Updated Sun, Feb 10, 2013 8:34 pm
On the first Wednesday of February every year, thousands of young football players across the nation choose where they’ll go to college. It’s known as National Signing Day, the first day that high school seniors can make their verbal commitments to schools binding by signing their National Letter of Intent. On Feb. 6th 2013, Ohio signed 22 players from 11 different states and the American Samoa.
The class is ranked 101st in the nation according to Rivals.com and 116th according to 247Sports.com, as the Ohio signees didn’t receive glowing ratings from the scouting services, something recruiting coordinator Brian Haines said didn’t bother them when recruiting for the 2013 class.
“We have to look at our needs,” Haines said. “There are a lot of services out there… it’s good to hop on there and see if a guy’s got interest from other schools. But as far as being able to base your recruiting class on what they think; I have a lot of respect for those guys but it doesn’t affect what we do at Ohio University as far as our recruitment of our student athletes.”
The class is full of players that fit the system head coach Frank Solich has instilled over the past eight seasons. Ohio went hard after athletic lineman who can keep up with the tempo of the offense, receivers whose skill sets match perfectly with the spread the team runs and defensive backs who can keep up with the high powered offenses of the Mid-American Conference.
Despite the low overall ranking of the class, the team did manage to land a few highly touted recruits, including an ESPN.com 3 star wide receiver, the number three overall prospect in the state of West Virginia and the number four overall prospect in the state of Nebraska—despite losing highly touted quarterback recruit James Walsh to Boston College 10 days before signing day. The largest portion of Ohio’s signee’s came from within the state—nine players to be exact.
“That's significant to us,” head coach Frank Solich said. “Obviously Ohio is a state that we want to saturate in terms of recruiting and we want to get the best that we can out of the state of Ohio. In saying that when we first got here eight years ago that was difficult to do. We were not winning at that point in time. We were not getting much, if any, national TV coverage and things have changed greatly.”
After a 2012 season that saw the ‘Cats start off with an impressive come-from-behind victory over Penn State and end with the teams’ second consecutive bowl win, a 45-14 stomping of Louisiana-Monroe in the Independence Bowl, head coach Frank Solich and his staff sought to add depth to this class.
They went hard after some areas of key concern, like the defensive line, where they signed eight players for the 2013 class including. The ‘Cats struggled last season with injuries on the defensive line and lose Neal Huynh, Corey Hastings, Tremayne Scott and Carl Jones to graduation.
Solich talked about the reasoning behind devoting more than one-third of the scholarships for this class to defensive lineman. He noted the loss of players to graduation, the physical toll taken on players at those positions and also the amount of young guys already on roster at the end and tackle positions.
“We had young players that were able to back up and get some playing depth,” he said. “But because of the number of upperclassmen that were good football players, the development of some of those younger guys wasn't as much as what it would be in some years. So now you're talking about those young guys moving up being the most experienced guys you've got. I think they're talented. I think they're going to be able to get something done but in looking at it, that was an area that it made sense to us to hit heavy this year.”
To help make up for the youth at the position Ohio went after two JUCO linemen who both are likely to come in and contribute right away. Watson Tautuiaki from Los Angeles Harbor Community College and Cameron McLeod from Jones County Community College, Ellisville, Miss. Tautuiaki will be a sophomore and McLeod will be a junior at the start of the 2013 season. They both have high motors with the ability to get after the quarterback from the tackle or end positions.
Ohio also brought in some athletic guys on the line, including Casey Sayles and Tarell Basham. Sayles is a 6-foot-4, 265-pound end that was the number four recruit in his home state of Nebraska, and Basham is a 6-foot-4 240-pound end from Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Both are freakishly athletic guys with the ability to explode off the line and great tackling abilities.
Sayles said he plans to contribute right away, despite being a true freshman. He said that along with the other seven defensive linemen in the class he thinks they can become a force in the future.
“I just really want to prove a lot of people wrong,” he said. “Just show that we can win the MAC and definitely be up there in the Top 25 and hopefully get to a BCS game.”
