OSU Wants to Lock Down Ohio, But Will Go As Far As Needed in Recruiting

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Last updated: 03/18/2014 3:35 AM
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Football Recruiting
OSU Wants to Lock Down Ohio, But Will Go As Far As Needed in Recruiting
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When it comes to recruiting, 99% of college football programs put their focus on locking down their individual state, and then they move out from there. It's always best to be near your sustenance, whether you're a bear living in the wild, or college football coach recruiting high school athletes.

The majority of perennial football powers have strong in-state talent bases, which makes their success anything but a coincidence. If those universities in talent-rich states can keep the best prospects in-state, then their chances of having a dynamic program increase dramatically.

Every Ohio State head coach has set out to recruit Ohio first, and then fill in the rest of the class from out of state. When Urban Meyer took over, the thought by many was that he would turn his eye to a more national gaze.

While he has certainly recruited the state of Florida with zeal, it's not something that is new. Ohio State has had a presence in the Sunshine State forever. The difference today, however, is the sheer amount of offers that get handed to out-of-state players.

With so many offers to out-of-state prospects, and so few to in-state prospects, some would say that Meyer is focusing less on Ohio, and broadening his horizons in all directions.

Ohio State Director of Player Personnel Mark Pantoni disagrees with that assessment, however.

"Trust me, we uncover every stone and rock for kids in the state of Ohio," Pantoni explained recently. 

"We spend unlimited resources on them. We want to sign as many kids from Ohio as we can, and that’s our ultimate goal."

The reason for the growing concern is because the number of in-state signees has dropped in the last two years. In the 2013 class, Meyer signed 10 Ohioans, and in the 2014 class, he signed nine Ohioans.

It's not unusual for the number of in-state signees to number over a dozen, yet the only time Meyer has signed more than 10 Ohioans was in the 2012 class, when he signed 15 -- 12 of whom were already committed before he was ever hired.

What many do not realize, however, is that Jim Tressel had three classes where he signed just nine Ohioans himself, and he wasn't even working with an 82-scholarship limit.

When it comes to in-state talent worthy of an Ohio State scholarship offer, sometimes the numbers just aren't there.

"We use every resource possible to initially find them, whether that’s the recruiting services, whether that’s Twitter," Pantoni said. 

"You watch what other schools are offering which kids. When coaches go into the high schools they bring back lists of names, here’s guys to check out. We really spend a lot of time and resources on the evaluation process."

One of the main reasons Meyer wants to keep Ohio kids in Ohio is because of their familiarity with the Ohio State University, and what it means to be a Buckeye.

"Ohio’s our first and then we’ll branch out to the Midwest," Pantoni reiterated. 

"If we have to, we’ll go to the Southeast or Texas, but our ultimate goal is to get Ohio kids who understand the tradition, the rivalry, and who grew up as Buckeyes. So that’s important to us."

If Ohio State was able to field a national title contender just on in-state kids, then everybody at the OSU football facility could sleep a bit easier at night. It's just not that easy, however, and is only getting more difficult.

The ultimate goal is to have a winning program, and if that means leaving the state, then that's what has to happen.

"We're trying to recruit the best player in the country, wherever he is," said receivers coach Zach Smith. 

"We want to really recruit the state of Ohio because we love Ohio, we love the coaches here, we love the players here. But at the end of the day, we need the best quarterback in the country, the best receiver in the country, so we're gonna get them wherever they are."

When the OSU coaches are recruiting across the nation, however, they don't want to be out wasting their time. The interest needs to be mutual, because there are plenty of other better things a coach can be doing than barking up the wrong tree.

"It’s my job when the coaches go out recruiting, if they’re going out to see a kid that’s far, you have to give me a good reason because the head coach is going to hold myself and them accountable because he doesn’t want to waste time," Pantoni explained. 

"He [Meyer] wants kids, ideally Ohio, Midwest, unless there’s a tie and if there’s a tie, we’ll go as hard as we can after them. But if we’re just kind of throwing out a wire, if they don’t bite why are they out there? We don’t spend a lot of time on the west coast just because it’s a long ways away, usually not much ties so we’ve got to be smart about the resources we’re spending."

Out-of-state recruiting is a nice bonus to have, but the key to Ohio State's success has always been the Ohio kids who grew up wanting to be Buckeyes. That won't change under Urban Meyer, and it won't change under the next coach either.

This is how things are done at Ohio State, and coaches keep doing it for a reason -- because it works. And until it stops working, this will always be how it is done.

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