The Ohio State football program hasn’t seen a drop off on the recruiting trail despite all the restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak.
At the center of those recruiting operations is Mark Pantoni, Ohio State’s director of player personnel. Pantoni spoke with the media on Friday via teleconference to discuss the momentum in the program and the challenges it faces in continuing that momentum during uncertain times.
“I think it was definitely a product of what we had been building on,” Pantoni said of the recent string of commitments. “Our coaching staff has done a phenomenal job of building relationships up to this point. We were hoping spring practice would give us time to get these kids back on campus, where we felt like we would ideally close the deal with some of them. But with the limitations, I feel like some of the kids already had their minds made up, and coming on campus again would have just finalized their thoughts.”
It’s no secret that there is considerable momentum surrounding the Ohio State program, and the recruiting staff holds plenty of chips to play when trying to win over the best high school players in the country.
Perhaps most valuable among those chips is the ability to sell the countless NFL Draft picks the program has churned out through the years. Later this month, Ohio State will likely add two more high first-rounders to its track record in Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, and by extension, a third in Joe Burrow, who Pantoni and Ohio State originally signed in the 2015 class.
“That’s why we do what we do,” Pantoni said of seeing former recruits realize their dreams of being drafted. “We recruit guys early on and, hopefully, they come here and develop and accomplish their dreams.”
There are plenty of reasons that can be highlighted as to why Ohio State has been able to have so much success in recruiting in a climate where the recruiting circuit is harder than ever to navigate. Having a rockstar recruiting staff, chock-full of aces on the trail is undoubtedly at the top of those reasons. Their ability to lock up the 2020 class relatively early last year, with most of them signing during the December early signing period last winter, enabled them to turn their full attention to piecing together the next one.
“I think the December signing day has been great for that, letting the month of January be a full focus on recruiting the class of 2021” Pantoni said. “It gives our coaches a head start, and if our department does a great job during the fall and during the season with breaking down all the film and identifying who our top targets should be, that gives our coaches a heads up on targeting so they aren’t fishing all over the country.”
With the rise of social media changing so much about the recruiting landscape, coaching staffs now expect the committed members of the class to play their part in reeling in the remaining targets. Pantoni cited the active recruiting and leadership being done by those already committed to the 2021 class as another asset in deciding how the class will ultimately be shaped.
“This class has done that better than any class I’ve ever seen in terms of coming together and going after the top guys,” Pantoni said of the current commits. “Through social media these days, they can easily connect with guys they haven’t met or met once here at a camp or on campus. It’s just those guys building relationships and getting the best guys that want to come here.”
While the 2021 class is already shaping up to be one of the best in program history, Pantoni knows plenty of work remains between now and the early signing period in December.
“It’s only the beginning of April, so we’re not trying to win any recruiting wars in April,” he said. “We have a long way to go. We have to hold on to all these kids until December, so we treat all of our commitments like they aren’t committed and make sure they continue to feel love and remind them why they chose (Ohio State).”
Significant hurdles still remain, given the restrictions, both for wrapping up the 2021 class and diving into the 2022 cycle. Pantoni said campus visits, camps, and viewing practices all play a part in the final evaluation process. Without them, Pantoni said the staff will need to really “trust our eyes” as a player’s film is now the most significant tool they have, at least for the time being.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.