Class of 2022 tight end Benji Gosnell of North Carolina makes Ohio State his choice

Sammy Batten
Fayetteville Observer
Tight end Benji Gosnell of East Surry High School in Pilot Mountain, N.C., chose Ohio State over finalists Florida and North Carolina.

Under normal circumstances, tight end Benji Gosnell of Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, might have waited until next spring or fall to decide where he wanted to play college football. But these are not normal times, and Gosnell isn’t just any player.

Ranked the nation’s No. 5 tight end prospect in the class of 2022 by Rivals.com and No. 11 by 247Sports.com, Gosnell made a verbal commitment to national power Ohio State on Wednesday, picking the Buckeyes over Florida and North Carolina. Those were just three of the almost 20 major-college programs that had extended scholarship offers before the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder started his junior year at East Surry High School.

Gosnell made an early choice after much deliberation, according to East Surry coach Trent Lowman.

“He and I had talked about it a lot,’’ Lowman said Thursday. “He had a lot of offers piling up. With the (recruiting) dead period being pushed back so many times (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and now being pushed back to January and maybe March, who knows when people will get to visit again, or even coaches coming to visit.

"So the way the NCAA and the world is right now, this was a business decision and nothing wrong with it.’’

Gosnell is the latest in a line of talent to develop at East Surry. Three players from the 2019 squad that won the school’s first state title since 1963 signed with Football Bowl Subdivision programs — quarterback Jonathan Boaz with North Carolina, defensive tackle Issac Washington with Tennessee and receiver Stephen Gosnell, Benji’s older brother, with UNC.

Lowman arrived at East Surry during Benji Gosnell’s freshman year. He was immediately impressed with Gosnell’s versatility.

“As good as everyone else was, the thing I noticed about Benji is he could play every single position on the field,’’ Lowman said. “He had the skill set to do that. And he has played every position in a varsity game for us except the offensive line.

"When you have someone who can do all those things — he has the size to play with his hand in the dirt, he has the speed and finesse to play as a receiver and he has the aggression to play as a linebacker — it is a really special person and really special athlete. And that’s what Benji is.’’

Gosnell appeared in eight games as a freshman with the Cardinals, making two catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing 16 times for 138 yards and two scores. Defensively, he collected 25 tackles and two tackles for loss.

As a sophomore, Gosnell helped power East Surry’s run to the state 1-A championship on both sides of the ball. He caught 25 passes for 422 yards and five touchdowns on offense, and made 85 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six sacks to earn first-team all-conference honors.

Despite his impressive play on defense, Ohio State has recruited Gosnell to play tight end where he’s capable of making plays in a variety of ways.

“His skill set is so wide,’’ Lowman said. “There were plays last year where he caught a ball on a vertical route down field and just outran the defense for a 70-yard touchdown. There were times he caught a screen pass, broke tackles at the line of scrimmage and outran people 50 yards for a touchdown. He caught balls in traffic.

"He’s not just one type of player. It’s just exciting to think about when he’ll become as he continues to develop.’’

OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, a North Carolina native who played on the offensive line at UNC, played a major role in the Buckeyes landing Gosnell, according to Lowman.

“I know the relationship he built with coach Wilson was a huge factor,’’ Lowman said. “Benji very diligently studied each school and how they used their tight ends and how they developed their tight ends. Did they play them only 10 percent of the time and used them only as blockers? Or were they out there the majority of the time and had passes thrown to them? He invested a lot of time looking into those things.

"Ohio State just stacked up the best when you put that into the mix along with his relationship with coach Wilson and (head) coach (Ryan) Day. Plus, there’s the opportunity to compete for a national championship.’’

The Buckeyes won the national title in the 2014 season and have participated in the College Football Playoff three times in six years.

Gosnell’s commitment extends a run of securing North Carolina high school prospects for Ohio State. The Buckeyes will sign 2020 Cornelius Hough running back Evan Pryor in December, landed Providence Day School defensive tackle Jacolbe Cowan in 2019 and Wake Forest defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie in 2018.

sbatten@fayobserver.com