them more than a year ago. NCAA regulations prevent Ohio State s coaches from commenting on recruits until commitments are made on signing day.
Ohio State is dealing with what is really a double-edged sword, Helwagen said.
Being ranked No. 1 all season, beating Michigan the way they did and having Troy Smith win the Heisman Trophy that was basically a four-month long recruiting commercial for them, he said. The flip side is, everyone also saw them struggle in the national championship game.
But that shouldn t cast a pall over things one game usually doesn t influence kids to go one way or the other.
Helwagen has interviewed dozens of Ohio State s potential recruits and their high school coaches, and that the player s decision usually comes down to how strongly he feels about three main priorities.
First, most kids want to know if they can get on the field relatively quickly they all want to play right away, he said. Second is usually location, and if it s important that mom and dad see him play. Finally, it s the place is he comfortable with the coaches and the facilities.
With 19 seniors gone from the team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for five months and went 12-0 in the 2006 regular season, and three top juniors leaving early for the NFL, Helwagen sees Columbus as an attractive destination for outstanding players who could have an immediate impact.
Wide receivers Ted Ginn, Jr., and Anthony Gonzalez, along with running back Antonio Pitt-man, all announced within the last 10 days that they would leave Ohio State with a year of eligibility remaining. The Buckeyes also lose quarterback Smith, their top three defensive tackles (Quinn Pitcock, David Patterson, Joel Penton) and a couple of starters in the defensive backfield (Brandon Mitchell, Antonio Smith) all seniors.
The opportunity is there, and we could see Saine move right into the running back rotation, and Sanzenbacher might get a chance as a true freshman to crack that lineup at wide receiver, Helwagen said.
He also expects Eugene Clifford (6-2, 190), a defensive back from Cincinnati Colerain who has given the Buckeyes an oral commitment, to press for playing time right away.
Sanzenbacher, for one, certainly is excited about his future.
Growing up in Ohio, with a lot of Ohio State fans in my family well, I just couldn t think of any other place that could top it, he said after committing to OSU. I really liked how they treated me, and once they offered me a scholarship, I feel like I really couldn t turn it down.
You can t beat Ohio State. You get to play in front of more than 100,000 people every game.
You get to play for a national championship every year. And you get to play Michigan every year. It s pretty mind-boggling.
According to Helwagen s count, Ohio State has about 13 solid commitments, and will likely sign a recruiting class of 17 or 18. He expects Tressel to bank a number of other scholarships for next year, when the Buckeyes will have just five seniors on scholarship because of the early departures for the pros.
That great recruiting class of 2002 has run its course, but it was rated No. 2 in the country at the time, behind Texas, and a lot of those guys ended up starting for Ohio State for two or three seasons, Helwagen said.
That shows that if you get the talent, it can really make an impact.
A couple of other premium recruits visited campus and considered Ohio State, but ended up headed elsewhere. Pennsylvania tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 230) chose Arizona over the Buckeyes, Clemson, Maryland or Penn State.
Georgia high school offensive lineman Nick Claytor (6-6, 315) also considered Auburn, Florida State and Ohio State before saying he will play for Georgia Tech. Claytor, who is rated in the top 10 in the country at his position, is the son of Toledoan Truman Claytor.
You obviously never get all the guys you go after nobody does, Helwagen said. They pinpointed some players they wanted to have, and when those kids decide in January to go elsewhere, you ve got a little problem. But there s time and maybe they ll rally and really finish strong. I expect them to go out now and offer a scholarship to the best kids out there, and then see what happens.
Contact Matt Markey at:email@example.com 419-724-6510.