As Ohio State prepares for its fourth-consecutive trip to the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, the coaching staff was busy ensuring on Wednesday that there are many more to come.
Twenty-one recruits in the high school class of 2021 signed their letters of intent as part of the early signing period, officially pledging their talents to head coach Ryan Day and becoming the newest crop of Buckeyes.
By any measure, the class is loaded with some of the nation’s most elite talent, further putting to rest any concerns about Day’s ability to keep the recruiting freight train rolling post-Urban Meyer. The class features seven players ranked in the top four at their position nationally, per 247’s composite rankings, in defensive end Jack Sawyer, receiver Emeka Egbuka, guard Donovan Jackson, running back TreVeyon Henderson, quarterback Kyle McCord, defensive tackle Mike Hall, and cornerback Jakailin Johnson.
While those names may serve as the headliners of the group, Ohio State’s ‘21 class is anything but top-heavy. Wide receivers Jayden Ballard and Marvin Harrison Jr., cornerback Jordan Hancock, running back Evan Pryor, and linebacker Reid Carrico all reside within the overall top-100 players in the class rankings.
The class features several more quality talents that will bring depth to the program in critical areas of need in offensive linemen Ben Christman and Zen Michalski, defensive lineman Tyleik Williams, and safeties Andre Turrentine, Jantzen Dunn, and Jaylen Johnson.
Always important to any Ohio State class is keeping the state’s best talent in Ohio, and Day was able to do just that by signing the state’s four highest-ranked recruits and five of the top six players. But while the local flavor is always nice, winning national championships requires a national footprint on the recruiting trail, and the Buckeyes continue to have success all over the country with a total of 13 states represented in the class.
Ohio State could still potentially add to its spectacular class between now and the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 3. A major prize is still on the table in five-star defensive lineman J.T. Tuimoloau, whom many expect will eventually end up in Columbus. But regardless of who else OSU may add, Day said on Wednesday that his staff has maximized their 2021 haul with perfect program fits.
“It’s the best class in the country for Ohio State,” Day said when asked how the class stacks up to the best in the country. “What’s the best class in the country for another school, that’s not the same for us. One of the things you know if you come here is it’s going to be hard. You’re going to have to compete to get on the field. You’re going to have to compete to play for a national championship. That’s what we’re looking for here.”
Day said that if a player has all the qualities the coaching staff is looking for —physical ability, culture fit, and academic success — the recruiting process simply comes down to establishing and building relationships.
“The days of talking people into coming to your school, in my opinion, are over … with one-time transfers coming in and all of the other things going on in the world, you have to be an open book,” Day said. “This is who we are and this is our culture, and we want to go be elite at everything we do. Our culture is all about fight. Fight to be the best version of yourself, and our goal is to win a national championship every year and be elite. If that’s something that fires you up, then come on, let’s go.”
Of course, the 2021 recruiting cycle has been like none other in the history of the sport given the restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. With the recruiting dead period being in place since the early spring, coaches and players have had to resort to virtual meetings only when connceting with recruits, and no official visits have been permitted. In fact, some players, such as Henderson, have never stepped foot on the Ohio State campus.
For schools such as Ohio State, which was fortunate to have already received verbal commitments from key players in the class prior to the shutdown, they were able to rely on those players to be some of the best recruiters on the staff as they hounded others in the class to join them as Buckeyes when contact between recruits and coaches wasn’t permitted.
“I think we identified, early on, some really special families that just built this thing. And we used their feedback from the recruits as well,” Day said. “Who are the guys that fit our culture? And that’s just what we kept talking about over and over and over again. If they don’t fit, then they probably need to go somewhere else.
“We’ve been very, very honest in recruiting. I think people recognize the fact that if you come here, we’re going to do everything that we can to take care of your son and try to maximize him to be great … because of identifying those special people early on, it allowed us to build a special class.”
In particular, Day singled out Sawyer as an integral part of the class for more reasons than his status as the top player in the nation. The Pickerington North standout was Day’s top priority after taking over for Meyer, which led to Sawyer being the first player to commit to Ohio State’s ‘21 class. As quickly as Sawyer could verbally commit to Ohio State in Februarary of 2019, he went to work on other elite players in the class.
“I cannot say enough about what his family and him have done during this time, and he’s a special young man,” Day said of Sawyer. “He’s going to make us better, not only on the field. That’s something that’ll work itself out. He’s one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever been around, both in football and in basketball. But in the culture, he’s going to dive into that right away and make an impact on it.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.