Two-Month Grind Turns Into Signing Day Coup for Meyer
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even as Urban Meyer was speaking to the media—and the world—during his introductory press conference, Ohio State’s new coach already had his mind on something else.
He was excited for the big moment in which he would take over the program that once belonged to both Woody Hayes and his mentor, Earle Bruce, but Meyer also understood the task in front of him.
He realized that, while Ohio State was not broken, the 2012 recruiting class certainly was.
The program had been surrounded by nothing but uncertainty since the forced resignation of Jim Tressel back in the May. A 6-6 regular season under interim coach Luke Fickell had done nothing to dispel rumors of Ohio State’s demise, which opposing coaches were quick to enunciate.
“When someone states a fact that there's an issue in your program, you have to get it fixed,” Meyer said.
“We hit it right down the middle, right when we walked in the door. So we get that finished.”
They hit right down the middle, and right out of the park.
Less than two months after that press conference—and a month after the Buckeyes’ loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl—Meyer and his staff signed one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in the country Wednesday.
Meyer wasn’t too concerned with rankings on National Signing Day—despite the fact his class is widely considered to be among the top five in the country. Regardless, it was easily one of the most impressive closes to any recruiting class in the country this season—maybe ever.
“What was it like? It was a sprint,” Meyer declared flatly.
“We picked up and spoke to Noah Spence the night I was hired and within two weeks he is over buying Ohio State gear over at the bookstore, which is cool to be a part of that. It's endless phone calls, then obviously a lot of time on their visits.”
Meyer did not even know much about Spence when he committed to the Buckeyes on Dec. 16, except that he was one of the premier pass-rushing defensive ends in the country. Meyer said he and Fickell, now his defensive coordinator, identified that as a major need for Ohio State in the class of 2012.
“The defensive line is the strength of this class and the prize of this recruiting class,” Meyer said after signing not only Spence, but Adolphus Washington and Se’Von Pittman as well.
“But with that said, I am really pleased with the entire group as a whole. We filled some needs with some quality players, and I think overall we have a very solid class.”
It certainly wasn’t when Meyer took over the program after nearly a year of turmoil surrounding the Buckeyes—both on and off the field.
They had lost their top commit, offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, to the school’s archrival, Michigan, after Tressel was forced out in May. Not only was it a big blow in talent, but it was also a position Meyer recognized as a desperate need from the moment he glanced at his new roster.
“The day I was hired, we came back here, got to work, said, ‘Let's pick out the top offensive tackles in America, because that’s where we're at as far as our shortage,’ ” Meyer recounted Wednesday.
That same night, after speaking with Spence, Meyer and his new staff—which at that point consisted of only Fickell, Stan Drayton, Taver Johnson and Mike Vrabel—were on the phone with three of the top offensive tackle prospects in the country.
All of them happened to be in Ohio State’s own backyard, and all of them were committed elsewhere—a casualty of the NCAA scandal and also the shortcomings of the previous offensive staff.
That included Kalis, who quickly dismissed Meyer’s appeal that he reconsider his decision to leave his home state for the University of Michigan, where St. Edward’s tight ends coach John Jaeckin had played under Gary Moeller.
“We went after a young guy in Cleveland, Ohio,” Meyer admitted.
“I asked him if he was interested in Ohio State. He said no. I wished him the best of luck, do well in school, move on.”
Meyer and his staff received a much different response from the other two offensive tackles on their list.
“Especially from your home state, you ask a man, ‘Are you interested in Ohio State?’,” Meyer said.
“If the kid is not interested, we're done, we move on.”
What they found in both Kyle Dodson and Taylor Decker were kids who wanted to be Buckeyes but never felt the love they needed to feel from the previous staff.
“Like I said, Taylor Decker recruited us,” Meyer said.
“He called me and said, ‘I want to be a Buckeye.’ Then his high school coach called us said, ‘He wants to come to Ohio State.’ ”
Landing Dodson, who became the 25th member of the class with his Signing Day announcement, was not quite as easy, but Meyer made it his No. 1 priority in finishing the class of 2012 the way he wanted.
“I think we had to have him. I don't think, I know we did,” Meyer said of Dodson, who signed with the Buckeyes on Wednesday.
“Where we're at right now at offensive tackle, depth at line, our sheer numbers, that was a must have. I would almost trade him for any other player that we signed. We had to have him.”
With their low numbers at offensive tackle, the Buckeyes really needed to get two tackles in this class. It just so happens they landed signatures from both guys at the top of their list.
“If you would have told me we got the top two guys, that would have been a good day for us,” Meyer said.
“You get the two offensive tackles that three weeks ago it didn't look like we were even in the running. And the body types are exact. God created two offensive tackles for us.
That's exactly what we go look for. Big, athletic guys that can block second-level defenders.”
Publically, Meyer has been cautious about the brilliance and majesty of his 2012 recruiting class, but behind closed he has to feel great about the job he and his staff were able to accomplish, especially after they were stunned by a postseason ban on Dec. 20, just over a month before Signing Day.
“When that hits, it was damage control for two, three weeks,” said Meyer, who truly thought Ohio State would not receive a bowl ban.
“The way we did it, the way we instructed our staff, hit that as hard as you possibly can on the front end. Don't wait for them to attack you with it. Your competitors are all over that. We went and were extremely proactive as far as the bowl ban.”
They also handled the loss of cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson, who took a co-defensive coordinator position at Arkansas in mid-January. It was Johnson, one of Meyer’s primary recruiters in Cleveland, who set the table for Ohio State to land Dodson, although Cleveland Heights coach Jeff Rotsky had a lot to do with his final decision.
“The kids especially in this state, the high school coach is strong in the state of Ohio,” Meyer said.
“I mean strong. To know they're involved, they have a great love for this university, that was powerful.”
So was the job done by Mark Pantoni, Ohio State’s Director of Player Personnel, who Meyer called his right-hand man in recruiting.
“Let me say this about recruiting for Ohio State,” Meyer stated.
“Recruiting is work ethic. It's uncovering who the champions are for each young man that you're recruiting, but most of all, it's a belief in the place you're at and knowledge of the place you're at.
“To be able to do that in such a quick time period, a lot of credit goes to our coaching staff.”
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