Ohio State Buckeyes: Kyle Berger

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Just as soon as Ohio State took a big step forward in replenishing its depth at linebacker, it once again appears to have followed it up with one in the opposite direction.

The school confirmed on Monday that former four-star and ESPN 300 recruit Mike Mitchell is no longer practicing with the team and won't participate in the camp that opens Tuesday, another blow to the depth at the thinnest position on the roster. ElevenWarriors.com, citing sources, reported previously that Mitchell is planning to transfer at the end of the spring semester to be closer to his family and ailing father.

His departure would put more pressure on a group of four new recruits and two returning starters for a unit that has clearly not lived up to coach Urban Meyer’s expectations over the last two years and has been plagued by attrition.

The news release from the program doesn't address his future plans, but Mitchell’s departure would make him the fifth linebacker to leave the program with eligibility remaining since the end of the 2012 season, ramping up pressure on the incoming freshmen and rising sophomore Trey Johnson to fill the void left by all those missing bodies.

“The emphasis is on linebacker,” Meyer said last month. “There have been far too many mistakes in either lack of development or whatever, and it’s just not where we need to be.”

Mitchell was supposed to help address that when he chose to leave his home state of Texas last year and join the Buckeyes, but he ended up redshirting last season despite the lack of many options at the position.

The need to find more contributors in the middle of the defense only increased when star outside linebacker Ryan Shazier elected to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. And while veterans Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant will return for the Buckeyes, at a minimum they’ll need to identify one new starter and could wind up counting on the newcomers to fill out the two-deep given the accumulating losses concentrated at linebacker.

Mitchell would join David Perkins, Luke Roberts and Conner Crowell (injury) as potential candidates for playing time who have left the program since the end of the 2012 campaign, stretching Ohio State thin and contributing to the uneven play of a defense that struggled at the end of last season during consecutive losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

“There’s four linebackers that have been recruited, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Kyle Berger and Dante Booker, four guys I’m putting pressure on,” Meyer said. “[Co-defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell and myself have to get them ready for next year. They have to play for us, in addition to the players we have on our roster already.

“So just so everybody knows, there’s no redshirt plans for those players at all. We thought about that during the recruiting process.”

It’s now more clear than ever that Ohio State won’t have much time to wait for those young guys to develop.

Top position classes: LB 

February, 17, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2014 class fill just about every need on the board, and that includes linebacker. With designs on addressing pass rushing and the ability to play in space on the edge at outside 'backer in Nick Saban’s 3-4 scheme, Alabama signed the Nos. 1 and No. 2 outside linebackers in the country in No. 48 overall Christian Miller (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) and No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn), who is pound for pound of the best pure athletes in the 2014 cycle. The Crimson Tide added two more talented linebackers in ESPN 300’s No. 102 Shaun Dion Hamilton (Montgomery, Ala./Carver) and No. 281 Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest). Hamilton is an MLB.

The Crimson Tide had the nation’s best linebacker class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Either way, Urban Meyer admitted he was going to put on a smile.

After going down to the wire with one of his most important targets, the Ohio State coach made it clear that the one he was sporting on signing day on Wednesday was genuine and not the fake one he thought he might need if Jamarco Jones spurned his program.

Instead Jones delivered some good news on the phone, and the rest of the committed recruits all faxed in signatures without incident, Ohio State tacked on one unexpected addition and Meyer didn't need to force any grins after again putting together the best class in the Big Ten.

Jamarco Jones
Jared Shanker/ESPNGetting Jamarco Jones to sign with Ohio State helped make it a winning day for the Buckeyes.
"I think we won today," Meyer said. "I made it clear to our guys, I'm very pleased with their efforts. That was a good class."

Missing out on Jones after he flirted late in the process with Michigan State might have changed Meyer's tune, though there still would have been plenty of talent coming to campus even if the talented offensive lineman hadn't decided to stick with his pledge to the Buckeyes.

But in the end, Meyer had little to complain about after putting the finishing touches on his third batch of signees with Ohio State. Now the real work begins for the Buckeyes, but not before taking a look at what they accomplished on national signing day.

