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Ohio State football poised for historic recruiting class despite pandemic-forced limitations

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Running back TreVeyon Henderson of Hopewell, Virginia, is one of four five-star recruits who have committed to Ohio State's class of 2021.

In this most unusual of years, one thing about Ohio State football hasn’t changed.

It remains a recruiting juggernaut.

For most of 2020, Ohio State hasn’t been allowed to host recruits on campus because of the coronavirus pandemic. Coaches haven’t been able to scour the country in pursuit of new talent, either.

That hasn’t stopped the Buckeyes from assembling what could be a historic class. Not even the storied 2013 class that produced Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and so many other stars that formed the core of the 2014 national championship team was ranked first nationally. It was ranked second. In fact, Ohio State has never had the No. 1 class since such rankings became commonplace two decades ago.

This one could be. In the 247Sports composite rankings, Alabama has a tiny lead over the Buckeyes, but that’s because it has one more recruit than Ohio State’s 20. The Buckeyes’ per-player ranking, which is probably a more accurate gauge, is the highest in the country.

5-star recruits committed to OSU

Ohio State has commitments from four five-star prospects — Pickerington North defensive end Jack Sawyer, Texas offensive tackle Donovan Jackson, Virginia running back TreVeyon Henderson and Philadelphia quarterback Kyle McCord. Twelve of the Buckeyes’ other recruits are four-star prospects.

“Ohio State continues to land elite prospects that will keep them in the discussion to win the college football national championship for years to come,” said 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong. “From top to bottom, it's a class full a difference-makers.”

When COVID-19 hit in March, programs were blindsided. But at Ohio State, that period marked the start of a frenzy of commitments.

“They got 11 commitments from March 15 to May 1,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said. “That’s incredible. I’m not sure I can ever remember getting as many commitments in a short period of time as Ohio State did. And they did it during a pandemic.”

That doesn’t happen by accident. Ohio State has a well-oiled recruiting machine, coordinated by Mark Pantoni. Coach Ryan Day has allayed any concern that he might not have the recruiting gift that Urban Meyer had.

“He comes off as a very personable coach to recruits,” Kurelic said. “He’s very engaging, very personal, and obviously he had tremendous success in his first season as head coach and that helped a lot.”

Recruiting amid COVID not easy

Day said that recruiting amid a pandemic is challenging. Recruits want to come to campus, and he wants recruits to see Ohio State’s facilities and culture.

“Is it difficult? Sure is,” Day said. “It’s hard, but we're making the best of it. It's the same across the board. So like with anything else, we just have to handle it better than everybody else and find that right fit.”

Wiltfong said Ohio State’s tradition, success and recruiting chops give it an advantage over the competition while in-person visits are impossible.

“Under this climate, it favors Ohio State just because you can’t argue with their NFL production and on-field production, and there’s not many head coaches that build genuine relationships with prospects like Ryan Day does," he said.

“Ohio State doesn’t really have a weak link on their staff from a recruiting standpoint, where other staffs have a handful. So while pandemic recruiting may not be ideal for Ohio State, there aren’t many teams that can match up.”

Ohio State can probably cement the No. 1 ranking if it can lure defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau and wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, two five-star prospects from Washington state. The Buckeyes are the favorite for both.

“They’d be hard to beat for No. 1 if they land both of those,” Wiltfong said.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch