College football recruiting is nothing if not memorable, so it came as little surprise we unearthed some gems while talking to local coaches about it.
1. Jeff Graham stayed home to please his mother.
Before playing 160 games and catching 542 passes for 8,172 yards in the NFL, Jeff Graham was a star at Alter High School.
In between suiting up for the Knights and playing for pay, he was a three-year starter at receiver for Ohio State from 1988-90.
And how did he end up in Columbus?
“You know what, it was before cable TV,” the Trotwood-Madison head coach recalled. “We had local channels, regional stuff. I was getting recruited by the Georgias and all these regional schools but I didn’t know too much about ‘em. You know what I mean?” he said. “Ohio State was on TV every week. You could always see the Earle Bruce Show, so that was where you wanted to be, especially coming from Ohio.”
Although proximity helped Bruce, the coach of the Buckeyes from 1979-87, land Graham, it was not the deciding factor.
That was something much more timeless than TV.
“I can remember this: My mom told me, ‘I’m not gonna be able to see you play if you go out west,” Graham laughed, noting he took official visits to Michigan, Nebraska, Miami (Fla.), UCLA and Ohio State.
“And I said, ‘Momma, what about Nebraska?’ ‘Well ain’t it cold out there? It ain’t cold in Columbus is it?’”
He laughed again.
“So she kinda made my decision for me because that’s my No. 1 fan,” he said. “It’s never changed. She’s here. If I’m coaching she’ll be sitting up there. It could be freezing but my mom is gonna be up in the stands.”
2. Would Graham be a Buckeye if he were a recruit these days?
As a junior in 1989, Graham led Ohio State with 32 catches for 608 yards, both totals that would have ranked fifth on the Buckeyes last season when quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw 533 passes, more than twice as many as starter Greg Frey logged in ’89.
Does playing in that offense sound like more fun than the ones deployed by Bruce and successor John Cooper?
“Woooo, man! That would have been nice,” Graham said.
While his response was emphatic, it came with a caveat.
“They would have probably put me at safety though,” he said, noting he lacked the 4.3-second 40-yard dash times Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin posted at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. "Those top five receivers he’s got there, man, he don’t have no possession receivers.”
3. Walking on at Ohio State opened doors for Brent Ullery.
The Centerville High School football coach might seem to have been destined to be where he is today.
Where else could a former CHS player and the son of a coach ended up?
Turns out there was a time he had other plans.
He was going to play at Division III Ohio Northern and major in engineering before being invited to walk on at Ohio State, then coached by Jim Tressel.
A receiver for the Scarlet and Gray, Ullery earned not only a letter in 2007 but enough respect from Tressel and receivers coach Darrell Hazell that they recommended him for a coaching and teaching position at one of the most successful programs in suburban Columbus.
“I swear by the fact that Jim Tressel and Darrell Hazell both are the reason I got such a great job out of college,” Ullery said. “I started coaching and teaching at Dublin Coffman High School.
“A lot of people kill for that job and I was able to get it probably in large part thanks to those guys. Not only their prep for me but I think one or both of their recommendation is what got me the interview, and then I was able to parlay that into coming home and getting a job back at Centerville and eventually being able to be the head coach.”
4. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If it seems like out-of-state programs are more competitive for local prospects than they used to be, well, they probably aren’t.
Tony Broering, now the coach at Northmont, said the recruitment of Dee Miller when he was head coach at Springfield South in the early ‘90s was not that much different than Thunderbolts Gabe Newburg and Jestin Jacobs last year.
While Newburg and Jacobs signed with Michigan and Iowa, respectively, Miller was no sure thing to be a Buckeye.
“Dee was on the fence at one point,” Broering said. “He was going to go to Michigan. At one point he was going to go to Tennessee when they were sending a lot of wide receivers to the NFL, but (then-Ohio State coach John) Cooper came in and wowed him and he changed and went there.”
A certain offensive line prospect from Sandusky gets an assist, too.
“I remember when Dee was on the fence about what he was gonna do, yes, coach Cooper did a great job, but another guy who did a great job was Orlando Pace,” Broering said. “Orlando Pace was a senior that year and he got in contact with Dee and said, ‘Come on, this is our class.’ And I think that happens a lot, too, especially now. They know who all the good players are and they communicate all the time.”
5. Yes, Jim Tressel was pretty much fanatical about keeping the best player in Ohio from crossing state lines.
While Cooper was the first coach to expand Ohio State recruiting to a truly national scale, Tressel prioritized the Buckeye State as his successor.
That includes running backs with track speed in Miami County who grow up rooting for Michigan.
“Jim’s idea was I’m gonna circle this state and no one’s getting out,” said Broering, who was an assistant coach at Piqua when Brandon Saine was both a football star and a 100-meter champion.
“I tell you that literally every year from eighth grade up he went to Michigan’s football camp,” Broering recalled. “He wore Michigan stuff every day in school until I told him, ‘Hey you can’t wear college stuff anymore because (college coaches are) coming in.’”
Saine, who led the Indians to a state championship in 2006 and was named Ohio’s Mr. Football, never suited up for the Wolverines, though.
“Tressel wouldn’t let him go there,” Broering said. “He just said, ‘No, he’s coming to Ohio State. I’ll make it happen whatever I have to do.’”
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