The illustration pictures TreVeyon Henderson, the nation’s top-ranked high school running back, in front of images of J.K. Dobbins and Ezekiel Elliott, two of Ohio State’s most prolific recent rushers.


"The Next Legend," a heading reads.


Henderson, who is from Virginia and has committed to the Buckeyes, shared the image in a tweet last month, and it was "liked" more than 3,000 times.


With the emergence of social media over the past decade, graphic designs have followed as fixtures in the world of college football recruiting. At times referred to as "edits," they are personalized by university-paid designers and distributed to high school prospects, to be shared on social media profiles.


Athletic departments, including Ohio State’s, have increasingly been in on the game by employing staffs of social media specialists tasked with producing graphics for recruits, as well as other forms of content to grab attention as part of a larger digital media push.


Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Buckeyes’ creative media department has held a heightened importance in their recruiting efforts and a push toward finishing with the nation’s top-ranked class for 2021.


For nearly four months, in-person recruiting has been suspended due to the pandemic, leaving college coaches unable to invite prospects to campus for the usual springtime visits or summer camps.


That leaves social media feeds as one of the few visible windows into Ohio State for prospects, one of the limited forms of engagement.


"There are a lot of ways we use our social media," said Zach Swartz, OSU football’s director of creative media and post-production, "but one of the big ways is to be that front door for recruits to see what it’s like, to want to come on a visit, want to see what the culture is like firsthand.


"Usually, they have that opportunity to come right after that. Now, we’re really having to rely heavily on digital."


Swartz heads a five-person division, working alongside two other specialists within the football program: Chris Charizopoulos is director of creative design and branding, and Cory Wonderly is an assistant director for design and branding.


Former coach Urban Meyer invested in the department, an offshoot of the football program’s recruiting arm, during the latter half of his coaching tenure in Columbus. In 2016 he hired Swartz, who previously had been in a similar role at Arkansas.


Swartz said that Ryan Day, who succeeded Meyer as Buckeyes coach, has put a similar emphasis on their involvement, inviting them to sit in on staff meetings and suggesting various ideas.


In recent months, social media accounts for Ohio State football have featured a stream of photos and viral videos showing off the program’s accolades and facilities. The images complement recruiting pitches from coaches who can speak with prospects only by phone or text messaging.


"Our job is to make that content so that a coach doesn’t just have to say it, he can show it," Swartz said.


Few forms of content are bigger hits than graphics. Some of them act as promotional pamphlets for the program, shared on its social media to tout feats such as the Buckeyes’ recent NFL draft picks or semester grades.


But schools can also personalize graphic designs for recruits. Jantzen Dunn, a committed four-star safety from Bowling Green, Kentucky, tweeted a photoshopped image of himself in an Ohio State uniform last month, as have other recruits.


"In the age that we’re in, social media is a big part of it," Swartz said. "It helps give guys status."


The bigger pull, though, is that personalized messaging allows recruits to see themselves as more than merely part of a group.


"It makes them feel that they’re not just a number and another piece of straw in that haystack," Swartz said. "They’re an individual, and we’re making something specifically to them that matches their personalities."


Tailor-made graphics also hold growing appeal amid the onset of potential changes to NCAA rules concerning name, image and likeness that could allow future generations of college athletes to cash in on endorsement deals or seek other forms of third-party compensation.


Larger social media followings would make the players’ endorsements more coveted, adding extra incentive for them to expand their reach and influence. The trend promises to only grow over this decade.


"That is on the forefront of everyone’s mind," Charizopoulos said. "A lot of these recruits are learning at an earlier stage how important it is to have a social media presence, to use your platform responsibly.


"You can’t have a presence if you don’t post, and you can’t post if you don’t have content to post. And content is graphics, photos, conversations with people, and just being active on Twitter as a whole."


jkaufman@dispatch.com


@joeyrkaufman