Biggest need filled: Offensive line

  • The Buckeyes notably came up short on the recruiting trail last year in an effort to add depth to the offensive line, and with four senior starters departing after the Orange Bowl, they couldn't afford to miss out on big bodies again. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman got exactly what they needed to bolster that critical position group, and they're expecting at least two of the five linemen they signed this year to at least be in the two-deep by the fall. Kyle Trout and Marcelys Jones are already on campus, but it was Jamarco Jones who drew the most mentions from Meyer on Wednesday and was hailed as the make-or-break player in the class. Throw in Demetrius Knox and Brady Taylor and the future should be in good shape again up front.
Late surprise: Darius Slade

  • Around noon, Meyer left the door open to potentially add one more player to the class, despite coming up short in a head-to-head battle with Michigan State for Malik McDowell and already having signed letters from the rest of the anticipated class. A couple hours later, Meyer once again unveiled a late surprise, swooping in for defensive lineman Darius Slade, a 6-foot-5, 240-pounder who had been committed to the Spartans before his change of heart. Meyer gave all the credit to new defensive line coach Larry Johnson for that final addition, and an already deep, talented group added one more talented piece.
Deepest position: Linebacker

  • The crown jewel of the class was already on campus for the Buckeyes, and after catching a glimpse of Raekwon McMillan working out on Wednesday morning, Meyer suggested he could easily be confused with an upperclassmen given how mature he already appears physically. But he's not the only linebacker Meyer is counting on to lend a hand as quickly as possible at the thinnest position on the roster, and the other three options all seem to be just as appealing for the Buckeyes. Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker Jr. and Kyle Berger won't have the benefit of going through spring practice like McMillan, but the foursome collectively had praise heaped on them -- and Meyer vowed there were "no redshirt plans for those players at all."
Instant impact candidates: Offensive skill players

  • The handy guide for predicting the likelihood of a freshman making a big splash, per Herman: The further away a player lines up from the snap, the better the chances. Given both the need for more playmakers on the perimeter and the speedy guys they signed, the search for new Buckeyes who might leave the biggest mark this fall starts with the wide receivers and another potential hybrid weapon. Noah Brown, Parris Campbell Jr., Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin all bring the kind of game-changing athleticism Ohio State covets so desperately, and there should be playing time to be had at receiver. But it's the dual threat Curtis Samuel could pose as both a target in the passing game and as a rusher that really seemed to have the coaching staff fired up, and like Dontre Wilson a year ago, he could become a factor in a hurry.

Movers, shakers in updated ESPN 300

October, 29, 2013
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The Class of 2014 has had two months to show what it’s made of on the field. How are the nation’s elite prospects faring as we approach signing day? Here’s a look at the biggest names and notes from the most recent update of the ESPN 300:

The Big Movers

No. 37 Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South), ILB
Prior ranking: No. 59
The 6-foot-2, 224-pound Garrett jumped more than 20 spots in the rankings as he has added bulk to his frame, and at the same time retaining quickness and his fast-filling, downhill ability. Garrett has impact-type ability with a blend of lateral quickness, discipline and a nose for the ball.

Davion Hall
Max Olson/ESPNAthlete Davion Hall, who is committed to Baylor, jumped 30 spots in the latest update of the ESPN 300.
No. 45 Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), ATH
Prior ranking: No. 75
The 6-2, 194-pound Hall is one of the most impressive athletes in the class. He has a long, stoutly-built frame, is explosive, has physicality filling the alley at safety and very good ball skills at receiver. When he settles into one position at the next level, his upside is very high.

No. 64 Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga./Cedartown), RB
Prior ranking: No. 106
The Georgia commit is putting together a sensational senior campaign with more than 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns through eight games. The 5-11, 217-pound tailback continues to add strength to his compact body structure while maintaining his speed, overall athleticism and ability to bend.

No. 70 Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), DE
Prior ranking: No. 125
The Miami commit has flashed his high-ceiling ability, even though he is playing inside more than half the snaps as a senior. His combination of first-step quickness, arm length and the ability to play with low pad level sets him apart from most ends in the class.

No. 84 Rashaan Evans (Auburn Ala./Auburn), OLB
Prior ranking: No. 150
The 6-3, 217-pound Evans has filled out physically, and displays the quick-twitch burst and speed combination to be a factor off the edge. Evans has been dominant off the edge as a senior with double-digit sacks.

