Entrenched in Ohio high school football for some 45 years, originally as a coach and now running a scouting and evaluation service, John McCallister doesn’t need a road map or a GPS device to find his way around.
McCallister, who created McCallister Scouting Report in 1989 as a matchmaking service for players and college coaches, barnstorms the state year-round watching games, camps, combines, film and even secondary sports of players. He cringes at the now-common practice of assigning star ratings to various prospects.
He also finds himself spending more and more time in central Ohio.
"The talent level in central Ohio keeps getting better and better every year," he said. "There are some great football players coming out of there. You can see that just by watching college and pro games."
Twenty seniors and one junior from the area already have committed to Division I programs.
Heading the senior class is Olentangy Orange 6-foot-5½, 244-pound defensive end Zach Harrison, a consensus five-star prospect who is considering Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. McCallister considers Ohio State-bound linebacker Cade Stover of Lexington the best player in Ohio, but believes Harrison has untapped potential.
"Zach obviously is a physical specimen and he’s a great young man, but he’s still raw and he’s got so much work to do before he heads off to college," he said. "I see why he is so highly regarded on peoples’ lists, because he has all the tools and he’s got a chance to be really, really good."
According to 247Sports, the only four-star prospect from central Ohio is DeSales 6-3, 285-pound defensive tackle Rodas Johnson, who also is uncommitted.
Among roughly two dozen area three-star players, Reynoldsburg receiver Mershawn Rice has impressed McCallister. Rice is one of three area players (along with defensive end Dontay Hunter of Westerville Central and offensive lineman Cam Craig of Dublin Jerome) committed to Purdue.
"He can catch the ball and is a big playmaker," he said. "He’s got a lot of swagger."
McCallister also praised Duke-bound Pickerington Central defensive lineman DeWayne Carter.
"He’s physical, he’s tough and, most importantly, he can run really well for a big guy," he said.
Other seniors McCallister offered assessments of were offensive lineman Jarrod Hufford of Licking Valley and defensive lineman Jeremiah Burton of Reynoldsburg. Burton transferred from Westerville North.
"Jarrod is a kid that some people in Columbus might not know about, but he’s got a boatload of potential and I think he’s going to develop into a quality offensive lineman at Iowa State," he said. "Jeremiah is an interesting guy. He’s gotten way bigger and stronger since I first started tracking him and I’d really like to see him focus on playing center instead of defense."
The junior class also is stocked with talent.
Dublin Coffman receiver Michael Drennen is considered a four-star recruit and holds numerous offers.
"Mike has all the natural skills and he is the prototype slot receiver," McCallister said.
Other prominent juniors include Northland receiver Kalil Branham (a Michigan commit), Pickerington Central quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw, Pickerington North receiver Chris Scott, Fairbanks offensive lineman Sam Rengert, Walnut Ridge defensive back Qian Magwood, Hilliard Bradley defensive lineman Chris Mayfield and Grandview receiver Luke Lachey.
"I really think Chris Scott is going to come out of the woodwork and become an elite receiver this fall," McCallister said. "Everyone assumed that Luke Lachey was going to play basketball at the next level, but he has really developed into a good football player as well. He’s one to keep an eye on. Crenshaw really made a name for himself in the playoffs last year and he’s one of the top three quarterbacks in the Ohio junior class. He’s got fantastic vision and is a very good runner. "
Safety A.J. Kirk of Dublin Coffman and defensive end Jack Sawyer of Pickerington North are considered elite sophomore prospects. Both hold numerous college offers.