Ohio State has been arguably the most consistent program in the nation over the course of the past 50 years.
Outside of a few notable hiccups, the Buckeyes have consistently churned out strong seasons in a way that no one in the country can match.
Only 11 times in 50 years have they finished outside the top-20, with five of those quarantined to the 1987 to 1991 “darkest days” and three more spanning the rather bleak transition from John Cooper to Jim Tressel from 1999 to 2001.
One big reason for that consistent strength is exclusive access to a level of in-state talent that no one else in the country can match.
Ohio has been ranked one of the top-5 states for high school football talent for that entire 50-year stretch. And unlike the other states near the top of that list right now (Texas, Florida, California, Georgia), OSU is the only Power-5 conference team in its state.
While Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU fight over the top players in the Lonestar State, the Buckeyes have the pick of the in-state litter to themselves.
Urban Meyer built the Ohio State recruiting machine up to a level it had never reached before. His classes ranked Nos. 5, 2, 3, 7, 4, 2, and 2 in the nation from 2012 to 2018, and pumped out on-field results to match.
But Meyer’s recruiting classes also had more of a national scope to them than Jim Tressel’s had previously.
While Tressel often brought in classes that were mostly made up of in-state talent (14 of 25 players in 2009, for example), Meyer’s 2017 class featured just six players from Ohio high schools. Josh Myers, Thayer Munford, and Brendon White have all made a big impact on the program, but so have out-of-state players like Chase Young (Maryland), Jeff Okudah, Baron Browning, and J.K. Dobbins (Texas), Shaun Wade (Florida), and Wyatt Davis (California).
The 2018 class featured even fewer Ohioans. Only five of its 26 members came from inside the state’s borders. In 2016, only nine of 24 players were from Ohio.
Part of that was based on the idea that in-state talent was a little “down” overall in those years. But the Buckeyes also missed out on some top Ohio players as well. OL Jackson Carman, a 5-star prospect, left for Clemson in 2018. A pair of top-100 offensive linemen, Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg, opted for Notre Dame instead of OSU in 2016.
However, the focus on recruiting seems to have shifted somewhat since Ryan Day took over.
The 2020 class, which Meyer started building before he retired, has just seven Ohio players among its 23 names right now. Among them is 5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson, pictured above with another former 5-star in-state offensive line recruit, Orlando Pace.
But four of the Buckeyes’ first five commits in the 2021 class are from Ohio, including 5-star defensive end prospect Jack Sawyer and top-50 offensive lineman Ben Christman.
Day said that’s no coincidence.
“In recruiting for us our foundation is Ohio, for sure. And the Midwest, and then we supplement it with national guys,” he said. “But when you have so many talented guys in the state of Ohio that are right down the street, it’s huge for us.”
Recruiting in-state players has a number of benefits. For one, many of them have dreamed of playing for the Buckeyes for years.
“If somebody is from the state of Ohio, then they’re going to have a leg up on anybody else in the country in recruiting because this is their home state and they grew up being Buckeyes so that matters,” Day said.
But it only matters to a certain point. Day said that the number of in-state recruits is certainly going to change depending on the year.
“You just have to look at who you think fits your roster at that time, who is good enough to play,” he said. “Ideally, you’d have as many Ohio guys as you can have. But sometimes it kind of fluctuates based on the talent in that recruiting class, and you do the best you can to go recruit the best at each position that fit here.”