COLUMBUS — Raekwon McMillan’s college announcement Monday began with the caps of five college football powers laid out before him and, for a moment, a kick to the stomach of Ohio State coaches.
The five-star Georgia prospect regarded as the nation’s top inside linebacker proceeded with the now-traditional tease, reaching first for an Alabama hat, then nudging it aside.
"I'm going to roll with Ohio State," McMillan said in the televised announcement as he slipped on a scarlet cap. "Can I make a correction? I'm going to The Ohio State University."
With that, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer landed what some analysts billed as the most important recruit in his time in Columbus.
Ohio State’s ability to burrow deep into the south to land the most touted player at its position of greatest need represented not only a major coup but could foretell a scalding recruiting finish for the third straight year.
The 6-foot-2, 242-pound McMillan, ranked among the nation’s top 20 prospects by ESPN, 247Sports.com, and Rivals.com, is the Buckeyes’ 18th commit in the Class of 2014. Back-to-back top-five classes are expected to give way to another, with the OSU’s class ranked as high as second nationally by 247Sports.
Rivals recruiting analyst Marc Givler called McMillan "without question Meyer’s biggest get so far at Ohio State."
"When you weigh the teams they were going up against, where the kid is from, the position he plays, and how important that position is on the roster, absolutely," he said.
McMillan will join a growing roster of southerners at OSU. While former coach Jim Tressel enjoyed success in Florida, Meyer and his staff have expanded the battle lines. Last year alone, the Buckeyes plucked linebacker Trey Johnson and safety Vonn Bell from Georgia and defensive end Joey Bosa and wide receiver James Clark from Florida.
Yet if Meyer called the five-star Bell’s recruitment a "street fight," landing McMillan may have been a brawl. Meyer lasered his attention on McMillan even as Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Clemson among others did the same. He and his staff were the last coaches to visit the recruit’s Hinesville, Ga., home Sunday night, following Alabama’s Nick Saban.
"Where Raekwon is from, that's a prime SEC recruiting area," 247Sports and Bucknuts.com analyst Bill Kurelic said. "Southern Georgia, that's a really tough area for a northerner or a Midwest school to win in."
That dynamic amped up the tension for OSU’s coaches, who were left in the dark until early Monday afternoon. In his news conference, a smiling McMillan said, "I had to say to coach Meyer, ‘I’m sorry. I know your heart pounded like mine. Sorry I left you hanging. I didn’t give you any hints.’"
"There was just something special about Ohio State," he said, citing his relationship with Meyer and defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell.
McMillan is expected to arrive at OSU as an early enrollee next month and could be a candidate for instant playing time. The Buckeyes had little depth at linebacker outside of Ryan Shazier this season, though Johnson and Mike Mitchell — a jewel of last year’s class who is redshirting — could offer help next fall.
Monday’s commitment may provide the first burst of down-the-stretch momentum for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are viewed as the favorites to land Marshon Lattimore — an athlete ranked by Rivals as the top prospect in Ohio — and four-star defensive back Erick Smith from Cleveland Glenville and are in the fray for several others, including Florida’s Johnnie Dixon. The four-star wide receiver is scheduled to announce his decision today.
"You never know for sure, but right now things are setting up for another spectatcular finish," Kurelic said.
MEWHORT HONORED: Buckeyes senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com.
A three-year starter, Mewhort was also honored as a Walter Camp second-team All-American and earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition for the second straight year. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier was a first-team All-American on defense.