Despite challenging environment, Ohio State football set to continue recruiting success
Kerry Coombs confronted a challenge when he returned for a second stint on Ohio State’s coaching staff earlier this year.
He couldn’t make his living room pitch.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA instituted a recruiting dead period, prohibiting coaches from having in-person contact with high school prospects or their parents.
Coombs, the defensive coordinator who had cultivated a reputation as a top-notch recruiter through a personable and energetic approach, was confined to text messaging, telephone calls and Zoom chats.
“It is so much different to talk to Mom through your phone than it is to sit in the same room with them,” he said.
The pandemic created a different environment for recruiting in the months leading into Wednesday’s start of the early signing period.
“Usually it's jumping on planes and flying all across the country and going from school to school,” OSU coach Ryan Day said. “This year, it's been being able to connect with families and recruits that you just haven't been able to spend much time with and bring on visits and do those type of things. That's been challenging.”
On his radio show last week, Day remarked that even some of the Buckeyes' commits signing this week will do so having never stepped foot on campus; many toured the facilities only through virtual visits arranged by the program.
Ultimately, however, the layer of difficulty is about the only significant change with Ohio State’s recruiting operation in 2020.
In the latest cycle, the Buckeyes are set to sign another decorated class that is among the best in the country and dwarfs most of their Big Ten peers in its talent. Twenty-four hours before players in the class of 2021 were eligible to sign letters of intent with schools, OSU stood second in the 247Sports composite rankings, narrowly trailing top-ranked Alabama.
If they prevail in overtaking the Crimson Tide and capture the recruiting crown, the effort could hinge on the destination of J.T. Tuimoloau.
A defensive end from Eastside Catholic High School near Seattle, he is the No. 3-ranked overall prospect and is considering Ohio State and Alabama among a handful of other blue-blood programs.
The Buckeyes’ odds of gaining a commitment from Tuimoloau appeared to improve last week when they added Emeka Egbuka, the top wide receiver in the class who is from Tacoma, Washington, and a friend of Tuimoloau's since they were in middle school.
But it’s not known when Tuimoloau will settle on a school, and his recruitment could continue into the later signing period, in February.
Those commits who do sign with Ohio State this week will be welcomed additions, rounding out the roster in significant areas.
“The two biggest needs were in the secondary and at running back, and they aced the test in those two areas,” said Bill Kurelic, who covers Ohio State recruiting for Bucknuts.com.
The Buckeyes are bringing in two blue-chip running backs, including TreVeyon Henderson, who is their first five-star running back since Chris “Beanie” Wells and the nation’s highest-rated recruit at the position. Last year they signed only Miyan Williams, a three-star prospect from Cincinnati after missing out on several of their top targets at running backs.
Their five defensive back commits are also the most since a class in 2017 included Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade. The additions, which should help replenish the back end of a defense that has seen significant turnover in the last year, are owed in large to Coombs' arrival.
Coombs was persuaded to return to Columbus as co-coordinator after two seasons in the NFL as an assistant with the Tennessee Titans. He coaches the defensive backs, the position group he oversaw in his previous stint with Ohio State, as well as the Titans.
Hired in January, Coombs helped land commitments from four defensive backs by April, including Jakailin Johnson, the third-ranked cornerback in the class.
“I think he had a big impact,” Kurelic said. “You look at the defensive backs they have coming in, it's an outstanding group both in terms of quality and quantity. He had a name coming in. He was a known as far as both recruiting and coaching, and then coming back to Ohio State with an NFL background helped a lot. He’s just a great recruiter.”
As Coombs looked forward to the early signing period, he gave Day significant credit for the success of the Buckeyes’ recruiting effort that has continued amid the pandemic.
It required adjustment to virtual settings and persistence.
“The art of recruiting has changed dramatically,” Coombs said. “For coach Day, one of the many things that he does very, very well is he stays engaged with all of the recruits. That's a burden for the head coach, but he does a really good job of that.”
For the Buckeyes, it's kept them on course.
Ohio State 2021 commits
WR Jayden Ballard, Massillon
DB Denzel Burke, Scottsdale, Ariz.
LB Reid Carrico, Ironton
OL Ben Christman, Richfield
DB Jantzen Dunn, Bowling Green, Ky.
DB Jordan Hancock, Suwanee, Ga.
WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Philadelphia
WR Emeka Egbuka, Steilacoom, Wash.
DT Michael Hall, Streetsboro
TE Sam Hart, Aurora, Colo.
RB TreVeyon Henderson, Hopewell, Va.
OL Donovan Jackson, Houston
DB Jakailin Johnson, St. Louis
LB Jaylen Johnson, Cincinnati
QB Kyle McCord, Philadelphia
OL Zenuae Michalski, Floyds Knobs, Ind.
K Jesse Mirco, Melbourne, Australia*
RB Evan Pryor, Cornelius, N.C.
DE Jack Sawyer, Pickerington
DB Andre Turrentine, Nashville
DT Tyleik Williams, Manassas, Va.
*-Signed letter of intent