Above All, Meyer In Search of Competitive Fire
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Excuse Urban Meyer if he wasn’t watching Adolphus Washington’s jump shot during his stop at Cincinnati Taft back in January.
Meyer was on hand, along with defensive assistants Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel, to watch one of the top players in Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting class on the hardwood. But he was not there looking for a two-sport athlete.
“I don't know how he shoots, I don't really care,” Meyer confessed.
“I just watched the way he plays, bangs, moves guys around. I like to see a guy's face. He's very upset when it doesn't go his way.”
Meyer and his staff landed a lot of talent in their first recruiting class together, including some big names down the stretch. They did not have nearly as much time as they would have liked to analyze and scout some of the players they signed, especially some of the late out-of-state additions to the class.
The one thing Meyer did look for in every guy hey went after was an insatiable drive to win.
“Without question that’s the No. 1 thing we look for, that I look for,” he said.
“Go out and recruit a player. Height, weight, size, speed, 40-yard dash and those things are all measurable. The immeasurable is will he reach across a checkers table and try to squeeze the air out of your body if he loses? We want guys like that.”
During his two BCS National Championships, Meyer saw first-hand how dangerous and contagious competitive fire can be when it comes from the right place. He watched first-hand as one of the most competitive players he has ever coached at any level willed the Gators to a championship on toughness and guts.
“I hear the criticism about that left-handed quarterback (Tim Tebow) I was so blessed to coach,” Meyer said.
“They say, ‘I think he drops the ball a little bit. I think he does a little bit.’ But the competitive nature and competitive spirit of that man is unlike anybody else I’ve ever seen.”
With the possible exception of his own reflection every morning.
The word Meyer has used to describe Tebow is ‘relentless,’ which is also a word he uses when talking about himself, both as a coach and as a recruiter. Even on a roster full of elite athletes, Meyer still might be the most competitive guy in the room.
It is a competitiveness that comes from deep within, from his days as a young athlete in Ashtabula, where his father, Bud Meyer, turned everything into a competition.
“If he’s a track guy, is he a guy that's always competing,” Meyer asked.
“If he runs a 10.5, try to run a 10.4. The best evaluation is cornering that coach. You get about six inches from that coach's face and say, ‘Tell me about this guy,’ when there’s no other nonsense in the room.”
Meyer did that on more than one occasion with the class of 2012, but another major indicator for Ohio State’s first-year head coach is how a player performs on the big stage, when the pressure is on and the ante is raised.
“How do they perform in a rivalry or state championship, state playoff game,” Meyer asked.
“That’s usually an indicator of a high-end competitor.”
It is what sold him on running back Bri’onte Dunn, rated by most recruiting services as a 5-star prospect out of Canton GlenOak High School. Dunn was already committed to the Buckeyes, albeit softly, when Meyer took over the program back in November.
Dunn put up monster numbers during his final two seasons at GlenOak, including over 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior. He followed it up with nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior, but it was his performance in one particular series that sold Meyer.
“We recruited a running back from Canton. I was OK with him. Then I found out he ran for over 300 yards twice against Massillon,” Meyer said.
“Take him … because the competitive nature is there. To do that against that school, you have to be a real guy.”
The 6-1, 220-pound back, who is already enrolled at Ohio State, was an absolute workhorse in high school. As a junior in 2010, he carried the ball 39 times for 320 yards and three touchdowns (78, 57 and 32 yards) in a 28-27 loss to Massillon Washington.
He followed it up with 303 yards on 46 carries the following week against Green High School, and also tallied 249 yards on the ground against Massillon as a senior in 2011.
“Is he a kid who takes the extra step,” Meyer asks himself when analyzing a high school player like Dunn.
“I’ve been blessed to coach some guys whose extra step was to drop their shoulder and get that extra two yards right through a guy.”
During his 26 years as a college coach, and his one year away from the game working with ESPN, Meyer has concluded it is that type of ferocity and competitive nature that translates to every level of football, from Pee Wee to the pros.
“I notice a lot of pro scouts, pro head coaches, pro assistant coaches, the really good ones, that's all they want to know. At the end of the day, will that kid compete at the highest level, do what it takes to win a game,” he said.
“The great ones that I see going on to the National Football League were doing the same thing they did in college. It's amazing. They did the same thing in high school. They're competitors.”
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