Decker Could be Building Block for Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It did not take long after Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State for him to realize that he had a problem.
Taylor Decker could be part of the solution.
For those who don’t know, Decker is only a high school kid. There is no telling what kind of college player he will become over the next four years, but he plays a position that could very well hold the key to Meyer’s immediate success in Columbus.
“I don’t know how good he can be, but I do know that he’s one of the best players in Ohio,” said John McCallister, a former high school football coach who scouts high school talent around the state of Ohio.
“Not everyone agrees with me. Probably the best player in the state is Adolphus Washington, the defensive end from Cincinnati Taft. But, I think Decker is the kind of kid you can build a team around.”
He is also the kind of kid Ohio State desperately needed after the last three recruiting classes, in which the Buckeyes managed to land just one legitimate offensive tackle prospect.
While some positions were still flush with both depth and talent from the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State, the offensive line was anything but loaded when Meyer took over the program in November.
The Buckeyes only have eight scholarship linemen returning for next season, and all but one of them—Andrew Norwell—are considered to be a better guard than tackle. They also had only two offensive linemen committed for the class of 2012, and neither of them is expected to play tackle at the next level.
“Ohio State had a different mindset. They liked the big guys,” said McCallister, director of the McCallister Scouting Report.
“Those guys have a tough job to do. That was their philosophy. Everyone’s is a little bit different. They never liked Taylor Decker. I’ve liked him since I saw a scrimmage going into his junior year.”
Decker, a product of Vandalia Butler High School, was already 6-6 or 6-7 heading into his junior season, but he was skinny. He weighed only 245 pounds at the time and thought he was going to make a living playing a different sport entirely.
“As a sophomore, he thought he was still a basketball player,” McCallister said.
“He played AAU in the summer and traveled. Going into his junior year, I saw him scrimmage and I told him after his scrimmage, ‘I know you love basketball, but you could make some money on Sundays if you work at it.’ ”
It might sound like a conflict of interest for McCallister, who provides scouting information to as many as 60 college programs, including Ohio State. Anyone who has ever spent time around him, however, knows right away that he is in this business for the kids.
“He is not in the scouting business to make money,” former University of Akron recruiting coordinator Reno Ferri told the Cincinnati Enquirer in 2009.
“John puts in a great deal of work simply to help give the student-athletes the exposure they deserve.”
Before you think McCallister is looking for any credit for the football player Decker has become, think again.
“That’s not why he did everything, but now he’s 300 pounds and he’s sturdy,” McCallister said.
“He didn’t play basketball this year, he dedicated himself to football. I think that alone says a lot about him. He’s making a commitment to be the very best he can be.”
As Decker started to fill out, he quickly picked up offers from Notre Dame and Michigan. He played at 270 pounds his junior year and was up to nearly 300 by the start of last season.
Other schools would come calling, but that offer from the Irish always stood out from the rest. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly wasn’t sold on Decker at first, but one of the first coaches to visit him at Vandalia Butler was Tim Hinton, who was also the coach to receive Decker’s commitment over the phone.
Decker would build a strong relationship with Hinton, and Notre Dame’s offensive line coach, Ed Warinner. McCallister was still a little surprised when Decker flipped his commitment to Ohio State, even after Urban Meyer hired both Hinton and Warinner—a pair of Ohio natives—away from the Irish to join him in Columbus.
“In a way I was, but Ohio State put so much pressure on him. He was recruited by the two guys who are Ohio State, so they knew him really, really well,” he said.
“He knew them really well. That’s just part of recruiting. It probably was a surprise.”
In getting Decker, the Buckeyes get what McCallister calls a true left tackle prospect, who fits what both Warinner and Meyer want from an offensive tackle in the spread offense.
“He’s going to have to be a better bender in run blocking, but I like the way he pass blocks,” McCallister said.
“He’s a good left tackle. He shuffles his feet. He’s a former basketball player, so he can shuffle his feet and do those kinds of things. He also has long arms.”
Along with Decker, the Buckeyes also missed on a couple other highly-recruited tackles in the state of Ohio—Kyle Dodson out of Cleveland Heights and Kyle Kalis out of Lakewood St. Edwards.
Dodson is softly committed to Wisconsin and Kalis flipped his commitment from Ohio State to Michigan after Jim Tressel was forced to resign last May. McCallister likes both of them, but he sees Decker as the top offensive lineman in the state of Ohio.
“I think so, because he movse side to side and he’s big,” said McCallister, an Upper Sandusky native who has scouted Ohio talent since 1989.
“He’s tall, he’s big. He’s not going to come out every play and smashmouth you. It’s not that he couldn’t, he just hasn’t done that, but he’s a really good pass blocker.”
That is exactly what the Buckeyes need right now. They have plenty of guys who can play inside and fire off the ball, but Meyer’s new system is going to require a different level of athleticism and technique on the outside.
Decker brings both, along with his now 6-8, 300-pound frame, to Columbus. He will almost certainly crack the two-deep at offensive tackle the moment he steps on campus, and McCallister believes Decker has what it takes to play early at Ohio State.
“I think he can play early. He’s going to have to get coached up because there’s such a big jump from high school to college for linemen,” he said.
“He’ll play early, I don’t know how early. He’s not going to start off from day one, obviously, but as soon as he gets some of the finer points down and a little more instincts, linemen instincts, he’ll be fine.”
The Buckeyes also landed a recent commitment from guard/center Joey O’Connor, but they are hoping to add one more tackle in this class. They are still very much in the running for Dodson, along with Chicago product Jordan Diamond.
Without Decker already in the fold, missing out on Dodson and Diamond would be devastating. Instead, it will only be a minor setback for the Buckeyes if they come up empty-handed.
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