OSU president E. Gordon Gee has earned praise from coach Urban Meyer for help with prospects.
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COLUMBUS -- Ohio State pulled out all the usual stops when one of the nation's top high school football prospects visited campus in April.
Joey Bosa, a five-star defensive end from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., met with coach Urban Meyer and his staff. He walked through Ohio Stadium, toured the football facilities, and posed for a picture in a scarlet Buckeyes jersey.
But OSU also unveiled its secret recruiting weapon: a meeting with the president.
Gordon Gee, the charismatic bow-tied chief executive of Ohio State, met with Bosa, his younger brother, and their parents for a half hour.
"If you come here, you have to go to a frat party with me," Gee playfully told the recruit, recalled Bosa's mother, Cheryl.
"I'll do that, but only if you teach me how me to tie a bow tie," Bosa replied.
After Bosa left, Meyer thanked the president for his help.
"Once again we realize how busy your schedule is and we appreciate you taking time yesterday to meet with Joey Bosa (St. Thomas Aquinas HS) and his family," he wrote Gee in an email dated April 13. "His mother, Cheryl, a Buckeye alum, was quite impressed with the fact that you were taking a personal interest in the recruiting of players for the football team."
"I am truly honored to be part of your recruiting team," Gee replied.
In a later email, Gee added: "How can I help get this across the goal line?"
Bosa committed to Ohio State the next week.
As Meyer continues to enjoy a tide of early recruiting success -- his 2012 class was ranked among the top five nationally -- the first-year coach credits in part the help from an unlikely ally: one of the nation's most prominent academics.
Correspondence between Meyer and Gee, obtained by The Blade through a public records request, reveals the 68-year-old president's involvement -- and, perhaps, influence -- in Ohio State's football recruiting.
"It's not my job to evaluate our president, but if I was asked, he's an A-plus," Meyer said last week. "The enthusiasm, passion, love for Ohio State … it's off the charts."
The thought of a college president attempting to sway the decisions of heralded football recruits may further stir perceptions of a tail-wagging-the-dog culture in major college athletics. In the throes of the tattoos-for-memorabilia football scandal last year, Gee fueled that slant when he insisted he'd never considered firing former coach Jim Tressel. "No, are you kidding me?" Gee said during a news conference, weeks before Tressel resigned. "Let me be very clear. I'm just hoping the coach doesn't dismiss me."
At Michigan, a spokesman said president Mary Sue Coleman does not meet with football recruits or "participate in student-athlete recruitment."
But few presidents dabble in as many disciplines as Gee -- the highest-paid president of a public university with a compensation package of more than $1.5 million per year -- whose fuse-burning days that notoriously begin at 4:30 a.m. ensure no obligation comes at the expense of another. (Gee once cited being married to his job as the reason for his second divorce.)
Beyond his core duties, Gee indeed drops in on fraternity parties, walks the campus to mix with swooning students, and, yes, helps out with football recruiting.
"When I think of him, I think of all in," Meyer said.
Gee was not made available for this story. An OSU spokesman said Gee also helps recruit for other athletic programs, though it is unclear how he allocates his time.
"President Gee is the university's best recruiter and reaches out on behalf of the university to recruit exceptional academic leaders, faculty, and top students from all academic disciplines and sports," OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said. "Given the size and scope of Ohio State, President Gee's time is limited, but he remains committed to building a strong university."
Ezekiel Elliott, a four-star running back from St. Louis rated by Rivals.com as Missouri's top prospect in the 2013 class, said he visited 10 schools -- including Notre Dame, Arkansas, and Missouri. But it was only at Ohio State where his itinerary included a visit with the university president.
Elliott said Gee and his father, Stacy, spoke like old friends about their connection to the infamous "Fifth Down Game," a 1990 contest between Colorado and Missouri in which officials mistakenly allowed the Buffaloes a fifth down that produced the winning touchdown as time expired. Gee was then president of Colorado; Stacy Elliott a defensive back for Missouri.
While Elliott and other recruits took other factors into greater consideration -- coaches, facilities, tradition -- he said meeting with Gee "made me feel more comfortable at Ohio State."
"He's a fun guy," Elliott said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Bosa, who also considered attending Alabama, Florida State, and Michigan, among other major programs, felt the same way. He met with a handful of university presidents on recruiting visits, though none left an impression quite like the self-deprecating one in the bow tie and suspenders. Cheryl Bosa said her son "adored" Gee.
"Some of the presidents are very staunch and tight, so it didn't really affect things so much," Cheryl Bosa said. "[Gee's] personality definitely makes a difference."
Bosa, rated a top-25 prospect by nearly every recruiting service, left Columbus feeling confident in his decision. So did Ohio State. "Very close to getting him!" Meyer wrote in an email to Gee. "He's a difference maker."
Gee also met with several recruits at the spring game the next week, including James Quick, a highly regarded receiver from Louisville. Quick continues to consider OSU.
"I know how hectic your schedule was for all of the Spring Game activities," Meyer wrote to Gee on April 23. "But you taking time to personally meet with our key recruits will go a long way in establishing and building relationships with the recruits and their parents."
"You, your coaches, and team are on fire," Gee replied. "Thanks for letting me be part of the effort."
Contact David Briggs at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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