As each Ohio State player comes off the board over the three days of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes’ already shiny recruiting brochure gets glossier.
Like travel agents advertising a tropical vacation package, OSU coaches have the ability to pitch an irresistible offer: "Want to someday visit a professional football paradise? Play in the Horseshoe, and all your NFL dreams can come true."
Even if not all 16 draft-eligible Buckeyes get selected, the overall numbers still scream louder than over-caffeinated Kerry Coombs. Ohio State entered the draft tied with Southern California for the most first-round picks with 81. That’s a ton of talent coming out of Columbus, from Orlando Pace to Chase Young. And coaches unabashedly sell that success.
"Does the NFL come up (during recruiting)? Absolutely. That is part of it," Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford said. "It’s not the main part of it for me, but we definitely have had success at our position, and all positions."
I always roll my eyes at purists who criticize colleges for luring high school players with the bait of an NFL career. The main point of college is career preparation. Football recruiting is no different from academic admissions in art or engineering. Go after the best by promoting a profitable future.
"I’m not interested in being around anybody who doesn’t want to be the absolute best in the world at what they do," said Coombs, who serves as defensive coordinator in his second stint at Ohio State. "The measuring stick for us in this profession is to be chosen by the group at the next level at being the best at what you do. That’s what a first-round draft pick represents."
Coombs recruited seven of the OSU defensive backs who have gone in the first four rounds of the draft since 2015, including four first-rounders.
"I would not choose to spend a lot of time recruiting players who don’t want to be (the best), who don’t have the vision to be that or don’t have the potential for being that," Coombs said. "We shouldn’t apologize for that, trying to find people at the top of their game who are willing to train and work hard for that."
Coombs qualified his comments, adding that none of the OSU coaches dangle the NFL as enticement.
"I don’t think any us do it as a carrot, as ‘Go get it.’ It just becomes the result and natural by-product," he said.
As for the nonsense that it is only recently that high school players see college mainly as a steppingstone to the NFL, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson said players have prioritized the NFL for generations.
"Kids from the time they’re 5 years old dream of the NFL," said Johnson, who recruited Young as well as NFL first-round picks Joey and Nick Bosa. "But you have to be careful selling that dream because not everybody meets the qualifications to become an NFL player. The key is to sell the whole program. From there, you’re selling the brand. This is what we do and what we’ve accomplished."
That’s usually about the time a recruit’s ears perk up.
Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline said coming out of Canton GlenOak High School he wanted to play at Ohio State "because that gave me the best chance to play in the NFL."
Drilling deeper, Hartline explained that OSU provided the entire package of coaching, training and top-shelf talent and competition that, combined with strong academics, best prepared him for the business of the NFL.
It’s been five years since Hartline played in the NFL, not so long that he can’t bring his pro career into recruits’ living rooms.
"It’s a quick conversation. ‘What kind of cars did you have?’" he said. "Some cool stories I can tell, but outside of that it, doesn’t play a big part."
What does? Pointing to the Buckeyes’ draft scoreboard.
"Guys are interested in Ohio State for the academic prowess and productivity in the NFL draft," Hartline said.
Not necessarily in that order, but that’s OK. For the truly gifted, the NFL is the goal.