3-star defensive lineman became a priority late

Bill Rabinowitz,Tim May
Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coordinator and head coach-designate Ryan Day addresses members of the media regarding the 2019 recruiting class during a press conference about Early Signing Day on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus, Ohio. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Jaden McKenzie wasn’t the headliner of the two uncommitted players who signed with Ohio State on Wednesday.

He is a three-star defensive lineman, not a five-star prospect like Zach Harrison, and he has the lowest rating of any of the Buckeyes’ 15 signees. But the tackle from Wake Forest, North Carolina, became a priority for Ohio State late in the recruiting process.

McKenzie, listed at 6 feet 3 and 285 pounds, was a four-year varsity player for Wake Forest High School, which has won 45 straight games and the past three state titles.

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“I think he’s the kind of guy who could thrive under (defensive line coach) Larry Johnson, the kind of guy Larry Johnson could turn into a really solid player for Ohio State,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said. “I liken him a little bit coming out of high school, in terms of ranking, to Davon Hamilton, with maybe even a little more upside potential.”

Kurelic said that McKenzie’s recruiting rating is partly a reflection of inferior high school competition and that he didn’t go to many of the combines and camps attended by most top prospects.

“But Ohio State had him as one of the guys they were really interested in signing,” Kurelic said. “They brought him in for an official visit to the Michigan game with a select group of other guys.”

>>Video: Ryan Day on signing Zach Harrison

Kurelic described McKenzie as being agile and athletic for his size. McKenzie had 10½ sacks and 71 tackles in his senior season.

“He seems like a really nice young man — somewhat soft-spoken and polite,” Kurelic said.

An expected flip

Safety Jordan Battle of Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, signed with Alabama instead of Ohio State.

Even though Battle had never decommitted from Ohio State, he seemed to be gone as soon as Urban Meyer announced his retirement on Dec. 4.

“That was a big step,” Battle told the Miami Herald regarding the impact of Meyer’s retirement. “Unfortunately, Meyer is the coach I committed to. I didn’t expect the change until the change came. It was kind of nerve-racking. That’s when I opened up my decision.”

Meeting 'Ronnie'

When Ryan Day spoke of the whirlwind he went on from being named Meyer’s successor on Dec. 4 to signing day, he included a nugget about how fast things can change in a person’s life from one day to the next. Two weekends ago, he and Meyer traveled to New York to attend the Heisman Trophy ceremony, where quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. finished third.

On that Saturday, “we were down in Times Square, there were people everywhere, thousands and thousands of people, and we were in the busiest place in all of the world,” Day said. “And the next morning we drove up to see Cade Stover and his family.”

Stover is a linebacker from Lexington who was Ohio’s Mr. Football and became the first player certified to the Ohio State 2019 class. He also is a farm boy through and through.

“I was on his farm with not a person to be seen, and taking a picture with his pet pig Ronnie,” Day said, smiling. “It was like the most extreme — New York City and then up on the farm taking a picture with a pig. That's been kind of my last two weeks.”

Strong first impression

Ohio State receivers must embrace blocking as part of their job, and Day got an early look at Garrett Wilson’s ability in that area. Day was watching a Lake Travis High School practice in Austin, Texas, while recruiting current freshman quarterback Matthew Baldwin.

“I see a wide receiver drill a guy and then drive him into one of the trees and just start yelling and barking at him, and I said, ‘Who is this kid?’” Day said. “And they said, ‘That's Garrett Wilson.’ I said, ‘That's Garrett Wilson, the one who grew up in Dublin?’”

Wilson had moved from Ohio to Texas, and now he’ll return as a five-star recruit. Day’s positive first impression of Wilson was bolstered by recommendations by Lake Travis coach Hank Carter.

“And then his film spoke for itself,” Day said. “(He’s) as talented a young man as I've been around in terms of ball skills, speed, changing direction. He could be a Division I basketball player if he wanted to be.

“But (he’s) even a better young man. The way he handles himself is with class, and that's because they have such a great family.”

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