No. 92 Markell Pack (Purvis, Miss./Purvis), WR
Prior ranking: No. 144
The Florida State commit continues to flash the initial quickness, ability to get to top-end speed quickly, ability to play the ball in the air and elusiveness that makes the 6-2, 180-pound wideout one of the top playmakers in the class.

No. 128 Brad Kaaya (Hollywood, Calif./Chaminade College Prep)
Prior ranking: No. 171
The 6-4, 213-pound Miami commit is one the fastest rising quarterbacks in the class. Has added bulk to his tall frame, and continues to show the foot quickness, foot work and quick release that will be demanded of him at the next level.

Other Big Movers

WR Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn./Station Camp): From No. 99 to 49.
Texas A&M ATH commit Nick Harvey (Richmond, Texas/William B. Travis): From No. 101 to 60.
RB Joe Mixon (Berkeley, Calif./Freedom): From No. 100 to 72.
Georgia QB-DT commit Jacob Park (Goose Creek, S.C./Stratford): From No. 157 to 94.
Oregon RB commit Royce Freeman (Imperial, Calif./Imperial): From No. 154 to 99.
RB Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C./Havelock): From No. 176 to 108.
Ole Miss S commit C.J. Hampton (Meridian, Miss./Meridian): From No. 201 to 134.
Alabama C commit J.C. Hassenauer (Woodbury, Minn./East Ridge): From No. 246 to 188.
Georgia DT commit Dontavius Russell (Carrollton, Ga./Carrollton): From No. 266 to 201

ESPN 300 debuts
No. 89 Frank Iheanacho (Houston/Westbury), WR
The 6-6, 215-pound pass catcher returned to the football field as a senior after playing only basketball as a junior, and has quickly become one of the most coveted uncommitted prospects in the country featuring deceptive initial quickness, and the high-point timing and size to win 50-50 balls in the air.

No. 287 Darrion Owens (Orange Park, Fla./Oakleaf), OLB
The 6-3, 220-pound Owens has transitioned from safety to outside linebacker as a senior without skipping a beat. Long, rangy and with edge-rush ability, the Miami commit is a top senior riser.

No. 295 Shakenneth Williams (Macon, Ga./Rutland), WR
The 6-1, 196-pound Georgia commit was a standout at Mark Richt Camp in June. Williams is blessed with straight-line speed, change-of-direction ability, strong hands and the physicality and strength to play through contact.

[+] EnlargeJoe Mixon
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTailback Joe Mixon is ranked No. 72 in the latest update of the ESPN 300.
More Who Moved Into The ESPN 300

Ohio State ATH commit Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus Hall): No. 148.
LSU DE commit Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass): No. 298.
Baylor WR commit Ishmael Zamora (Alief, Texas/Elsik): No. 245
Alabama OLB commit Keith Holcombe (Tuscaloosa, Ala./Hillcrest): No. 284.
DT Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes): No. 257.
DT Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin): No. 292.
Minnesota RB commit Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn): No. 181.
Virginia Tech DT commit Ricky Walker (Hampton, Va./Bethel): No. 299.

Injured Reserve

David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North), QB
The Alabama commit suffered a season-ending knee injury. The 6-5, 241-pound Under Armour All-American is No. 44 after being 32nd previously.

Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn./Beech), RB
The Tennessee commit suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the opener, requiring a second shoulder operation in less than a year. The 6-4, 222-pound Hurd is now No. 62 after being 39th.

Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Mich./Grand Rapids Christian), WR
The 6-3, 172-pound Harris hasn't played this season due to a lingering hamstring issue. The Michigan commit checks in at No. 85 after previously being 72nd.

Elisha Shaw (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), DT
The 6-6, 295-pound Shaw has been sidelined with a neck injury this season. He checks in at No. 186 after a prior ranking of 82nd.

Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central), OLB
The 6-2, 202-pound Rhaheed missed the first six games of the season before returning to the field in late October. The former LSU commit is No. 260 after being ranked 133rd previously.

Kyle Berger (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius), OLB
The Ohio State commit was sidelined his senior season with an ACL tear. He dropped out of the ESPN 300 after being ranked No. 281.

