COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State signed 23 players in its 2014 recruiting class, nine of those coming from the state of Ohio. Being from Ohio, most of those nine players already had a lifelong relationship with the University and with Buckeye Football. Bringing them into the fold hardly seems like a daunting task to those watching from the outside.
In Recruiting, Building a Winner Starts With Building Relationships
By Tony Gerdeman
For the 14 players from out of state, however, Urban Meyer and his coaching staff had to work a bit harder, and dig a lot deeper. The bulk of that work comes in the form of constructing relationships that will not only convince a player to leave his home, but also convince the coaches that this is the type of player that they want in their program.
OSU receivers coach Zach Smith was charged with landing a pair out-of-state prospects in Jalyn Holmes and Johnnie Dixon, and he wouldn't have been nearly as successful doing so had he not put the time in and built those types of relationships with each player.
"To go to Virginia Beach or Norfolk and get a kid to come to Columbus, Ohio, and beat all of those schools in recruiting, or to go to south Florida and take a receiver out of other people's back yards, they have to know that someone's going to take care of them when they get here – someone's going to have their back," Smith explained.
Just being a coach isn't sufficient enough to draw somebody in, however, because a player can get that type of relationship anywhere. Smith knew he would have to set himself apart from the others throughout the entire recruiting process.
"It's more than just a coach-player relationship," he said.
"They have to know that, and I think that's what I established with both of them. They knew that everything I'm saying is genuine. There's no recruiting BS to it. It's real conversation and it's the truth, and if you like it, this place is for you. If you don't, it's not. And I don't care if you go somewhere else because you weren't going to make it here anyway."
That type of blunt honesty is one of many things that Smith has picked up from being around Urban Meyer for so much of his football life. The idea of a sharp edge when it comes to talking to recruits can turn some players off, which can also act as an additional screening process for the coaches.
"To tell a recruit that you didn't play very well in that game, probably no one else in the country says that to them," Smith admitted.
"I went down and watched Johnnie Dixon practice and I told him a couple of times that that was awful. And then we talked about it. But at the end of the day, the kid goes home and he says, 'That guy is gonna make me better and he's real.' Whereas this other guy says, 'You're the best, you're the best.' They're full of you-know-what."
For Dixon, a receiver out of southeast Florida, there was no way that he would have come all the way up to Columbus without an immense amount of comfort with Smith, who was his primary recruiter. It was a slow process, but obviously a productive one.
"We just really built a relationship with each other," Dixon said.
"At first it wasn't really like that, we were just talking. But once we got more into it, there was more of a connection. We became best friends just over the process. We talked like every day. He's a great guy. He's still young and we have a great connection. I can joke with him whenever. We connect on a lot of areas as a player and a coach. It's just a great relationship, like a friend."
Through Smith building a relationship with both Dixon and Holmes, the trust that they had in him extended to the trust that they then had with the Ohio State football program. Their relationships with Smith allowed them to open themselves up to Ohio State.
Committing to a school was the biggest, most life-changing decision that either of these two players has ever made, and signing their name to a letter of intent was the culmination of the relationship that each of them had built with the coach who was assigned to bring them in.
For Smith, he was simply doing his job as he knows how to do it. For the players he had built relationships with, however, there was nothing simple about it, which is exactly why they are both Buckeyes today.
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