“I always say Michigan football would be nowhere without players from Ohio,” former Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman once told The Grand Rapids Press. “And the best guy to coach Michigan was from Ohio, Bo Schembechler, so they have to come to Ohio to get what they need to fulfill their football program.”
Schembechler not only was from Ohio (Barberton), he was a disciple of legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.
Schembechler made a habit of recruiting Ohioans — including Heisman Trophy winners Desmond Howard of Cleveland and Charles Woodson of Fremont — but that practice has reduced off and on in the years since he retired in 1990.
This season Michigan has 16 players who list their home state as Ohio, and that does not count quarterback Shea Patterson, who grew up in Toledo but graduated from IMG Academy in Florida.
Ohio State has one scholarship player from Michigan — senior offensive tackle Josh Alabi — but the fact is both schools have expanded their recruiting bases nationwide since the early 1990s.
With both fishing in a larger sea, there are fewer classic recruiting battles, though there was an exception last year when Ohio State had to fight tooth and nail to keep five-star defensive lineman Zach Harrison from leaving the state. (The Olentangy Orange graduate also considered Penn State before announcing on National Signing Day last December he would be a Buckeye.)
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And yet that does not mean the staff in Columbus is not aware of what’s going on in Ann Arbor, where Ohio-born Jim Harbaugh is the coach these days.
Quite the contrary, as it turns out.
Former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told WBNS TV in Columbus in an interview airing this week that Michigan is the only team whose recruits his staff tracked.
Current coach Ryan Day confirmed his staff continues to maintain a list of Michigan recruits next to theirs on the recruiting board in the facility, adding that recruiting coordinator Mark Pantoni refers to the list on a daily basis.
“Part of how you live this rivalry is you compare yourselves every day against them,” Day said. “We take a lot of pride in the fact we recruit Ohio at a high level, are very competitive.
"We do a good job, too. They have good recruiters, obviously a wonderful program. It's always a big challenge. That's why we go at it every day.”
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Day said the Michigan list has been maintained in the OSU facility since at least January 2017 when he joined Meyer’s staff as quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.
“It just gives you some awareness of where we're at, the battles that we're in against certain guys. We rank our people. We just want to always know exactly who those guys are because we know we're going to be playing them. That's what's important.”
He also turned an old maxim on its head to fit the situation, a unique take perhaps fitting of a unique rivalry.
"In recruiting sometimes you don't worry about the guys you don't get, you worry about the guys you do get,” Day said. “When you're going up against ‘The Team Up North,’ you know you're going to be playing against them, so it does matter who you don't get. We look at this very carefully.”
Asked if any of his recruiting decisions are based on Michigan, Day replied, “It influences us for sure.”
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As far as recruiting Ohio, Michigan has been a big unpredictable lately.
Harbaugh’s first full-year recruiting class had no one from Ohio, and the same was true in 2018.
He signed three players from Ohio in '17 and six in the most recent class but has no verbal commitments from Ohioans in his 2020 class according to 247Sports.com.
Ohio State signed seven players from the state of Michigan from 2009-16 but none since.
Two of Ohio State’s 2020 commits — Cameron Martinez of Muskegon and Grant Toutant of Warren De La Salle — are from Michigan.