COLUMBUS — Not long ago, the border raid seemed cause for alarm.
Ohio State's nemesis swiped nine high school prospects from its home state last year, then nine again this season in compiling one of the top recruiting classes in the country. Would Michigan's growing inroads in Ohio damage the Buckeyes?
On Wednesday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer delivered his answer.
With zero-hour pledges from top recruits in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri, the Buckeyes signed a far-reaching 24-member class rated among the nation’s best. It was ranked the top haul in the country, ahead of runner-up Michigan, by Scout.com and second by Rivals.com.
Searching foremost for high-end speed, the Buckeyes signed their top priorities in Ohio, then cast their net from California to North Carolina, and from Florida to New Jersey.
Per Rivals, their class included the top three recruits in Ohio and the top prospects from Texas and Missouri.
"I know some Ohio State fans were upset that Michigan took so many out of Ohio, but Ohio State didn’t want a lot of them," said Tom Lemming, a national recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. "With Urban, Ohio State's going to be a national recruiting program. He’s recruiting with the same philosophy that Pete Carroll had at USC. You pick the superstar players from your own state, then you recruit first-round draft choices from around the country."
The Buckeyes signed 10 Ohioans, including Central Catholic safety Jayme Thompson, which Meyer said is three or four short of the optimum number of in-state commits. But with the program’s stock soaring after a 12-0 season, he knew recruits from all over would be receptive.
Especially the kind of players he wanted to fill the biggest need of Ohio State’s spread offense.
"Last year, we were just trying to find the best players possible that had interest in OSU," Meyer said. "This year was a concerted effort to go find fast guys."
The fastest of the bunch include five-star athlete Jalin Marshall (Middletown, Ohio), four-star receiver James Clark (New Smyrna Beach, Fla.), and four-star athlete Dontre Wilson (DeSoto, Texas).
Meyer said all three run the 100-yard dash in less than 10.5 seconds — a threshold he called the benchmark OSU will use "from here on out" — while running backs coach Stan Drayton said Wilson, a 5-foot-10, 174-pound hybrid back who switched his commitment from Oregon to OSU on Monday, would be a college All-American in track.
"You have to have a couple guys like that on the team," Meyer said. "Big plays were a problem for us."
The Buckeyes also took steps to stop such plays, bolstering every area of the defense, with their last signee perhaps the biggest. Five-star safety Vonn Bell, ranked No. 25 overall by Scout and 32nd by Rivals, picked OSU over Tennessee in a morning ceremony televised by ESPNU.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Rossville, Ga., native was one of three OSU commits to announce their decision Wednesday, along with Clark and St. Louis running back Ezekiel Elliott — and the latest in a line of southern prospects bound for Columbus.
Ohio State also relied heavily on offensive coordinator’s Texas connections to pluck three prospects from the Lone Star State — the same number OSU had in 10 years under coach Jim Tressel — including five-star linebacker Mike Mitchell. Rivals rates the 6-4, 225-pound Plano native, who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at a Nike camp last summer, as the top recruit in Texas.
Herman, who spent 10 years in Texas as a college assistant, smiled when asked about the challenge of recruiting against the blue bloods down south.
"Well," he said, "it's not challenging when you go 12-0, Urban Meyer's your head coach, and you’re wearing the Block O on your shirt."
He added: "If 25 of the top 50 players in the nation are from Ohio, than we’re going to go get them. First and foremost, we’re going to get the best players in the state. But if we have to go beyond our borders to fill our needs, that’s what we’ll do.”
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.