Buckeyes branching out beyond Ohio borders

Associated Press

February 6, 2014

COLUMBUS — Johnnie Dixon could have played football for any of the southern powers.

Miami. Florida State. Auburn. Alabama.

All were enticing options as the scholarship offers poured into the four-star wide receiver’s home in West Palm Beach, Fla. Miami was just down the road while the others were hot schools beyond their weather — the winners of the last five national championships.

Yet when it came time for Dixon to announce his college decision in December, there was something that only one of his favored suitors could truly offer.

“I realized I didn’t want to be home anymore,” he said after slipping on an Ohio State cap. “You’ve got to explore the world.”

For the Buckeyes, it may as well be their new adage. Ohio State too is exploring the world like never before as the school’s national cachet broadens under coach Urban Meyer.

On Wednesday, Ohio State signed a second straight class with more out-of-state prospects than Ohioans for the first time in program history. In all, after signing 14 non-Ohio natives in a 24-member class last year, 13 of its 22 commits this year hail from beyond state lines.

It is a shift for a program that has been Ohio-made since the start of time, from the dozen or so founding players in 1890 to the close-the-borders teams of Woody Hayes — more than 85 percent of OSU’s 1968 national championship team came from the Buckeye State. Even in recent years, the trend continued. Ohioans accounted for 60 percent (138 of 230) of the Buckeyes’ scholarship commitments in their 2002 through 2012 recruiting classes.

Yet the game is changing.

With Meyer’s drawing power, the recent hire of ace Penn State recruiter Larry Johnson, Sr., underscoring the staff’s growing reach, and a shifting landscape, Ohio State is enjoying the best of two worlds — securing the top players in Ohio while increasingly cherry-picking the nation.

OSU received commitments this year from the top six players in Ohio, as ranked by Scout.com, then aggressively fanned out. The class includes five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan of Hinesville, Ga., and spans from Fort Worth to Sparta, N.J., with 10 states represented in between.

As it stands, the haul is ranked second nationally by Rivals.com and third by Scout. OSU’s class last year came in second and first, respectively.

“(Former OSU coaches) Jim Tressel and John Cooper did a great job when it came to recruiting Ohio, and they went into Florida a little bit. But Urban Meyer has extended the reach from coast to coast,” said Tom Lemming, a national recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network. “Ohio State already had a brand name. Urban himself has his own brand name. Why not expand your reach?

“He’s not going to take the fringe good players from Ohio anymore, and that’s the difference from the past. Both (Meyer and Tressel) went after the great Ohio players. But Tressel and Cooper and Earle Bruce would go after the fringe good players because they were local and wanted to show loyalty.”

Said Scout analyst Allen Trieu: “Ohio State’s thinking is that if we can get top kids from other states, maybe we don’t need to dig as deep in our backyard.”

Not that Meyer stands accused of turning his back on Ohio. The Ashtabula native talks often about the importance of keeping the best native players in state, and Ohio high school coaches believe he is walking the walk. Meyer welcomes them to practices, speaks at their state meetings, and counts two of their former brethren among his assistants. Tight ends coach Tim Hinton was a longtime coach at Marion Harding, while cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs led Cincinnati Colerain to a Division I state title in 2004.

OSU is set to sign the most heralded of the lot, with Cincinnati Moeller linebacker Sam Hubbard and Cleveland Glenville safety Erick Smith headlining the six Horseshoe-bound Ohio natives ranked among the nation’s top 100 prospects by Scout.

Xenia, Beavercreek reschedule signing ceremonies: Due to the recent snowstorm, Xenia and Beavercreek High Schools moved their signing day ceremonies