Ohio State emphasizing fit over raw talent in filling out top-ranked recruiting class

COLUMBUS —Two years ago, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and director of player personnel Mark Pantoni indicated the Buckeyes might have to alter their approach to recruiting.

“Definitely a new mindset of how we’re gonna have to approach things during this time,” Pantoni said Feb. 3, 2023. “Obviously way more heavy in Ohio, in the Midwest, and then regionally we’re going to do our best as we always have.

“But we may have to pull out of recruiting some guys nationally quicker than we have if we know right away the (name, image and likeness payments are) going to be a main factor in their recruitments.”

Those comments came as relaxed transfer rules and the ability of recruits to cash in on their notoriety combined to roil a recruiting landscape dominated by Ohio State and a few other national powers over the past decade or more.

While Ohio State has continued recruiting at a high level, a handful of high-profile losses on the trail left them lacking at some important positions, most notable the offensive and defensive lines.

“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.”

The past two weeks offered some indication that might actually be happening as the Buckeyes received verbal commitments from five players, including four who are three-stars in 247Sports Composite rankings, three of whom qualify as under-the-radar recruits from Ohio (at least for now).

Enterprise, Ala., defensive end Zion Grady is a four-star prospect ranked No. 66 in the nation, but running back Isaiah West of Philadelphia, Pa., and Ohioans Bodpegn Miller (Ontario), Brody Lennon (Gates Mills Gilmour Academy) and Jake Cook (Westerville North) are all ranked outside the national top 500.

“Well, I think the first thing is you have to bring in the people that fit Ohio State,” Day said last week. “That’s the thing, and now more than ever, Woody Hayes said it a long time ago, you win with people.

“That’s more prevalent now — maybe even back then. I say that because there’s so much that goes with today’s day and age. There’s the portal, like you’re saying. There’s NIL. There’s a lot.”

That does not mean compromising on trying to fill a recruiting class with the best players OSU can get — Ohio State’s 2025 class also happens to contain three five-stars, 13 four-stars and is ranked No. 1 in the nation — but fit could become more important than trying to assemble an all-star team every year and hoping for the best, especially with players able to leave after a year or two via the transfer portal if they are unhappy with their situation for one reason or another.

“So you want to have great people in your program, great coaches, great staff members, great supporting people around the program, supporting the people, but also the players, the family members,” Day said. “It’s all going to fit. And I think it’s important that we make sure we’re doing that at a high level.”

Though both numbers could change, Ohio State is set to sign the most three-star prospects (four) it has since the 2020 class had seven and match the highest number of in-state signees since 2016 (eight in 2020 and ‘24).

“To just say, well, let’s go bring in the best players in the country, it doesn’t work that way,” Day said. “You have to build a culture and a winning culture, and that’s what we’re focused on now.”

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