COLUMBUS - Jim Tressel knows all about Disney World, Key West, and Daytona International Speedway. He knows about Jimmy Buffet, the Everglades, and the prestigious Bay Hill Club.
And yes, he knows about those pesky Gators.
But for all Florida has to offer, the Ohio State coach has not been there lately to play golf, watch auto racing, listen to Country Bear Jamboree, or to do much wasting away in Margaritaville. Tressel goes to the Sunshine State to prospect for what he hopes is football gold.
The Buckeyes signed three recruits from Florida in their class of 2009 - running backs Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde, and wide receiver Duron Carter. Tressel said the quality of players available in Florida, and the sheer number of players in the state, make it a mandatory stop on any recruiting itinerary.
"Florida plays great football, and they've got excellent population now," he said. "When I started recruiting 30-some years ago, Florida had 11 million people and we [Ohio] probably had 15 million, but now the tide has turned. Florida football has just continued to grow and grow."
Tressel said all three of this year's recruits from Florida are the impact type that could help the Buckeyes right away, and be significant contributors. The fan site Rivals.com that tracks the top recruits throughout the country had Berry, Hyde, and Carter all listed as four-star talents, the next-to-highest rating.
"I think those guys we got out of Florida are highly thought of," Tressel said.
Berry had everyone around the state talking before last season when he ran a 4.31-second 40-yard dash.
His high school coach thinks speed is just part of the package the 5-11, 195-pound Berry brings to the Buckeyes.
"His strongest asset is his ability to make people miss," Larry Coffey said. "For a Division I running back, Jaamal's not huge, but he's got good size, and he has great instincts. He sees the field real well, and he can stop and cut and change direction - he's got those natural abilities that you can't coach a kid to do."
Berry, who battled injuries in his senior season and played in just five of 12 games, chose the Buckeyes over Florida, Mississippi, and LSU.
Hyde joins Berry and current OSU running backs Dan "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine in the competition to replace Chris "Beanie" Wells, who is leaving the Buckeyes after three seasons to enter the NFL draft. Wells, a two-time MVP at Ohio State, rushed for 3,382 yards, fourth best in Buckeyes' history.
At 6-1 and 230 pounds, Hyde owns the frame that most-closely resembles that of the powerful Wells. Hyde had 1,653 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns this past season, averaging a robust 10.6 yards per carry. He had another 166 yards in receptions, good for three additional touchdowns.
Hyde, who had 277 yards rushing and five touchdowns in a first-round state playoff game this past season, grew up in Ohio and moved to Florida before his sophomore year of high school.
"Since he's from Cincinnati, he's had an affinity for the Buckeyes all along," Tressel said.
Hyde's coach at Naples High School, Bill Kramer, said his workhorse running back is an exciting combination of speed and power, with a little extra elusiveness. "Carlos can pound the ball inside, but he also has that ability to just run away from people," Kramer said. "And he's got some jiggle - for a big back, he can make people miss."
Carter has a strong link to the Buckeyes - his dad is Cris Carter, a former Ohio State great who was an eight-time Pro-Bowl pick in the NFL. The younger Carter, who helped his team win a second straight 5A state championship in Florida last season, had 39 receptions for more than 700 yards with 14 touchdowns as St. Thomas Aquinas went 15-0.
"Duron is an outstanding player, a guy who is real long, and goes up for the ball with good body control," Tressel said. "The interesting thing about receivers - sometimes they step up a lot earlier than you think they might."
Tressel said while Ohio State will continue to find the bulk of its recruits within a 200-mile radius of here, talents like Carter, Hyde and Berry are worth stretching the boundaries to pursue. Tressel said legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes recognized this decades ago, and you don't have to look far to find Florida natives who have made a name for themselves with the Buckeyes and beyond, like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
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Jim Tressel knows all about Disney World, Key West, and Daytona International Speedway. He knows about Jimmy Buffet, the Everglades, and the prestigious Bay Hill Club. And yes, he knows about those pesky Gators.