One of the earliest maneuvers of Ryan Day’s tenure as head coach at Ohio State was something of an introductory tour.
In January, in the weeks after he had taken over the football program from Urban Meyer, Day visited with coaches from the top high school teams in the state.
“That laid the groundwork for exactly what he said he was going to do: make recruiting Ohio a priority,” said Bill Kurelic, who covers Ohio State recruiting for Bucknuts.
Six months later, the effort has paid off. As Day puts the pieces together for his first full recruiting class, he looks poised to bring in an uptick of players from Ohio. Of the 20 high school seniors who have committed to the Buckeyes, seven are in-state. If they sign this winter, it will mark the largest haul since Ohio State signed nine recruits from Ohio in 2016.
During the later years of Meyer’s seven-year tenure, the Buckeyes relied less on in-state talent. Bolstered by early success, including a 2014 national championship, they could lure more top prospects from across the country. The 2018 class included as many signees from Florida as Ohio.
But as Day prepared to follow Meyer, he signaled an intent to pursue more local prospects. His introductory news conference in December included remarks directed in part at the high school coaches in Ohio.
“It will continue to be our first priority to recruit Ohio football players,” Day said.
Ohio State’s seven in-state commits are headlined by offensive tackle Paris Johnson and defensive tackle Darrion Henry, teammates at Cincinnati Princeton who are considered the best in-state prospects. The class also includes three more linemen, including defensive end Ty Hamilton from Pickerington Central, plus tight end Joe Royer and kicker Jake Seibert.
“It’s always important to recruit Ohio,” said recruiting analyst Marc Givler of BuckeyeGrove. “But I think it’s even more important for a first-year guy so that you do send a message that Ohio’s top guys are going to be as much of a priority as the guys from California or Texas would be.”
The focus carried additional value for Day, a New Hampshire native who spent much of his early coaching career in the Northeast. It was not until 2017, when he joined OSU’s staff as an assistant, that he ever coached in Ohio.
Givler thought the emphasis would pay dividends beyond the upcoming recruiting class. The class of high school juniors is likely more talented, he said, providing Day’s staff with more local recruits to pursue. Three of the Buckeyes’ four commits for the 2021 class are from Ohio, including defensive end Jack Sawyer of Pickerington North and offensive tackle Ben Christman of Richfield Revere.
Early relationships could pay off, too.
“Eventually, there’s going to be a kid or two from Ohio that doesn’t dream of playing at Ohio State, or for whatever reason wants to think about doing something different,” Givler said. “If you’ve done a good job the last few years of building goodwill around the state, that can help you land a guy in different circumstances you might not have.”
It’s difficult for Ohio State to be a viable contender for the College Football Playoff through solely in-state recruiting; there isn’t enough premier talent. To regularly bring in top-10 recruiting classes, the Buckeyes must pluck players from elsewhere. But there remains enough talent in Ohio to form a sizable portion of a recruiting class.
“It’s still one of the top prep football producing states in the country,” Kurelic said, “and you really need to take advantage of what’s in your backyard.”