Treyvon Paulk (Milton, Ga./Milton High), RB
The Tennessee running back commitment recently suffered a season-ending knee injury. He dropped out of the ESPN 300 after previously being ranked No. 294.

Berger ready to stand tall once again 

October, 28, 2013
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The crutch ESPN 300 outside linebacker Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius) is using to walk is about to be kicked to the curb.


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Ohio State's big win wows recruits 

October, 27, 2013
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Ohio State’s history-making 63-14 win over Penn State on Saturday didn’t go unnoticed by some of the top recruits who were visiting on campus.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Thomas
Tom Hauck for Student SportsSolomon Thomas was one of many prospects who were impressed by Ohio State on Saturday.
Here’s a sampling of quotes we tracked down following the game:

“The atmosphere was amazing [and they have] great fans. I’ll remember how physical the defense was and the interaction between the players and coaches.” -- ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), No. 31 in the nation.

“It was crazy. I thought it was great to see the fans stay even with the blowout, and how well the team played together, and how the coaches coached them up.” -- ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle Shy Tuttle (Lexington, N.C./North Davidson), No. 21 in the nation.

“The crowd and atmosphere were both amazing. The coaches were super energetic. I’ll probably remember how disciplined the players were.” -- ESPN Junior 300 cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), No. 38 in the nation.

“The atmosphere was one that you will never forget. I have never been a part of something as big as that event. The amount of support from the fans was great. I will most likely remember meeting with Coach [Urban] Meyer this morning and meeting Braxton Miller last night after he game.” -- ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Brandon Wimbush (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), No. 74 in the nation.

“The atmosphere was crazy. It threw Penn State off [its] game. The best part was being there and seeing the fans doing their part to help with the win. The moment I will remember the most is Ohio State getting three turnovers in the first half. That was the game-changer right there.” -- ESPN Junior 300 outside linebacker Anthony McKee (Columbus/Walnut Ridge), No. 193 in the nation.


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18-0 going a long way for OSU in 2014 

October, 9, 2013
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Urban Meyer said Ohio State has to seize momentum when it has it in when it comes to recruiting during a bye week.

Coming off two big wins over then-nationally ranked Wisconsin at home and currently ranked Northwestern on the road certainly doesn’t hurt. Then again, neither does having the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.

[+] EnlargeStephen Collier
Tom Hauck for Student SportsLeesburg, Ga., quarterback commit Stephen Collier was drawn to the winning ways of Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
While the computers haven’t taken notice and writers are skeptical of a weak conference and not-too-strong nonconference schedule, the future is buying in and it’s buying in big time.

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With any conference there will always be battles on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten. Coaching changes, different philosophies and geographic location all factor in to who battles who.

Here is a look at the top five Big Ten recruiting rivalries.

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Big name visitors set to invade Ohio State 

September, 27, 2013
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Urban Meyer doesn’t miss an opportunity to impress.


The two-time national champion did it last year when Nebraska played Ohio State in The Horseshoe under the lights and he’s not missing the opportunity this year.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger names scheduled to make the trek to the banks of the Olentangy River for the Buckeyes-Badgers game Saturday evening.

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ESPN 300 LB Berger ready for next step 

September, 11, 2013
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Kyle BergerBrad Bournival/ESPN.comOhio State linebacker commit Kyle Berger's senior season ended before the regular season even began because of a knee injury.

On Thursday, ESPN 300 linebacker Kyle Berger will sew up what remains of his senior season at Cleveland St. Ignatius when he has surgery to repair a badly damaged left knee.

And the Ohio State commitment considers himself lucky. Lucky because things could have been much worse, lucky because he sees the light at the end of the tunnel and lucky because he’s got a tremendous support system behind him.

Things didn’t look that way three-and-a-half weeks ago when he was taken off the field after assisting on a tackle.


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Best Big Ten classes by position 

September, 10, 2013
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Each class within the Big Ten has its strengths and weaknesses, but there is a lot of talent joining the conference. Here is a look at the top classes in the Big Ten by position.

Quarterback
Strongest class: Penn State


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B1G High school games of the week 

September, 5, 2013
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Each week Big Ten recruiting reporters Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival outline a few big high school games involving Big Ten recruits and commits. Here is this week’s list:


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One freak play has Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius) itching to get back on the field this season.

