Ohio State commit Jayden Ballard helps Massillon Washington reach state semifinals
Jayden Ballard was speechless two years ago when he received a scholarship offer to play football at Ohio State.
Attending a summer camp for high school players, the wide receiver from Massillon Washington was presented with the news from then-coach Urban Meyer.
“He didn't really know how to react,” said Tigers coach Nate Moore, who observed the interaction. “He wasn't expecting that. He’s a sophomore. He doesn’t know how good he really is at that time.”
There is little doubt now.
A senior who is committed to the Buckeyes as one of the highest-ranked players in their 2021 recruiting class, Ballard is enjoying a productive stretch run in his prep career.
In a 43-13 victory over Massillon Perry last week, he caught seven passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns, setting up the Tigers for a rematch with Cincinnati LaSalle in a Division II state semifinal on Friday night.
The teams met in the state title game last December, when the Lancers kept Massillon Washington from winning its first state championship since 1970.
In last week’s playoff triumph over Perry, two of Ballard's touchdowns came on fade routes. Positioned in a corner of the end zone, he reached over a smaller defensive back to grab the ball, using his 6-foot-2 frame to his advantage.
Ballard, who has caught 33 passes for 515 yards and seven touchdowns this fall, also has strong hands to complement his size.
Moore said he first noticed Ballard's ability when he was in the eighth grade. While working out with the middle school team, Ballard made a series of contested catches that caught the coach's attention.
Later, in high school practices, Moore witnessed some of Ballard's natural skills when fielding punts. For fun, Ballard at times fields them with one hand.
“The thing that separates Jayden from other receivers is ball skills,” Moore said. “There's other guys that are fast out there, certainly. But speed with the length that he has, that's a smaller margin right there. A 6-2 receiver that can flat-out run with elite ball skills, you start to check a lot of boxes.”
Ballard's ability to outmaneuver defensive backs first landed him his scholarship offer from Ohio State in 2018. He got the attention of the Buckeyes’ coaches while going through one-on-one drills.
“I was just competing and going at my routes hard,” he said.
He became one of the Buckeyes’ earliest commits in the class of 2021, announcing his verbal commitment in June 2019, more than two months ahead of his junior season.
Only defensive end Jack Sawyer of Pickerington North and quarterback Kyle McCord of Philadelphia had committed to Ohio State at the time of Ballard's announcement.
OSU wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who has ties to northeast Ohio as a Canton native, served as Ballard’s primary recruiter. Ballard said his relationship with Hartline, as well as Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, was “very close,” prompting his early commitment.
Keeping in close contact with Hartline over the past year, Ballard said his future position coach offered advice as he prepared for his final season of high school.
He often gives frequent pointers for his development, and it resonates. Hartline was a standout receiver for the Buckeyes and played in the NFL for seven seasons.
Much of the advice involves technical skills or areas of emphasis. One for this season was his blocking. While he has hauled in touchdowns for the Tigers, Ballard feels he has made significant improvements as a blocker in the running game, leaving ball carriers with some open field.
If he continues to sharpen his fundamentals, it opens a possible pathway to see the field at Ohio State next season. Ballard recalled some of the advice he had gotten from Hartline.
“Just focus on the little things that you need to do,” Ballard said. “So when you get to college you already can progress that to what you need to do.”