Coaches don’t like to gamble on players because those losses can last for four or five years.
In recruiting, college football coaches don’t take flyers on prospects unless it’s the eleventh hour and they need to fill a spot or two. And even then it’s an informed decision based on as much senior film as possible.
This process isn’t any different at a recruiting monster like Ohio State, either.
That senior film is important for all of the players that Urban Meyer recruits to OSU because even though most of a class is filled before the senior season gets under way, coaches want confirmation of sophomore and junior performances. If a committed player doesn’t continue to progress and improve as a senior, Ohio State will move on from that player and look elsewhere.
One current Buckeye who had no senior tape to show Meyer and the OSU coaching staff was freshman running back J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins was offered in February of 2016 and committed less than three weeks later.
When it was time to get that senior season confirmation, however, Dobbins went down with a broken right leg and severely sprained ankle on the first play of the year.
Meyer was obviously concerned with Dobbins the Person, but as the head coach at the Ohio State University, there was also plenty of concern about Dobbins the Player.
“He’s from a very small town,” Meyer said. “So I don’t want to say he was an unknown, but obviously we kind of had a strong opinion of him. We wanted to have it verified as a senior. So there’s a little unknown.
“I remember going down there in January or December, and great people. Great people in the town. But there’s a bit of an unknown. You wanted everything verified on senior tape. And you got nothing. He got hurt on the first play.”
All the Ohio State coaches had to go on was sophomore and junior tape, and the internet is littered with highlight tapes from players who peaked before their senior seasons. They were hoping they made the correct decision.
When you have the kind of junior tape that Dobbins had, however, you’ll tend to get the benefit of the doubt.
“Elite,” Meyer said of Dobbins’ junior highlights. “Just didn’t know the quality of football because it’s a small school. I later found out it’s great football and great coaching. And then you just don’t get to see him play as a senior, so we were a little bit worried.”
When Kevin Wilson got to Ohio State in the winter, Dobbins was already on campus. In order to get an idea of what kind of 2017 recruiting class he would be working with, Wilson looked at the film of each of the offensive recruits.
It turned out that something impressed Wilson even more than Dobbins’ highlights.
“I thought they were good, but they were junior highlights because he got injured,” Wilson said. “He just looked dynamic. Didn’t know him personally yet. When I showed up he was already here. So it was really just more about seeing him in the winter workouts and really how mature and well spoken and how polished he was as a person. So again, I saw a clip or two, but it was a long time ago. I was just impressed with the way he started with the winter workouts, and those are pretty demanding. For a young kid, he did great.”
No, the Buckeyes may not have gotten that senior film confirmation that they wanted, but J.K. Dobbins has been confirming the coaches’ beliefs since the day he jump cut his first foot on campus.
So far, Dobbins has been everything his junior highlights showed.
“Absolutely,” Meyer said. “And then a little bit more because you don’t see on film what kind of person he is. He’s a 3+++ student, a leader. He provides energy every time I see him.”