Ohio State coach Ryan Day: Character counts more than ever recruiting in a pandemic

Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, left, talk with quarterback Justin Fields during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, left, talk with quarterback Justin Fields during the second half of their NCAA college football game against Nebraska Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Nebraska 52-17. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Credit: Jay LaPrete

Credit: Jay LaPrete

When the early signing period commences Wednesday, Ohio State football is expected to do something it has done nine of the previous 10 years: Sign the top-ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten.

Coach Ryan Day’s class numbered 21 players as of Tuesday afternoon and was No. 2 in the nation (behind Alabama) according to both Rivals and 247Sports Composite rankings.

The coronavirus global pandemic halted many activities in sports (and beyond) in the middle of March, but not Ohio State’s recruiting juggernaut.

“Yeah, it’s been a different type of challenge,” Day said of putting together a recruiting class with contact limited mostly to phone calls, texts and video conferences. “Usually it’s jumping on planes and flying all across the country and going from school to school. This year it’s been being able to connect with families and recruits that you just haven’t been able to spend much time with and bring on visits and do those type of things, so that’s that’s been challenging.”

More than half of the members of the class committed after the sports world mostly shut down in the middle of March, a group that came from across the country and kept Ohio State’s recruiting momentum going through the spring and summer despite Day and his staff not being able to show off some of the strongest parts of what they have to offer a high school prospect.

“One of the greatest things for these recruits is being able to come on campus, spend time on our campus with our coaches. with our players with our staff,” Day said. “Being around the campus and to see what it’s like, being at a game — all those things were being missed out — and those are some of our biggest selling points, so it’s just been a different challenge in order to sell that and talk to them about that and present that to the families.”

Prior to the pandemic, Day had already put in place some significant building blocks.

That began with a commitment on Feb. 3, 2019, from Jack Sawyer of Pickerington North in the Columbus suburbs.

Already a highly regarded defensive line prospect then, Sawyer has remained a five-star prospect throughout and is the No. 4 player in the country according to the 247Sports Composite.

Day also added quarterback Kyle McCord, a five-star prospect from Philadelphia St. Joseph’s, early in the process and snapped up four-star Ohioans Jayden Ballard of Massillon Washington, Reid Carrico of Ironton and Ben Christman of Richfield Revere before the summer of 2019 was over.

“You want to have somebody who not only has the respect of the other recruits because of their ability, but more importantly how they handle themselves,” Day said of the importance of starting the class out with players who can then become some of his best recruiters. “And then it’s not just the recruit, it’s their families. In a perfect world, you sign somebody on one side of the ball and then you sign somebody the other side of the ball who’s really kind of their Pied Piper who are going to give great feedback on who these guys are.”

Having members of the class act as extra eyes and ears of the coaches is crucial in any year because players have unlimited access to each other while coaches do not, but it was even greater this year with off-campus recruiting and on-campus visits curtailed.

“They’re in contact with these guys way more than we are, so they’re giving us information about what they’re doing on social media, what they’re saying in the text rooms, all those things, and that’s really important because for us to fit with who we are and the culture fit, that’s what matters,” Day said. “And we did a good job in this class of identifying that early on and then building from there. That’s kind of a blueprint for us.”

If all who are committed sign, Ohio State will add a quarterback, two running backs, four wide receivers, three offensive linemen, three defensive linemen, a linebacker, five defensive backs, a punter and one classified as an “athlete.”

This is the second year in a row Ohio State will add large groups or receivers and defensive backs, and McCord will be the third highly regarded quarterback to sign with Ohio State in two years.

He will join 2020 four-star prospects C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller, who are expected to compete to replace Justin Fields as the starter if he leaves early for the NFL Draft.

Thirteen different states are represented in the class, including six Ohioans, two from Pennsylvania and two from Virginia.

“With everything going on right now, you ought to make sure you bring in the right people,” Day said.

“We have plenty of talent. We have really good coaches, but we have to make sure we bring in the right fit character-wise. And a lot of times if you want to come to Ohio State it’s because you want to be great. And I think this class wants to be great. They said it from the jump, and we’re looking forward to signing them on Wednesday.”

SATURDAY’S GAME

Ohio State vs. Nortwestern, Noon, Fox, 1410

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