Led by Sawyer, Ohio players are foundation of Buckeyes' 2021 recruiting class
In a unique football recruiting year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ohio State had to rely on its foundation even more in assembling its 2021 class.
For the Buckeyes, that foundation is their home state. Ohio State has always been unique among elite programs in being the only Power Five conference team in a populous state.
This year, it parlayed that advantage into a class considered a close second to Alabama’s. Six of Ohio State’s 21 recruits are from the state, led by the top-ranked one, Pickerington North defensive end Jack Sawyer.
“The Ohio guys this year are special,” OSU coach Ryan Day said Wednesday as he took a break from preparations for Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Northwestern to discuss the newest Buckeyes on early signing day.
Day said that one of the first things he did after he was named to succeed Urban Meyer in December 2018 was to meet with Sawyer and his family. In February 2019, Sawyer committed.
“He is a special talent — the top defensive end in the country,” Day said. “I'm so fired up he's a Buckeye, and I cannot say enough about what his family and he has done during this time.”
Because of COVID-19, Ohio State couldn't host recruits for on-campus visits. Its coaches couldn’t travel to see them, either. That left much of the persuasion to the recruits themselves, and they embraced the role. Sawyer even hosted a Buckeye Bash get-together for his fellow recruits at his home the weekend of the season opener against Nebraska.
“For Jack Sawyer and his family to put that together and just (show) the leadership, they're great people,” said Mark Pantoni, an assistant athletic director for player personnel and the person who spearheads Ohio State’s recruiting. “It was exciting for a lot of these guys like Tre (five-star running back TreVeyon Henderson), who had never been to Columbus.”
Sawyer wasn’t the only one leading the charge. Richfield Revere offensive lineman Ben Christman and Cincinnati LaSalle safety Jaylen Johnson have also been credited with helping build the class and foster its cohesion.
“Ben Christman and his family, right from the jump, have been just tremendous during this whole time,” Day said. "Jaylen's got a great way of connecting with the other recruits. He's been a glue during this whole process, keeping guys together.”
Day believes this recruiting class is a particularly close one because of the obstacles it has faced.
“Obviously, Ohio is our main priority overall,” he said. “If we can get some of those guys in the boat early, that helps build the backbone and the structure of the recruiting class. That is our ultimate goal. We want the backbone of the class to be Ohio/the Midwest. So more guys we can get in there early, like Jack and Jaylen, they helped build the class.
“We told them, ‘Now that you guys committed, recruiting is over. You guys go build this class now. You guys be the leaders.’ And that's what they did. They took it head-on. And then (five-star quarterback) Kyle (McCord from Philadelphia) committed and you saw that chain of events where these guys just kept adding kids in their group.”
Day expects all six Ohio recruits to make an impact. Ohio State was interested in Streetsboro defensive tackle Michael Hall before he began his climb up recruiting charts. He’s now 49th overall in the 247Sports composite ranking.
“Unbelievably talented young man,” Day said. “Special, special person.”
Reid Carrico helped lead Ironton to a state championship.
“He's just this old-school throwback linebacker who has no regard for his body,” Pantoni said. “He's making 20-25 tackles a game. He's playing running back and having 80-yard runs.
“He wasn't into recruiting. He wasn't into all the splash. He just loves ball. If you have stock, you're going to put it in that kid because he's just a grinder, blue-collar kid who's going to have a great career here.”
Day said the lack of actual visits with recruits made their research into them even more critical this year. In the case of the Ohio players in this class, it brought reassurance.
“All these guys in Ohio are going to be really good players,” Day said. “You just know it. Sometimes you're not sure. You just know because we've really had to dig into who these people are even more because of the unique year this has been. I think this Ohio group is really, really special.”
Ohio State vs. Northwestern
When: noon Saturday
TV: Ch. 28
Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)