On the opposite side of the line, Ohio is losing three starting offensive lineman to graduation in Eric Herman, Skyler Allen and Vince Carlotta. Solich and Haines were able to fill that gap with three large bodies, all from in state. Tate Leavitt of Sheridan High School in Thornville, Durrell Wood of Groveport Madison High School in Columbus and Zach Murdock of Dublin-Coffman High School in Dublin were all early commits over the summer. Murdock, who spent the past season playing with Walsh, who de-committed form Ohio nearly two weeks ago, said the loss of Walsh had no impact on whether or not he was coming to Ohio.
“It sucked, but at the same time you got to understand it's what's best for him and his family so I got over it,” he said.
Also on the offensive side of things, Ohio added two tight ends to the class in Troy Mangen—whose father and uncle were captains for Ohio in the ‘80s—of Northmount High School in Union, Ohio and Mason Morgan of Sycamore High School in Cincinnati. Both Mangen and Morgan are 6-foot-5, athletic guys with the ability to block and contribute in the passing game. Something Solich feels despite already having five tight ends on roster for next season, it’s important for the Ohio offense to stock up at the position.
“That comes down to really the style of offense that we've been running,” Solich said. “Many times in the game we'll have two tight ends sometimes three tight ends in a game (at a time).”
Solich also mentioned the importance of having a lot of talented receivers in the class.
“But in saying that there's also a lot of times where we have four wide receivers or at least three wide receivers in the game, so both of those areas were key areas for us,” he said. “As I look at those areas I think they'll be as strong of areas as we'll have in terms of talent and depth. I think the wide out group we have put together in our program may be the best all-around group of wide outs that we've had.”
At receiver Ohio went hard after guys who not only bring speed to the table—the average 40-yard-dash time for the three signees is 4.5 seconds—but guys who know how to operate in a spread. Cedric Brown of Martinsburg High School in Martinsburg, W.Va., put up impressive career numbers while leading his team to three straight state titles from 2010-2012 in a spread offense. It’s no wonder the 6-foot-1, 185-pound receiver was a 2013 Semper Fidelis All-American and the number three overall prospect in his state.
Joining Brown at receiver is Brendan Cope, a 6-foot-4 athlete who racked up a combined 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012 between time at receiver, quarterback and running back at Howland High School in Warren, Ohio. Ohio also landed ESPN.com 3 star receiver Justin Wyatt from Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, GA. Wyatt is perfect for a slot type role, with his quick feet and physical style of play.
Another area where Ohio went after athletes who can contribute right away is at the corner back position where the team signed a pair of teammates from Fork Union Military Academy, in Virginia; a school that’s produced some successful Bobcats in the past. Jarid Brown and DyQuan Stewart both spent last season at Fork Union a year after originally committing to Temple University. The pair possesses freakish athleticism—especially Brown, who in his senior year of high school split time between wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback.
When asked if Brown was brought in to replace the loss of Walsh to Boston College, Solich said Brown was recruited exclusively for his abilities to help out at the cornerback position but didn’t rule out a possibility of giving Brown a shot at some offensive action down the road.
“No we’ve not talked about (playing) quarterback to him,” Solich said. “He’s not addressed it to us. I think he’s very happy as to how he got recruited and the expectations that we have for him. To my knowledge, unless this sparks something and I hear something from him,” he said.
The overriding theme for Ohio’s class was certainly athleticism and depth—two things that are important for teams that run high-tempo offenses like Ohio’s spread. The ‘Cats went hard after positions that they felt needed more depth, such as defensive line and corner back. For Ohio the key to this class was getting players who fit the scheme of what Solich and his coaches have built. They weren’t worried about impressing recruiting services or landing big name recruits. The team had a game plan, and like the strategy that Solich implemented when he showed up to Ohio nine seasons ago, it stuck to it.
The class might not be the shiniest, flashiest or most star studded but it has potential to develop into something special. No one knows for sure how the 22 new Bobcats’ careers at Ohio will pan out four-five years down the road, but you can be certain Solich had an idea in mind when he signed every single one of them.