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Ohio State's 'Misfit Class' of 2015 Finally Buying In
By Tony Gerdeman
Urban Meyer, Stan Drayton, and Kerry Coombs watch Mike Weber's signing day announcement in February of 2015.
Photo courtesy OhioStateBuckeyes.com

This past February, Ohio State signed arguably its best recruiting class ever. In fact, since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012, the Buckeyes have been near the top every year in national class rankings.

Each of these classes was deemed to be outstanding at the time, which brings heavy expectations along with it. After the first spring practice of camp last month, Meyer talked about the leadership on the team and said that it's great at the top (veterans) and bottom (first and second-year players), but that the 2015 class needed to step it up.

"I made a comment that this is as strong a group of leaders that we’ve had, a good bundle of them," Meyer said a month ago. "Then our last two recruiting classes that are coming up, as far as GPA, just working hard and doing things right, and gonna be productive, that’s going to be this year’s class and the '16 class.

"If there’s a group of players that haven’t performed, it’s that '15 class. We’re very strong at the top, we’re very strong at the bottom, now we’ve got to squeeze it and make sure everybody’s productive and provides value. If you do that, you’ll have a very fine team. If you don’t, you won’t."

If a program recruits well enough, they can overcome misses. Overcoming a large number of them from one particular class, however, can be difficult.

So far, of the 27 signees in the 2015 class, only six have emerged as starters, and two of those -- Dre'Mont Jones and Jerome Baker -- were due to injury. Now, it just so happens that Jones and Baker may be the two best players in the entire class, so sometimes what can hold a class back a bit are the classes in front of it. For instance, Mike Weber -- who started last year as a redshirt freshman -- wasn't going to start at Ohio State until Ezekiel Elliott was long gone.

However, eventually the veterans leave, and now the 2015 class is close to being the elder statesmen of the team. Yet if you look at the depth chart, only a couple more members of that class are going to be pushing for starting jobs this season.

Here's a look at the 2015 class and what they've done so far.

Name Pos. Hometown/High School Elig. Status
Joshua Alabi OL Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech Soph Moved to left tackle in the offseason after two years at defensive tackle. Playing well and already in the two deep. Illness and injuries held him back early in his career.
A.J. Alexander TE Burke, Va./Lake Braddock Soph Back-up tight end last season. Had to bulk up early. Played extensively this year, having very good spring.
Damon Arnette DB Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas Soph Arrived at OSU injured. Played nickel in '16. Looking like one of the three starters at CB this year.
Jerome Baker LB Cleveland, Ohio/St. Benedictine Junior Budding star. Could be final season.
Rashod Berry DE Lorain, Ohio/Lorain Soph Moved from tight end before last season. Was the No. 5 or No. 6 DE last year. Stuck in a tough rotation to crack.
Branden Bowen OL Draper, Utah/Corner Canyon Soph Was the No. 3 offensive tackle last season.
Matthew Burrell OL Woodbridge, Va./Hylton Soph Pushing Demetrius Knox for the starting job at right guard. Needed time to mature.
Joe Burrow QB The Plains, Ohio/Athens Soph J.T. Barrett's backup. The only spring game superstar never to have his talent doubted.
Nick Conner
LB Dublin, Ohio/Scioto Soph Injured as a freshman and injured again. History of knee troubles.
Jashon Cornell DT St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall Soph Injuries have been an issue. Great spring last year. Working to get into the rotation at defensive tackle.
Jamel Dean
DB Cocoa, Fla./Cocoa N/A Due to medical issues with his knee, was not medically cleared to play at OSU after enrolling early. Transferred to Auburn. Injured knee in fall camp. Still not able to take part in spring camp for the Tigers.
Kevin Feder OL Ramsey, N.J./Don Boscoe Prep Soph Has yet to see anything other than cursory action. Injuries have been an issue.
Torrence Gibson QB Plantation, Fla./American Heritage N/A Suspended from the University in 2016. Left the program. Planning to enroll at Cincinnati and play quarterback for Luke Fickell and the Bearcats.
Eric Glover-Williams HB Canton, Ohio/Canton McKinley Junior Moved to H-back this winter after two years as a reserve safety. Running third on the current depth chart.
Davon Hamilton DT Pickerington, Ohio/Pickerington Central Soph Just had foot surgery. Key contributor in the DT rotation last year. Great spring a year ago as well.
K.J. Hill WR North Little Rock, Ark./North Little Rock Soph One of OSU's most consistent receivers a year ago. Scored the Buckeyes' first TD in 2016. Will be heavily involved this year.
Justin Hilliard LB Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier Soph Biceps injuries have cost him his first two seasons. He is healthy now and making a push at middle linebacker.
Dre'Mont Jones DT Cleveland, Ohio/St. Ignatius Soph Missed freshman season due to knee injury, but started at DT last year for Tracy Sprinkle. One of the most active DTs in the nation. Possibly his last season at OSU.
Mirko Jurkovic OL South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph's/IMG Academy N/A Wasn't admitted to OSU, ended up at Georgia. Knee injuries have ended his career.
Robert Landers DT Dayton, Ohio/Huber Heights Soph Key member of the DT rotation last year at NT.
Liam McCullough LS Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne Soph Started last year for the Buckeyes and was unnoticeable, which is exactly what you want from a long snapper.
Joshua Norwood DB Valdosta, Ga./Valdosta Soph Has been at the end of a talented OSU cornerback depth chart since his arrival.
Isaiah Prince OL Greenbelt, Md./Eleanor Roosevelt Junior Up and down as a starter at RT last year. Will start again this year.
Grant Schmidt
OL Sioux Falls,S.D./Roosevelt N/A Transferred to Cincinnati prior to last season.
Alex Stump WR Lakewood, Ohio/St. Edward N/A Transferred to Vanderbilt last month.
Denzel Ward DB Macedonia, Ohio/Nordonia Junior Part of three-man rotation with two First-Round NFL Draft picks at cornerback last year.
Mike Weber RB Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech Soph Third freshman ever to rush for 1,000 yards at Ohio State.

