In what would almost certainly be filed under the category of good problems to have, Gareon Conley officially joins the Ohio State football program next month without knowing what position he’ll play.
He’s going to be one position group’s gain, but after catching three touchdown passes in the Ohio North-South All-Star game late last month, Conley said he still isn’t sure if he’ll play wide receiver or cornerback when he gets to Ohio State.
Last year at this time, Conley was committed to Michigan. He flipped his commitment to Ohio State after his final high school season at Massillon. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Conley was listed by Scout.com as a four-star prospect, the nation’s 13th best cornerback prospect and a top-130 player nationally regardless of position.
As for his position starting in June, Conley said he’ll take it one step at a time.
“I really don’t know,” he said after the North-South game. “I think it’s up to the coaches. I’m up for whichever one gets me on the field first, but I’m just excited to get there.
“I might be better at receiver right now, but I have to get stronger and faster. My goal is to play this season, but I know I have to work for it.”
Speaking last month before hitting the road for the spring open recruiting period, Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said Conley would be a welcome addition to his group but acknowledged there’s a chance he could end up on the other side.
“As a corner he’s really long, really fast — really fast,” Coombs said. “I’m excited about him. He’s going to be raw and he’s going to need to be coached, but that’s what we’re here for. He has great ball skills and can play either side of the ball.
“I hope I keep him at corner. We’re looking for long guys who can run really fast and play man. If they can do that, the rest will take care of itself.”
Especially over his last two seasons at Massillon, Conley made almost everything he did look easy. He said he’s expecting that to change and welcomes the challenge ahead of polishing his own game and devoting his attention to one position. He caught 16 touchdown passes last fall and also scored on an interception return in helping Massillon to the quarterfinals of Ohio’s big-school playoffs.
“I’m going to be going against guys in college that can match my athletic ability at whatever position I end up playing, and I look forward to that,” Conley said. “I never took a play off in high school, but sometimes it did feel like it came easy.”
It’s not just the fact Urban Meyer was able to flip Conley’s commitment from Michigan that makes Conley’s arrival in Columbus so anticipated. Despite his lofty ranking from recruiting experts, he was the third highest-ranked cornerback in the Buckeyes’ 2013 recruiting class. Conley could get an early shot to help in the return game, too, and eventually playing both sides of the ball probably isn’t out of the question.
With as much talent as Conley possesses, nothing seems really out of the question.
“He can stand there and do a backflip and land on his feet — he’s just a crazy athlete,” Conley’s quarterback at Massillon, Oregon State signee Kyle Kempt, said. “He just flies, and he makes everything look easy. It’s hard for me to pick one best moment or best play because he made so many of them.
“He’ll go up in traffic and make one-handed catches. And he’s so fast you just don’t overthrow him.”
Ohio State has two juniors atop the depth chart at cornerback heading into 2013, with Bradley Roby probably entering his final season before heading to the NFL. Those two freshman corners ranked by Scout.com ahead of Conley, Cam Burrows and Eli Apple, were both early enrollees and in for spring football.
The Buckeyes have upperclassmen in the receiving corps, too, but probably only have one veteran who can match Conley’s straight-line speed in fellow Massillon product Devin Smith. Maybe there will be an internal tug of war for Conley’s services, or maybe the Buckeyes’ coaches will let things play out. Meyer isn’t losing many recruiting battles, and starting this summer there’s going to be intense competition for plenty of jobs involving top-level athletes like Conley.
“It’s just a feeling down there,” Conley said of Ohio State. “I can’t even explain it. It’s just a feeling. When I went to campus, I felt like I was still at home. I could just feel that there are so many good things ahead.
“The players there when I went on my visit were great and excited. The class we’re bringing in is really excited. Those coaches are going to make me better and I just want to get to work.”