COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer stepped away from football for a year — kind of — to make sure he had his health and priorities in order. In what became one of 2011’s worst-kept secrets, Meyer resurfaced in late November in what he called his dream job as head coach at Ohio State.
There’s reason to believe he’s stopped for dinner at some point in the last eight weeks. There’s more direct proof that Meyer’s been going as close to non-stop as possible, crisscrossing states and burning up phone batteries in a recruiting push that’s raised eyebrows nationally with everyone from opposing coaches to even casual Buckeye fans.
Making people take notice is apparently his specialty.
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The rejuvenated, remade Meyer is a lot like the old Meyer, who had two recruiting classes at Florida (2007 and 2010) rank No. 1 nationally by Scout.com. His 2006 class, which included Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes and Percy Harvin, was rated second. With 23 commitments heading into Signing Day this Wednesday, Scout.com ranks Ohio State’s class as the third best nationally with four five-star recruits and 10 four-star players.
That’s a brand new ranking for Ohio State, as are many of the names expected to officially sign on Wednesday’s National Signing Day to play for Meyer. Since taking over on Nov. 28, Meyer has convinced at least five highly-touted players previously verbally committed to other programs to choose Ohio State. There are still at least two more targets on his radar who could choose the Buckeyes.
Meyer has done it despite the December news that Ohio State faces a bowl ban for 2012 and scholarship reductions over the next three years, three in each year. He said he explained the NCAA sanctions to each recruit, and apparently that’s just another part of his pitch that prospects and their families immediately buy.
“Just saying Ohio State University, that speaks for itself,” said Catholic Memorial (Mass.) High School coach Alex Campea, who’s had two players previously committed to Penn State change their minds and commit to Meyer over the last two weeks. “A new coach always brings energy, and Urban Meyer’s history says that he’s going to have success. He’s done it everywhere he’s gone and he’s brought great players along.
“(Meyer) got them interested to go out and take a visit. He talks a lot about family, and in speaking for those kids I know that’s important to them. They played in a program (in high school) that values a family atmosphere and they feel they’re going to a place where people care about them and want them to succeed.”
Armani Reeves of Catholic Memorial is rated as the sixth best cornerback nationally in the class of 2012 by Scout.com. His high school teammate, linebacker Camren Williams, is the 16th rated linebacker in his class.
Meyer built his coaching staff carefully and with recruiting prowess in mind, starting with keeping last season’s head coach, Luke Fickell. Even before finalizing his staff earlier this month, Meyer and Fickell were on the recruiting trail and Meyer was ready to pounce, both on prospects and prospective coaches, as soon as both were allowed to talk.
In Fickell, Meyer kept not only someone with deep ties to and a deep passion for Ohio State, he kept a longtime, respected recruiter with relationships all over the Midwest. In keeping Mike Vrabel, he got a new but energetic recruiter who owns what most recruits really want: Super Bowl rings. In bringing Everett Withers from North Carolina, he added a coach who’s helped mold multiple early-round NFL draft picks in recent years and has ties to the South.
“If you’re not a good recruiter,” Meyer said earlier this month, “you have no value on our staff.”
Meyer was spotted at Sunday’s Ohio State-Michigan basketball game in Columbus in what’s become his trademark white pullover. Two weeks earlier he introduced the entire staff at an OSU basketball game, and that staff has been busy on the road recruiting since.
Meyer is so good at this part of the game that top recruit Adolphus Washington pledged to Ohio State a week before Meyer was officially hired and said he hoped to play for Meyer, who also recently received commitments for 2013 from four-star prospect Cameron Burrows and highly-touted quarterback Jalin Marshall.
“Before Meyer came on, Ohio State’s (2012) class was just viewed as a solid workman-like class built on guys that didn’t have a ton of hype,” Scout.com Midwest recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. “Then all of a sudden Meyer comes in and it is a star-studded, top-five class.
“What he is doing is fairly unprecedented from what we’ve seen even from some of the best recruiting coaches in college football.”
New Ohio State tight ends coach Tim Hinton, a former high school coach in Ohio who joined Meyer’s staff from Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame staff, said that in Meyer, Ohio State “probably hired the best recruiter in America.”
“He has a plan,” Hinton said. “He’s relentless in his ability to reach out to players and get those players reach back to you.”
He has a lot to sell, a tradition-rich program in a major city, top-notch facilities, as many resources as NCAA laws allow and an anticipated long-term answer at quarterback in Braxton Miller. Next year’s bowl ban is pitched as just a bump in the road. Meyer is making sure the premium seats on future team buses are filling up fast.
A look at some of the recruits Meyer has reeled in over the last eight weeks:
Noah Spence, DE, Harrisburg, PA
Also a former Penn State pledge, Spence is a five-star recruit, a gifted pass rusher and at 6-3, 240, has a college-ready body. Meyer, Fickell and Vrabel went to see Spence play in the state championship football game in Hershey, Pa., in December. Two days later, Spence announced he was planning to attend Ohio State.
Se’Von Pittman, DE, Canton, OH
Another player who figures to be in line for playing time sooner rather than later, Pittman pledged to Michigan State last summer. He comes from a high school that’s known for producing top talent and has history with both the Spartans and the Buckeyes. He remained firmly committed to Michigan State throughout the fall but switched not long after Meyer’s hiring.
Taylor Decker, OL, Vandalia, OH
A four-star offensive lineman previously committed to Notre Dame, Decker switched his commitment earlier this month after Meyer took over and hired two former Notre Dame assistants on the offensive side of the ball. He’s listed at 6-8, 288, and represents the kind of long, athletic offensive tackle prospect Ohio State figures to seek under Meyer. Like Miller and Burrows, Decker comes from the Dayton area, only about an hour or so from Columbus and a traditional recruiting hotbed.
Reeves and Williams, Boston, MA
Both were previously committed to Penn State, but they weren’t considered a package deal. The son of former NFL player Brent Williams took a visit to Columbus and committed earlier this month, while the speedy Reeves is Ohio State’s most recent commit after also considering Michigan.
Tommy Schutt, DT, Glen Ellyn, IL
A five-star defensive tackle, Schutt listed Ohio State as a favorite early in his recruiting process, but was uncomfortable with Jim Tressel’s exit and the uncertainty surrounding the NCAA sanctions. When Meyer was hired, the Glenbard West High School star was quick to start thinking about scarlet and gray again, and gave his pledge to Ohio State in December.
Ohio State is also after offensive tackle prospect Kyle Dodson of Cleveland Heights, Scout.com’s 11th best overall prospect in Ohio in the 2012 class. Dodson verbally committed to Wisconsin last June in what was considered an upset and also a move tied to the uncertainty and turmoil at Ohio State. He said Monday he will make his decision on Wednesday after taking official visits to Wisconsin, Ohio State, Auburn, USC and Michigan State.