That the chance of that happening is very slim is hard to take for the Ohio State pledge and his high school coach, Chuck Kyle.

Berger confirmed a tear of the ACL in his left knee on Tuesday. Kyle added that it’s one of the toughest things to comprehend for both he and the standout ESPN 300 outside linebacker.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

August, 26, 2013
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video
Ohio State and Michigan were at it again over the weekend in what has become commonplace in the recruiting world. The Wolverines nabbed an ESPN Junior 300 commit Friday and followed it up with another junior pledge on Saturday.

Big Ten ConferenceNot to be outdone, the Buckeyes grabbed an ESPN 300 standout of their own Sunday.

Here is a look at what happened over the past week.


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Position preview: Linebackers

August, 23, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp winds down and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

LINEBACKERS

Top of the depth chart: Ryan Shazier on the weak side, Joshua Perry on the strong and Curtis Grant in between them.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State linebacker Ryan Shazier led the Buckeyes in tackles, tackles for loss and forced fumbles in 2012.
Next in line: There is hardly any depth to speak of on the Ohio State roster at a position that has long been a source of pride for the program, and the numbers are low enough that walk-on Joe Burger could be a valuable part of the rotation. The Buckeyes have high hopes for a pair of freshmen signed in February, and Mike Mitchell has already emerged as a viable second-team option behind Grant. Trey Johnson has been somewhat slowed by injury during training camp, but he should contribute along with sophomore Camren Williams as the Buckeyes try to replace Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino.

New faces: The Buckeyes could have perhaps used more than two linebackers in the last recruiting class, but they did land a couple who have the athleticism and intelligence to lend a hand early in their careers. Mitchell has long been a student of the position and is well versed in the tradition at middle linebacker, and if for some reason the injury bug keeps following around Grant or he struggles in September, he could be on the field quickly. Johnson has been a bit banged up this month, but the Buckeyes will need him to speed through the learning curve to supply some much-needed depth.

Recruiting trail: The 2014 class already includes a pair of outside linebackers, including four-star prospect in Kyle Berger (Cleveland/St. Ignatius). But the real prize would be a pledge from Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), a monster inside linebacker currently ranked No. 14 in the nation among all players in the ESPN 300. Assuming Shazier returns for his senior season, the cupboard might once again start looking full at Ohio State in the heart of the defense.

Flexibility: Until the roster gets back where defensive coordinator Luke Fickell needs it, there’s only so much he can do with his unit. Shazier isn’t likely to leave the field under any circumstance, and the desire, and perhaps, necessity to play more nickel and dime packages, somewhat lessens the number of bodies needed on hand. Perry is expected to be a factor as the second option at linebacker in the nickel, and even with Grant’s injury concerns during camp, he remains the top option in the middle.

Notable numbers:

-- Nobody offered more to the Ohio State defense a year ago than Shazier, even while fighting through a painful sports hernia that required offseason surgery and slowed him down physically during the second half of last season. He still led the team in tackles (115), tackles for a loss (17) and forced fumbles (3), and his 5 sacks are the highest total of any returning defender.

-- Neither Perry or Grant were able to supply much off the bench a year ago, and the two combined for just 13 tackles in 18 combined appearances. The Buckeyes obviously need both of those numbers to improve dramatically given their high-profile roles moving forward.

-- In roughly half of a season each, Boren and Sabino couldn’t match the ruthless efficiency and production of Shazier -- but the combined contributions weren’t too shabby. Putting their statistics together, the tandem chipped in 95 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

Big question: Can the Buckeyes survive again?

Whether it was through injury or ineffectiveness, an already thin group of linebackers a year ago was dwindling to the point of desperation when Boren made the shocking switch from fullback to middle linebacker in the middle of the season. But if one more injury had struck Fickell’s unit, what then? The Buckeyes are increasingly loading up with the type of talent the program has long been known for across the roster, but the linebacker position has been lagging behind so far and this season could once again require a test of creativity if injuries pop up to the starting unit. Few teams in the country could sustain the loss of a player as gifted as Shazier, so keeping him fresh and on the field is obviously a priority. But the Buckeyes also need Perry and a rejuvenated Grant on hand and playing at a high level if they’re going to be a true championship contender, and the focus will be on their development as much as their health moving forward.

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