Julian Fleming, the top wide receiver prospect in the nation for the 2020 recruiting class, talked up Ryan Day and Brian Hartline as he discussed his commitment to Ohio State at a news conference earlier this month.
“Those are my two people,” Fleming told reporters at Southern Columbia High in Catawissa, Pennsylvania.
Both made early impressions.
While Day prepares for his first full season as the Buckeyes’ coach, Hartline is also set in place as the wide receivers coach. After former wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired prior to last season following alleged incidents of domestic violence, Hartline was elevated to the role on an interim basis before being retained.
In his first offseason as a full-time assistant, Hartline has had a significant impact with the recruitment of several talented wide receivers, including Fleming, who was ranked as the top prospect in the nation by 247Sports and Rivals.com.
Though only in his permanent role on staff since December, Hartline forged a strong bond with Fleming.
Jim Roth, the high school coach for Fleming at Southern Columbia, noted that they “hit it off” and developed a “close” relationship.
“It wasn’t always about selling Ohio State or talking about football every time they communicated,” Roth said. “I think Julian just kind of appreciated that. Because with a lot of the schools, the recruiting was pretty much consistently about people selling the program and making the sales pitch.”
Along with Fleming, the Buckeyes have two more verbal commitments from four-star wide recruits, including Gee Scott Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, for their 2020 class.
Recruiting analysts consider Ohio State’s current crop of talent the best class of receivers in the nation, though six months remain before they can sign binding letters of intent.
All three wide receiver commits are out-of-state prospects, with Scott from suburban Seattle and Smith-Njigba from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Hartline, 32, has traveled to most corners of the map with youthful energy.
“He’s been really genuine building relationships with these kids," said Steve Wiltfong, director of recruiting for 247Sports. “It’s a part of the job he obviously enjoys, meeting and connecting with these kids and hopefully having an influence. Obviously, he lived the life they want to live, but he does what it takes to get to know these young men and puts that into recruiting that a lot of coaches, quite honestly, don’t. It’s a daily thing with Brian Hartline.”
Hartline’s background does come with NFL experience. After playing at Ohio State, he spent six seasons as a receiver with the Miami Dolphins, following by one season with the Cleveland Browns before retirement.
After his playing days in the professional ranks, he joined the Buckeyes’ coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
As diligent as his communication with prospects might have been, Hartline has an easy recent track record to sell because Ohio State’s offense has evolved in recent seasons under Day, the former coordinator who will continue to double as the primary play-caller.
The Buckeyes had the nation’s second-ranked passing offense last season, putting up 364 yards per game. The only team to eclipse that mark was Washington State (374 yards a game), which runs the pass-happy “Air Raid” under coach Mike Leach.
After productive senior seasons, wide receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin also became second- and third-round selections in the NFL draft in April.
But Hartline’s people skills ultimately seem to be giving the Buckeyes the edge on the recruiting trail.
“Kids ultimately commit, most of the time,” Wiltfong said, “because of the relationship with the school they chose."