So what has held the class back? You can say the talent ahead of them had something to do with it, but Meyer has shown that if a player is good enough to play, they'll find room for him. Did the Buckeyes really need a fourth NFL defensive end last year? No, but they still found plenty of snaps for Nick Bosa. Opportunities are always available.

For some members of the 2015 class, they weren't being held back by anybody but themselves.

"When it comes to the 2015 class, and I think most of you are parents and husbands and uncles and aunts and whatnot, any college student that comes to Ohio State has a lot of temptations and a lot of influences around them," explained senior captain Billy Price, a member of the 2013 recruiting class.

"Our guys, the 2015 class in particular, it’s not necessarily calling them out, but making sure that they’re accountable for what they’re doing. If you want to mess up on campus, it’s going to be known. You’re a student-athlete, and any student-athlete here at Ohio State has that publicity factor. You have to have a good support system around you.

"I wasn’t into the whole High Street scene and doing extracurricular activities that didn’t help my purpose, so we’ve had those kind of conversations, particularly with Matt Burrell. I told him 'You’ve got to close your circle, tighten your circle down, because people want to hurt you, people want to take you down, people want to see you mess up and put you on the front-line news. Especially here. Especially here.' So those kinds of conversations, and I told him and Matt’s doing an excellent job. Matt’s cleaned up. You’re here now, and what do you want to be? That’s where you have to line your goals up."

Burrell has emerged as a contender at the open right guard spot this spring, battling with fourth-year junior Demetrius Knox. Talent was never the problem for Burrell, which can be said for most of the 2015 class.

Remember, this is a class that came in just a few weeks after the Buckeyes won a national championship. They saw the trophies and the celebrations, but they didn't see everything over the previous 12 months that had gone into getting there.

"I think they thought there was kind of an entitlement and 'Hey, we won the national title the year I got there' kind of deal," Price said. "But the guys who put the work in understand it. My 2013 class, there’s like seven of us here still, so we kind of understand that aspect of it. Those kind of guys, we need to replicate that and show those guys what it was like and how to work, put in that work ethic, and a lot of those guys are starting to separate themselves when they see that."

One of the players who separated himself early was linebacker Jerome Baker. Baker played some as a freshman, but truly emerged last season as a sophomore, stepping in for the injured Dante Booker. Baker played very well and will find himself on numerous preseason lists later this summer. While nobody would point at him as one of the reasons why the 2015 class has struggled, that doesn't mean he likes hearing his class questioned as often as it is.

"I take it personally," he said. "I feel that our class is a very good class. Us not getting on the field and not playing as well as we should, I take it personally. Especially when people talk about our class and not producing or anything like that, I take it personally because I’m a part of that class. When you say our class, you’re talking about me too. I take it personally, definitely, and it gives you motivation to go out there and show that we all can play."

Creating that motivation and determination as an entire class has been an organized effort on the part of Meyer and his coaching staff. He wants the 2015 class to take the doubts personally and he also wants them to come together as a group and erase the constant questions.

That process didn't just begin this spring, however. It stretches back to last summer as well.

"At Ohio State you have to live in the dorms for two years," Baker said. "(Last summer) they put us all in the same dorm and all on the same floor. I think that’s where our class really bonded and we took advantage of us being together. We got in a little trouble, just staying up late, a lot of noise, but we definitely bonded over that summer. There’s a lot of guys that I felt closer to after the summer just because of staying on the same floor and the same dorm. It really helped us last season."

Players like Baker, Weber, Denzel Ward, Isaiah Prince, and long snapper Liam McCullough emerged as significant contributors and starters last year, and Meyer is finally seeing that growth happening in the remaining members of the 2015 class as well. And not a moment too soon.

"The ’15 class, they’ve received a lot of heat, and it’s very justified," he said. "That was not a very good class. The good thing is there’s a lot of change and they’re starting to change. We’re seeing much more production from the Matt Burrells of the world. I think he’s graded champion the last two scrimmages. Mike Weber is really coming on, so that class that was a misfit class, is starting to buy in, and they better."

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