The courtship of Jeff Hafley by Boston College and his subsequent hiring as coach presented a possible snag in Ohio State’s final recruiting efforts.
Hafley, the Buckeyes’ defensive co-coordinator and secondary coach, was a tireless recruiter and became instrumental in securing commitments from five defensive backs in the class of 2020.
If he was bolting, might they, too?
But amid the push toward the early signing period, which runs Wednesday through Friday, none of the five was expected to renege. Ohio State coach Ryan Day said this week that he anticipates each to sign a letter of intent.
“Certainly they're disappointed that they're not going to get coached by Jeff,” Day said, “but they're excited to sign.”
After news of Hafley’s departure late last week, Day spoke with all of them. The group includes cornerbacks Clark Phillips III and Ryan Watts and safeties Lejond Cavazos and Lathan Ransom. The fifth prospect is Cameron Martinez, who played quarterback, receiver and safety in high school in Muskegon, Michigan, but might end up on defense for Ohio State.
As if to remove doubt, Cavazos, Ransom and Watts tweeted that they intended to sign with the Buckeyes. Martinez told multiple media outlets Tuesday night that he was postponing his signing until the traditional signing period in February.
Securing them is critical as Ohio State faces the possibility of significant turnover in the secondary this offseason. All four starters might depart.
Cornerback Damon Arnette and safety Jordan Fuller are seniors. Cornerback Jeff Okudah, a junior, and slot corner Shaun Wade, a redshirt sophomore, are eligible to enter the NFL draft. Okudah is projected to be picked toward the top of the first round.
The anticipated exodus, though, is also a selling point.
“Guys are going to be coming in with an opportunity to play,” Day said.
The departure of Hafley emerged as the most pressing remaining obstacle for Ohio State, which is looking to sign a class that is ranked No. 4 in the nation in 247Sports’ composite rankings, featuring 25 commits, a considerable triumph for Day as he concludes his first full recruiting cycle.
Nationally ranked recruiting classes were a hallmark of former coach Urban Meyer. Six of the seven recruiting classes assembled under him were ranked in the top five, including three as high as second. A load of defensive backs would allow them to finish in similar territory this winter.
As part of his final pitch, Day stressed the Buckeyes planned to run a similar defense, even without Hafley.
“We're not all of a sudden going to change,” Day said. “Jeff came in to run this defense, and he did a great job. But we're going to fill that in and we're going to continue to do the same thing we’re doing.”
Enough selling points remained for the defensive backs.
“They're excited to be here,” Day said. “They'll find out who is going to coach them. They will in time. I promised them I'm going to give them the best situation possible to make sure they can reach their dreams and goals. That's the whole idea, they committed to me as the head coach, to Ohio State. They understand that. That's been the response.”