Take pride, Columbus, you have Ohio State

Rob Oller
When the Ohio State Buckeyes play Michigan at the Horseshoe in front of 105,000 as they did on Nov. 24, 2018, can it get bigger than that? [Samantha Madar/Dispatch]

Columbus gets knocked for not being a destination city for the best athletes. No Miami ocean breezes or NYC night life to keep Bread and Bob in the fold. No Hollywood glitz or Nashville honky-tonks to lure the elite.

I say phooey. The Arch City attracts plenty of top-end talent. They don’t play hockey, but football at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are the New York Yankees of college football, except with helmet leaves instead of pinstripes. Just as the top major leaguers bolt for the Bronx, the top high school recruits flock to Columbus, where they become NFL draft picks.

Ohio State averaged third in the 247 Sports national composite rankings from Urban Meyer’s first full recruiting cycle in 2013 through his resignation on Dec. 4. Ryan Day’s first full recruiting cycle (2020) ranks No. 4. The Buckeyes don’t beg. They filter.

You say recruiting rankings are for losers? You say get back to you when potential becomes proven talent? Fine. Since 2000, Ohio State has produced 131 NFL draft picks and 31 first-rounders, ahead of second-place Alabama (118) overall and tied for most in the first round. (The Crimson Tide is the Boston Red Sox of college football; they get players and win championships). The Buckeyes and Southern California share the most first-round picks all-time with 81.

The three yards and a cloud of dust stereotype? Debunked long ago. Nineteen OSU wide receivers have been drafted since 2000 — most of any school.

First-rate secondary? The Buckeyes have seen 29 defensive backs drafted since 2000 — yep, most of any school.

So don’t tell me the cream of the U.S. skill position crop refuses to land in flyover country. Stop throwing icy snowballs at Columbus’ reputation. As Sam Wyche famously said — and I paraphrase, taking great license — “You don’t live in Cleveland … or Cincinnati. You live in Columbus.”

Or, metaphorically speaking, you reside in Ohio Stadium. Not all of you, of course. Columbus’ population is nearly 2 million, a truly metropolitan mash-up where thousands upon thousands of residents hold no born-with or bred-in love for scarlet and gray. Many cannot stomach the smug arrogance of T-H-E and bristle at the Black Hole Buckeyes, whose gravitational pull sucks everything — especially Saturdays in the fall — into its endless void of 24/7 obsession.

But the polarizing effect of Ohio State — which by location is most closely associated with Columbus, no matter what other parts of the state say — proves its power as a success story and talent magnet. Just as free agents choose to play for the Yankees, New England Patriots and, until recently, the Golden State Warriors, the best high school football players want to play for the Buckeyes.

Don’t nitpick that amateur athletics plays by different rules than professionals. Stick to the central point that a 61,000-student university embedded within Columbus need not worry about losing out to beach towns and skyscraper cities.

Want a more national perspective?

“At the professional level, LeBron left twice. The Reds and Bengals and Browns and Indians have watched so many star players leave. The Jackets had that happen this year,” said Bill Bender of The Sporting News. “Players come to Ohio State to go pro. That’s the advantage.”

The Cavs and Indians can’t compete with bigger markets that offer more both in swag and sunshine. Ditto the Reds. We know all too well about the Blue Jackets. If only Artemi Panarin played tailback.

Separate the Browns and Bengals into a different category because NFL owners have created parity and limited player movement through revenue sharing and the franchise tag. Even then, until recently how many superstars wanted to play in Cleveland or Cincinnati?

Yet Columbus can feel both comfortable and proud that it attracts not just move-ins from the banking, health care and anything-hipster industries, but also five-star football players (and impressive basketball talent) from all over.

Hockey-playing Russians may not appreciate us, but then again, they’ve never played before 105,000 in the Horseshoe.


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