Buckeyes Outworked SEC in Battle for Bell
By Tony Gerdeman
In order to win on Saturdays, coaches have to win on just about every other day of the year as well. In recruiting, those battles take many different forms and find many different fields.
In Woody Hayes' day, you won the mother. Today, not only do you have to win the mother, but you also have to make sure that you don't lose her on Twitter, or Facebook, or Pinterest, or any other social site that coaches are bogged down with nowadays.
There are so many more ways to recruit today, which also means that are so many more ways in which to fail at it. With more ways to win, however, that means the staff that works harder is going to have more ways of putting the situation into their favor. That's exactly what happened with Rossville (GA) safety Vonn Bell and the Buckeyes.
When Urban Meyer offered Bell a scholarship in February last year, Ohio State let the rest of Bell's suitors know that they were also now at the table, and they wouldn't be going away anytime soon.
Bell visited Ohio State in early April, getting the lay of the land, and getting that Buckeye seed planted in his mind, where it would obviously take strong root.
He was back two months later, participating in an Ohio State summer camp that he really had no need to compete in. After all, he already had his offer, yet he showed up anyway. He competed and excelled, leaving no doubt in the coaches' minds that he was going to get their best effort.
The Buckeye coaches worked hard just in getting Bell to come to Columbus, but that was only the beginning. They visited him as much as they could, getting more of an idea about Bell as a man, rather than simply a football player.
"The recruiting process is about relationships," OSU co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said.
"You want to find out as much as you can, good or bad, about a young man. We dealt really heavily with the high school coaches. In my 25 years of doing this, Coach Mariakis and his staff at Ridgeland High School were by far some of the best coaches and administrators I have ever been around. They were welcoming to me every time I was there."
Bell made his official visit to Ohio State in January. By then he already had a pretty good idea of what would be in store for him in Columbus. When Bell finally signed with Ohio State, it was the culmination of a tremendous amount of work by the Buckeye coaches.
"Everett Withers from start to finish, his effort on Vonn Bell, as good as I've ever seen," Urban Meyer said.
"The octopus approach – surround him, wrap your tentacles around him and every person in his family, his coach, the people, and the support group."
That's exactly what Withers did. He put himself in Bell's environment like a living photobomb. Meyer wants his coaches to recruit like their hair is on fire, and that's what Withers did, except for when he was getting his hair cut, of course.
"I have a new place in Chattanooga, Tennessee to get my hair cut," Withers joked.
"Chris the barber, he wants me to call Coach Matta and see if he still has some eligibility. He wants to play basketball at Ohio State."
It's no small thing to go into an SEC state and nab a player that is coveted by the entire nation. The logo on the polo shirt can get a coach's foot in the door, but that's the easy part. It's after the door is opened when the real work begins. Hours and days spent in transit, all in pursuit of a player that you may or may not get.
"When you're a competitive person and you're a football coach out there on Saturday’s trying to win a game, this is just like a game," Withers said of the recruiting battles.
"It’s your lifeblood. We’re all trying to get 17 or 18-year old kids to come better your football team. It's what you do to try to help your football team get better."
Every school is in the mix, but it's the school that separates itself by outworking the opponent that has the best chance at winning.
That was Ohio State in its quest for Vonn Bell.
"The difference came down to Ohio State having built a relationship for a year and UT having built one for about a month," coach Mark Mariakis told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"The coaching staff is proven. They were impressive by showing up in our locker room before and after the state championship game, and Coach Meyer sat with Vonn's mom during the game. They even had two assistants (Luke Fickell and Withers) at our awards banquet. Every opportunity they had to have somebody here or in contact with Vonn, they did it."
Clearly, Ohio State was successful, and their plan of attack worked perfectly. If you give everything that you have to a situation, then there's no shame in falling short.
"Last night I slept really well," Withers said on Signing Day.
"His (Bell's) dad called me at the end of the night and told me, 'Coach, live on your body of work, you’ve done all you can do.'"
Ohio State landing Vonn Bell is just one of 24 examples of hard work like that paying off in the 2013 signing class, but it is also a great indicator of the lengths that these coaches will go to in order to sign a difference maker.
That's what they do, and that's what they live for.
All in a year's work.
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