Ohio State football: Why the Buckeyes could sign more in-state recruits going forward

COLUMBUS — Historically, Ohio State and Ohio high school football talent are like peas and carrots.

They just go together.

An essential pairing for success.

Not so much lately, though.

Yes, Ohio State has been successful both on the field and in recruiting, but fewer in-state kids have been a part of it.

Since Ryan Day became head coach of the Buckeyes in 2019, Ohio State has averaged 6.4 in-state signees per year.

That is more than three fewer per year than immediate predecessor Urban Meyer (9.8) and barely half the averages of Jim Tressel (12.2) and John Cooper (12.5).

While Tressel and Cooper both signed around 60 percent Ohioans, Meyer flipped that ratio to four in 10 while also improving the average 247Sports Composite national recruiting ranking from 10.3 to 3.3.

Since Day took over in 2019 (finishing a class Meyer started), the percentage has shrunk to 30.2 as he has signed fewer players overall than his predecessor, and the average national ranking is 6th.

The trend has been durable with Ohio State signing seven or fewer in-state prospects every year since 2017 after signing eight or more every year at least since Cooper took over in 1988, but there are signs it could turn around to at least some degree this year.

After offering only eight in-state prospects last year and nine the year before (per 247Sports), Ohio State already has offered 10 Ohioans in the 2024 class (including Springfield cornerback Aaron Scott Jr.) with more players still being evaluated.

That could be an indication of a higher level of talent in the state for seniors-to-be, but Day acknowledged it is also a reflection of a potential change in philosophy brought on by changes in college football over the last couple of years.

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Day said Wednesday. “I think we have some really good prospects in the state. And I also think that it matters to have guys from the state of Ohio now more than ever, but I’m excited about this next class.”

Players being able to transfer without having to sit out a year has raised the appeal of finding a new school if anything goes wrong early in a career. That heightens the importance of building durable relationships with recruits before they arrive on campus, something that can be easier to do with players already inclined to be Buckeyes, especially if they live close enough to Columbus to make frequent unofficial visits to campus.

Perhaps more significant is the passage of legislation almost two years ago allowing players to profit off their name, image and likeness. That muddied the waters in recruiting, especially at schools such as Ohio State who are used to being able to use their reputation to jump to the front of the line for many of the best players in the country.

While the intent was to allow current collegians to cash in on their fame and offering NIL deals in recruiting is still against NCAA rules, rumors abound the latter has happened quite often, if not from schools themselves but via third parties that are hard to police.

That apparently made Day and Ohio State director of director of player personnel Marc Pantoni rethink how many high-profile national recruiting battles they want to be part of and consider redeploying more resources closer to home.

“Obviously, we’re going to do our due diligence on everybody as usual, and then we just really have to do a better job of vetting and seeing what’s really important (to a prospect),” Pantoni said. “We want kids first of all to want to come to Ohio State because of Ohio State and the great tradition and history of all the guys who’ve been here before them.”

Hence some in-state prospects who might have had to wait for an offer (and possibly take one from another school in the meantime) are already on the front burner for 2024.

“Definitely a new mindset of how we’re gonna have to approach things during this time,” Pantoni said. “Obviously way more heavy in Ohio, in the Midwest. And then regionally we’re going to do our best as we’ve always have, but we may have to pull out of recruiting some guys nationally quicker than we have if we know right away the NIL is going to be a main factor in their recruitments.”

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