Meyer wraps up another big Buckeye Signing Day

BY Marcus Hartman • February 4, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Not only did the rich get richer on National Signing Day, Ohio State was able to close out another stellar recruiting effort under head coach Urban Meyer at the expense of neighbors new and old.

Meyer, who was predicted to take the Buckeyes from Big Ten bad boys to college football kingpins when he was hired late in 2011 and accomplished that task in 2014, put together a top 10 class for the fourth time in four years and put a couple of cherries on top Wednesday.

The closing act was enough to inspire Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni to take a bow when the last signature came through late in the morning.

Five players either gave new verbal commitments to Ohio State or reaffirmed existing ones on Signing Day, and three of the pickups saw someone significant on the other end of the decision. That might not matter as much on gameday, but it does the rest of the time in the narrative-driven world of college football.

First came K.J. Hill, a Scout.com four-star receiver from North Little Rock High School who spurned both his in-state Razorbacks -- coached by former Wisconsin head man and OSU irritant Bret Bielema -- and Alabama -- coached by Nick Saban, Meyer's top competition in most discussions about who is currently college football's best coach.

Meyer credited Chris Ash, Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator who was an assistant at Arkansas in 2013, with helping establish a connection with Hill, who initially verbally committed to Arkansas but reconsidered after the Razorbacks lost offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to Pittsburgh last month.

"K.J. Hill was interesting," Meyer said. "He was a receiver who liked how we do things. And I think the national championship helped a little bit. He saw we lost two upperclassmen, too, and he watched very closely with what we do with the receivers. I think he jumped in because of the actual receiver play."

Not long after Hill's decision, Meyer topped perennial recruiting national champion Saban again, this time for Isaiah Prince, a four-star offensive tackle prospect from Greenbelt (Md.) and the No. 74-rated player overall in the nation. Prince was also considering Maryland, where head coach Randy Edsall has designs on building a competitor in the Big Ten East. Fulfilling those hopes will require keeping as many of his state's top players home as possible, however, and Meyer offered a reminder of how hard that might be as long as the Buckeyes are in the Terrapins' division.

"He was a fit," Meyer said of Prince. "And then we went to see him, felt great. Home visit. And then he made a commitment. He came back for a visit and was blown away. And it was a street fight until Signing Day. I think he's a great fit. Great player that a lot of people wanted."

Finally there was Mike Weber, a running back from Detroit whose importance was both athletic and symbolic. Sure, most coaches will say they can never have too many running backs because of the physical nature of the position, but Weber represented a big get for Meyer as one of two players verbally committed from Cass Technical Institute, a long-time pipeline school for the Buckeyes' biggest rivals, Michigan. In signing with Ohio State on Wednesday, he was joined by teammate Joshua Alabi, a three-star defensive tackle who was also the subject of decommitment rumors leading up to Signing Day.

A one-time Michigan verbal commitment, Weber re-opened his recruitment in November when the firing of head coach Brady Hoke became imminent, and he chose Ohio State not long after.

When Jim Harbaugh was hired as Hoke's replacement, the former 49ers head coach made winning back Weber a major goal, but ultimately the pull of home and pleas for loyalty to the team Weber grew up rooting for were not enough to overcome the relationships he built at Ohio State. Those included ones with Meyer's running backs coach Stan Drayton and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, the point man for recruiting the state of Michigan.

"As of 11 o'clock last night I wasn't sure what he was going to do," Meyer said. "And even at 8:00, 9:00 this morning we all weren't sure. Up until about an hour before it announced we weren't sure."

Coombs and Meyer both credited OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott, a Missouri native who was the offensive MVP of the national championship game victory over Oregon last month, for counseling Weber through his ultimate decision.

"Ezekiel is our best recruiter," Meyer said. "His mother played at Missouri. His father played at Missouri. His mother was a track star at Missouri. And he went through the same transition. They weren't talking about the Yankees or Red Sox, they're talking about how that is, the pressure. I know I want to do this, but what about this? And former players going to his house. There was NFL guys from the rival, just trying to do what they're doing."

The Buckeyes also retained four-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, a Plantation, Fla., native who committed to Ohio State in November but visited Auburn, LSU and Miami (Fla.) in the weeks leading up to Signing Day.

"The amount of time on Torrance was ridiculous, but he seemed always to be a natural fit offensively. And he liked the way Ohio State did their stuff," Meyer said.

All in all, the smashing success of Signing Day marked a major departure from the last time Ohio State won the national championship. In late January and early February 2003, a half dozen coveted prospects told then-head coach Jim Tressel thanks but no thanks.

Among that group was highly regarded Massillon linebacker Shawn Crable, who decided to cross state lines and become a Wolverine, Louisville (Ky.) Male quarterback Michael Bush, who decided to play for his hometown Cardinals, and Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard defensive end Stanley McClover, who reneged on an OSU verbal commitment to to go Auburn instead.

As for how much bump the Buckeyes got on the recruiting trail this time around, Meyer wasn't sure. Calling the College Football Playoff "a 30-day infomercial" for his program, he said he has seen "a jolt" for the 2016 class. Meanwhile, most of the heavy lifting for the 2015 class had already taken place before the Buckeyes dispatched the Ducks in Dallas to claim the title.

"We didn't get everyone we wanted," he said. "We battled really hard, but the end of the day five jumped in the boat today. And the five were Isaiah Prince, K.J., Mike Weber, Josh, and Torrance Gibson. That was a little anxiety around here during the morning, and our guys did a good job."

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