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Recruiting northeast and southwest Ohio becoming second nature to Ohio State
By James Vogel
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Going to the well too often is one thing, but sucking it completely dry is an entirely different animal.

On the day Urban Meyer was hired by Ohio State in November 2011, he took the podium in earnest, clad in a scarlet and gray tie and full with proclamations just like any new head coach. His biggest assurance, however, one that raised above all others, was how Meyer personally planned to make “the great state of Ohio proud.”

Ohio State supporters everywhere are smiling big right now, barely a month removed from watching their team wreck Oregon, 42-20, in Dallas to win the first ever National Championship in the College Football Playoff era.

With success comes the lust for more success, however, and it all circles back to the lifeblood of a college football program — recruiting.

“We did very well in the state of Ohio,” Meyer said Feb. 4 on national signing day, hours after securing his 2015 class.

Of the 27 players in the class, 12 are from Ohio and eight are from the northeast or southwest part of the state.

Cleveland’s pipeline to Ohio State has been around for ages, but the perception that the Buckeyes can’t recruit Cincinnati is slowly withering away.

“I don’t know where that stereotype came from. I think we’re doing great work down there,” cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, a Cincinnati native, said on signing day. “I think Coach Meyer, having been a Cincinnati graduate and an Ohio native, he understands how important that city is to us.”

Outside linebacker Justin Hilliard, the highest rated player in the state according to 247Sports, graduated from St. Xavier in Cincinnati. He signed with the Buckeyes Feb. 4 after committing in July, and is the lone recruit from the Queen City in the class. Hilliard, however, is widely considered one of its crown jewels.

“The linebackers I’m really excited about, I think that Luke Fickell has really done a very, very good job in the last three years of building that back up to the Ohio State standards,” Meyer said.

According to 247Sports, two of the six players in the class from the Cleveland area were top-5 players in the state. In fact, Ohio State’s history grabbing top-5 talent from the northeast and southwest corners of the state is a bit staggering.

TOP-5 RANKED PLAYERS IN THE STATE OF OHIO WHO WERE FROM NORTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST OHIO AND BECAME BUCKEYES (since 2009, according to 247Sports)

2009: No. 3: DE Melvin Fellows, Garfield Heights High School, Cleveland; No. 4: CB C.J. Barnett, Northmont High School, Clayton; No. 5: OT Marcus Hall, Glenville High School, Cleveland

2010: No. 2: OT Andrew Norwell, Anderson High School, Cincinnati

2011: No. 2: QB Braxton Miller, Wayne High School, Dayton; No. 3: DT Michael Bennett, Centerville High School, Dayton; No. 4: CB Doran Grant, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron; No. 5: DE Steve Miller, McKinley High School, Canton

2012: No. 1: DE Adolphus Washington, Taft High School, Cincinnati; No. 5: DE Se’Von Pittman, McKinley High School, Canton

2013: No. 1: ATH Jalin Marshall, Middletown High School, Middletown; No. 2: CB Cam Burrows, Trotwood-Madison High School, Dayton; No. 4: OT Evan Lisle, Centerville High School, Dayton

2014: No. 1: CB Marshon Lattimore, Glenville High School, Cleveland; No. 2: LB Dante Booker, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron; No. 3 S Erick Smith, Glenville High School, Cleveland; No. 4 WR Parris Campbell, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Akron; No. 5: LB Kyle Berger, St. Ignatius High School, Cleveland

2015: No. 1: LB Justin Hilliard, St. Xavier High School, Cincinnati; No. 3: ATH Jerome Baker, Benedictine High School, Cleveland, No. 4: CB Eric Glover-Williams, McKinley High School, Canton

Owning northeast and southwest Ohio on the recruiting trail hasn’t just become the norm for Ohio State. It’s become a necessity.

“Cleveland is always going to be a very critical area for us,” former Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said signing day. “We like to think of ourselves at Ohio State as being able to get the best talent in our state, no doubt.”

Justin Hilliard became a top target for Meyer in the 2015 class early on.
 

Drayton left Ohio State Feb. 5 for the Chicago Bears, opening a void on not only Meyer’s coaching staff but also in Cleveland area recruiting. Meyer hardly wasted any time finding Drayton’s replacement, however, officially hiring Notre Dame’s Tony Alford Tuesday.

Alford is from Akron, Ohio, so it makes sense why Meyer wanted him so badly. He had to find someone who could pick up right where Drayton left off in the area. Its just too important not to.

“It’s that blue-collar that stems from the parents all the way down through the kids. Everybody we are getting from Cleveland are working parents, have to earn everything that they got, and I love the fact that that still bleeds through their kids,” Drayton said. “So often you see that that’s not the case in a lot of areas now where the kids kind of have the silver spoon because of their parents’ hard work. Not in northeast Ohio.”

Great high schools in both the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas allow the Buckeyes quick access to some of the best players in the state but also the entire country. Talent is flooding through Interstate 71 to Columbus every year. It should be that way, Coombs said.

“I think that Cincinnati football is great and we know that and obviously I’d like to think I know a lot of folks down there and I love that town and I love those kids,” Coombs said. “We’re going to do our very best to bring the best player out of that city every single year.”

It makes sense that a top school and rockstar head coach like Ohio State and Meyer can get the best players in the state with relative ease. In his three seasons, however, Meyer’s put a stranglehold on the top talent in the state — sucking the well dry every year, only to keep coming back for more.

“Those kids respect the grunt of work and the labor that they had to do to get themselves to a point, and also their kids to a certain point,” Drayton said. “That’s the beauty of northeast Ohio. I’m not biased now, but that is Cleveland, northeast recruiting. No doubt about it.”

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