Four defensive backs set to join Buckeyes

Bill Rabinowitz
Defensive back Ryan Watts of Little Elm, Texas, flipped his commitment this week from Oklahoma to Ohio State [Logan Riely photo]

Ohio State added a fourth defensive back to its 2020 recruiting class this week.

Good thing — the Buckeyes will soon be in need of quality reinforcements.

Ryan Watts, a lanky cornerback from Little Elm, Texas, became the latest player to join Ohio State’s ultra-talented recruiting class. He will join fellow four-star defensive backs Clark Phillips, Lathan Ransom and Lejond Cavazos next year.

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“First and foremost, he's a really good student-athlete,” Little Elm coach Kendrick Brown said of Watts. “He does a good job off the field as well. As a football player, he is a really good cover guy. He's also a physical presence.”

Watts is listed as 6 feet 2½ and 187 pounds, but Brown said he’s actually 6-3.

“Being 6-3 and playing that corner position, it allows you the luxury to do a lot of things, and it really presents a problem because of his length and range when people try to throw the ball on him,” Brown said.

Watts was committed to Oklahoma before flipping to Ohio State. Brown said that OSU coaches, particularly running backs coach Tony Alford and defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley, were diligent in staying in touch with Watts.

Hafley’s reputation for developing players in the NFL, along with Ohio State’s success this season, helped sway Watts, according to Brown.

“Just the whole package of Ohio State and kind of the reputation of it being DB-U was kind of a determining factor there,” he said.

DB-U stands for Defensive Back University. The Buckeyes take tremendous pride in their defensive back legacy. Ohio State has had nine players from its secondary taken in the past six NFL drafts, including six first-rounders.

That number will grow next year. Safety Jordan Fuller and cornerback Damon Arnette are seniors, and junior Jeff Okudah is considered a first-round lock if he, as expected, turns pro.

Versatile Shaun Wade also could find his name climbing up draft boards if he does the same. Wade said Tuesday that he is focusing strictly on the rest of this season and hasn’t given thought to his draft prospects.

The looming departures also were a factor in Watts’ commitment.

“Coach Hafley and coach (Ryan) Day and coach Alford made it perfectly clear that there would be an opportunity for him to come in and play (early), so that in itself was key,” Brown said.

Watts and the other incoming freshmen will have to work their way up the pecking order. Hafley said this week that Ohio State’s current backups are pushing for playing time.

“We have really good football players in that room besides the guys that you see every single (Saturday),” he said. “And I wish more guys had the opportunity to play so everybody can see that right now, but they haven't.”

Hafley said he and other coaches have pushed the backups to challenge the starters for playing time and not accept their roles.

“Those guys are getting coached hard,” Hafley said. “In the meeting room, it's the same thing. So that's what we really have control over right now: Can we develop those young guys in the room to be ready for when it's their time? Because we don't want them to wait.”

As for the possibility that the 2020 recruits could play a major role immediately, Hafley said it’s a tough task, especially for a cornerback.

“Every situation is different, so we'll see,” he said. “We'll see when we guys get here. I don't think you can say, ‘Yes, they have to be ready (right away).’ We've got who we've got. Let's go coach 'em as hard as we can and see what we can do.”


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