COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State's second verbal commitment of the 2015 recruiting class came in December in the form of Jamel Dean, a cornerback out of Cocoa, Florida.
In His Coach's Words — 2015 OSU Commit Jamel Dean
By Tony Gerdeman
Dean (6-1 185) is considered by some to be a bit under-the-radar, as both Rivals and Scout have him rated as a three-star prospect. That's not a consensus opinion, however, as ESPN ranks him the #13 cornerback in the nation, and 247Sports ranks him the #17 cornerback in the class.
While there is a wide-range of opinions on Dean's potential, one opinion that matters more than the others belongs to that of John Wilkinson, who is the head coach at Cocoa High School. To hear Wilkinson tell it, Dean is everything that a coach could possibly want in a football player.
There is probably no state in the nation with as much premium high school football talent as Florida. It's no surprise why Ohio State has always kept a heavy presence in the state, and it's even less of a surprise why visits to Florida are happening even more under Urban Meyer.
It was on one such recruiting trip that Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton first caught a glimpse of Jamel Dean. It didn't take Hinton long to realize that he was staring at a potential Buckeye.
What did Hinton see? The same thing Wilkinson has seen for three years now.
"He's 6-1 and a half, maybe 6-2, and 185 pounds," Wilkinson told The-Ozone.
"Just an athlete. He finished third as a sophomore in the state in the 100 meters. He ran a 10.58 100 meters. He's just so athletic. On the football field he plays corner, he plays running back, he plays slot receiver. He can basically do it all."
Ohio State is primarily looking at Dean to play cornerback, and for good reason.
"He's got long arms, so man-to-man coverage, he's the kind of guy you like against bigger receivers obviously," Wilkinson said.
"He's got the length too. And on offense for us last year he averaged close to 30 yards per touch. He had over 500 yards receiving, he had 250 yards rushing, all of this with limited attempts. Plus he took two kickoffs back for touchdowns. He's just an athlete.
"I talked to Coach Meyer and he asked me about corner or receiver, and he could do either. He's one of those guys where it's a mismatch when he's out there in the slot especially, or even as a receiver, it's a mismatch speed wise, plus he's got great hands."
High school scouts will tell you that if you are over six feet tall and can play both receiver and defensive back, you should give defense a go first. After all, there are 6-foot-2 receivers on every team at every single level. A 6-foot-2 cornerback, however, is what everybody is looking for, yet few can actually find.
Fortunately for Wilkinson, one found him.
"In this day and age, 6-1 and-a-half, 6-2 corners are making a lot of money in the NFL," he explained.
"They sometimes call them 'Million Dollar Babies', because somewhere down the line you're going to be making a lot of money if you're that tall and can play corner and you have the hips. I think he's got a bright future ahead of him."
Even though Dean excels on the field, he does it without being loud. Some players want to make themselves known with their words, while others are comfortable enough to do it with their actions. According to Wilkinson, Dean falls into the latter group.
"He's a leader by example," he said.
"He's quiet. He doesn't really say too much, he just kind of goes out there and does it. He's one of the hardest working kids that we've got in the weight room. He was a three-sport guy until this year, he didn't play basketball this year, but he's football, basketball and track. He's constantly working. In the summer he does 7-on-7 and track. He's just a quiet leader by example."
It's not just sports where Jamel Dean excels, and Wilkinson is as appreciative of that aspect as he is Dean's ability to shut down an entire side of the field.
"He's just a super, super kid," Wilkinson said. "He's got a 3.4 GPA. He's in advanced classes. He's going to take calculus next year as a senior."
It turns out that Dean could be reaching Ohio State a bit earlier than anticipated, as an early graduation and early enrollment are now on the table.
"There actually is talk about that now," Wilkinson said of Dean's enrollment plans.
"At the beginning we weren't thinking about it. His big thing was that he was worried about running track his senior year and winning a state championship, but he can run track in the Big Ten and do all of that up there. I think there's definitely some talk about that, and I think he's looking into possibly doing that."
Jamel Dean is still finishing up his junior year in high school, but he's been part of Cocoa's varsity football team since his freshman year. Wilkinson knew early on that Dean could be a special player.
"We saw his speed on the track, and that's something that you can't teach," he said.
"When I saw him running – he was hanging with some of our senior kids, and that first year he was here we were fortunate enough to win the state championship, so he was going against some good kids, and we had some division one players on that team, and he was running right there with them as a ninth grader, so I kind of knew right then that we had something special."
Despite knowing that he had a player on his hands, Dean still started out on the JV team as a freshman, but for a very good reason. Eventually, however, he got called up and never looked back.
"His freshman year we played him down on the JV just because he was new to the program," Wilkinson said. "Then we ended up bringing him up after the end of the JV season, and he's started ever since for us."
Ohio State has a long history of recruiting the state of Florida, and they have sent a slew of players from the Sunshine State to the NFL. That type of connection will always be a draw to a recruit. For Dean and Ohio State, however, it came down to something a bit more personal.
"I think the first thing was that they were the first ones to offer him," Wilkinson said.
"Coach Hinton came down, and we're really big on loyalty here, and he kind of stuck with him the whole time. He came to practice and saw him and was like, 'Wow!'. A lot of coaches will wait until somebody else pulls the trigger and offers first. But I think the thing that Coach Hinton and Coach Meyer do is that they're man enough to throw out that first offer. And that's what I think Jamel really liked."
Loyalty is certainly important, but until a person actually steps foot on campus, they may not truly know if a place is for them or not. For Dean, the campus visit and spending time with the Ohio State coaches certainly made an impression on him, but he still wanted to be sure.
"I think when he really fell in love with the place was when he went up for Friday Night Lights this past summer," Wilkinson said.
"He just kind of got to be around everybody, and be in the Horseshoe and things like that. Just being there I think he really liked it.
"I think after that he knew, but he wanted to kind of wait and see a little bit more. Coach Hinton and Coach Coombs, they just kept on him. Then Coach Meyer came by the school, and I think he just felt loved and felt like that was the spot where he wanted to be."
Sometimes, if a college football recruit wants to ramp up his recruiting, all he has to do is commit somewhere. That then forces the hand of other schools to get involved or move on. While that certainly doesn't describe Dean's motives for committing, that doesn't mean the results weren't exactly the same.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah, no doubt," Wilkinson chuckled about the increased recruiting attention.
"It was the next day, we heard from several schools that were like, 'We just wanted to let you know that he's offered by us.' You know how that goes. I think Coach Hinton was smart enough to realize that he's a special player. The thing that I liked about him was that he was secure enough in his own self to offer on what he had seen in person."
Over the years Wilkinson has seen enough of Dean to know that he is special, and now his player is committed to Ohio State, where the Buckeye coaches saw the very same thing that he did.
It's probably fitting that both he and Hinton only needed a few glimpses of Jamel Dean to know that he could help each of their football programs.
"He's one of those that come along that you're very happy to have in your program," Wilkinson said.
"He has a bright future."
Dean's future is in Columbus, and he, his coach, and the Buckeyes are clearly excited for what is yet to come.
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