COLUMBUS — If recruiting rankings count for anything, the Ohio State football team’s 2015 class was off to a puzzling start.
The Buckeyes had 10 commits but not yet a true big-time national prospect, the kind of player courted by blue bloods coast to coast. None of their pledges ranked among Rivals.com’s top 200 recruits. Suspicious fans placed a well-earned faith in coach Urban Meyer and hoped for the best.
And then ...
“Double BOOOOOMM!!!!!!” OSU player personnel director Mark Pantoni tweeted Wednesday, except he replaced the five ‘O’s with stars.
On an earth-shaking day in the Ohio State football offices, the Buckeyes landed commitments from two of the top high school prospects in the country.
In coordinated morning announcements webcast on ESPN, five-star Cincinnati St. Xavier linebacker Justin Hilliard and five-star Minnesota defensive end Jashon Cornell each gave their word to OSU.
The pair are respectively ranked as high as the No. 13 and 16 overall prospects in the nation by ESPN and are consensus top-100 recruits. Hilliard is rated the top inside linebacker in the country by Rivals and Scout.com, while Cornell, a product of St. Paul, Minn., powerhouse Cretin-Derham Hall, is billed the No. 6 strongside defensive end by Rivals and 11th among all ends by Scout.
Ohio State’s 2015 class vaulted 17 spots to as high as sixth in ESPN’s rankings, and could keep rising. OSU is the believed frontrunner for top Ohio prospect Jerome Baker — the Cleveland Benedictine athlete will announce his decision on July 11 — while Hilliard and Cornell will continue lobbying the Buckeyes’ other top targets, including five-star Kentucky running back Damien Harris.
“Big day for OSU!” tweeted Harris, a former Michigan commit. “Got two of the best players in the country!”
From Minnesota, Cornell said, “We’re coming for you.”
Rivals analyst Josh Helmholdt said he expects the commitments of Hilliard and Cornell to have a “domino effect.”
“Certainly, [Hilliard and Cornell] are two very talented defenders,” he said. “And when you're talking about the full team impact, there's a reason they made the announcement together. They wanted to make a big splash. They’re both well known and both have a lot of relationships they plan to use in turning more heads toward Columbus in the next few months.”
In an announcement at St. Xavier, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Hilliard slipped on a Buckeyes hat over ones from Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Iowa. Though his older brother, C.J., plays football at Iowa and Cincinnati has hardly served as a traditional pipeline to Columbus, Hilliard called attending OSU an “easy choice.”
“Ohio State has always been home for me,” Hilliard said. “I’ve always been an Ohio State fan.”
Cornell, meanwhile, chose the Buckeyes over Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Penn State among others, citing most prominently his relationship with new defensive line coach Larry Johnson.