Ohio State football commit Malik Hartford's NIL deal on hold with OHSAA rejection

Scott Springer
Cincinnati Enquirer

A name, image and likeness deal that Lakota West junior Malik Hartford had in place may be on hold until he officially becomes an Ohio State Buckeye football player.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday that Issue 12B of Bylaw 4-10, one of 14 referendum items member schools voted on, failed 538-254 with 21 abstentions

Just after Hartford announced his decision to play for Ohio State on April 6, he mentioned that he had a name, image and likeness opportunity ready if the OHSAA cleared the way. 

"It's kind of a bummer," Hartford said. "At this point, I'll just wait 'til I get to OSU. I'll be fine. I'll be up there early so I'll be able to do all of that stuff in December."

More:OHSAA referendum: Name, image, likeness (NIL) in Ohio high schools fails by wide margin

Hartford will enroll early at Ohio State, much like teammate Jyaire Brown did after Lakota West finished last season. 

"It definitely was a surprise," Hartford said of the referendum vote. "There are more small schools than there are big schools. I feel like the small schools were worried that their kids would transfer."

The Hartford family is well-versed and well-educated. Malik carries a 4.2 weighted grade point average and parents Zainab and Jim are both engineers who have done their homework. The 6-foot-3-inch 175-pound safety would be highly marketable as a four-star recruit, currently ranked No. 4 in the state behind fellow future Buckeyes Lucas Montgomery of Findlay (No. 1) and Joshua Padilla of Huber Heights Wayne (No.3). Both Montgomery and Padilla are offensive linemen.

"We had it pretty much planned out," Hartford said of his name, image and likeness deal. "It's just getting pushed back a few more months.

St. Xavier High School running back Charles Kellom is chased down by Malik Hartford of Lakota West during a football game at Ballaban Field in Cincinnati Aug. 20, 2021.

Hartford will join teammates Brown and Tegra Tshabola at Ohio State in 2023. He was part of a defensive backfield for the 11-2 Firebirds last year with Brown and Kentucky signee Alex Afari. Joining Hartford in the Lakota West Class of 2023 secondary are top recruits Ben Minich and Joshua Fussell. Fussell led the Greater Miami Conference in interceptions with six and has offers including Kentucky, Northwestern, Connecticut, Duke, Georgia Tech, Minnesota and Pitt. Minich just broke the school 100-meter dash record and is being pursued by the likes of Duke, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Army and Navy thanks to his physical and academic (4.5 GPA) ability.

All three Firebirds will be attacking all ground and aerial attacks this fall.

"They're not going to want to throw the ball," Hartford said. "We're going to have a lot of picks and pass deflections. I think teams will try to run the ball against us. It's finally our (seniors-to-be) team. We want to get over that hump that we haven't been able to get over."

Lakota West was 11-2 last season under coach Tom Bolden. They were 7-0 in the GMC and after an opening non-conference loss to St. Xavier, they reeled off 11 straight victories (including a rematch with St. Xavier) until they lost to Moeller 21-17 in the Division I regional final.

On Hartford's Twitter account is a photo of him on the field after the Moeller loss as a reminder.

"That was a tough game," Hartford said. "It was a fluke game for us. We just didn't play that well. Most people were too happy about the St. X game that we couldn't move on (and focus on Moeller)."

Hartford said anything short of a championship in 2022 would be disappointing.