NCF On The Trail: Urban Meyer

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Typically Zach Smith isn’t much of a sleeper on planes.

“I try, man,” the Ohio State wide receivers coach said. “I just can’t sleep on them.”

Sometimes Smith can’t help it though. And so packed into an aisle seat near the back of a Monday morning Southwest flight to Baltimore a week after helping the Buckeyes win a national championship, Smith’s eyelids were getting mighty heavy even before the wheels were off the ground.

At least on this leg of his journey to Arkansas to visit coveted wide receiver K.J. Hill, Smith was able to find a little rest, which had been in short supply for a coaching staff that had been working overtime as it navigated the first College Football Playoff and then quickly transitioned to the recruiting trail with virtually no time to recover.

The Buckeyes weren’t complaining, particularly since the collection of trophies they had acquired during the postseason was doing a lot of selling of the program for them. But after missing some chances to visit prospects thanks to the Big Ten championship, then spending as much time as possible preparing for Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the title game and having to hit the road just two days after returning from Dallas, Smith was understandably running on fumes.

“It was a grind, but it was fun,” Smith said. “I mean, No. 1 it was different because after we won the national championship, it’s really easy to wake up, go to work, walk in a high school because everybody is telling you how great you are. It wasn’t hard to get motivated to do your job -- not that it ever is, but especially now.

“But it was a grind. Most of the time after a bowl game, you get at least two or three days off. We came back and landed on Tuesday, staff meeting on Wednesday to organize it and Thursday we were hitting the road.”

Ohio State once again cleaned up there, finishing with the No. 6 class in the country and adding some pieces that could be useful in defending the title next fall. And all that extra time the Buckeyes were spending to win a crown also opened a few doors once they did hit the recruiting trail, perhaps most notably the one Smith was on the way to visit after Hill had largely been out of the picture earlier in the process thanks to his commitment to Arkansas.

That trip turned out to be well worth it for the Buckeyes, and not just because Smith was able to recharge his batteries for about an hour on the way.

“These guys were toast,” coach Urban Meyer said. “But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student-athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level against 30-ACT kids like our players are.

“They missed two days of class. ... My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they all deserve to be taken care. I think we’ve done a good job monitoring [the fatigue].”

The Buckeyes shouldn’t have to worry about that for a while now, though spring practice is creeping around the corner next month and Meyer has wasted no time stressing a zero-complacency policy coming off the championship.

That was obviously in place already when the coaches went back out on the road trying to close their latest class. For the most part, the foundation for 2015 had already been established prior to the postseason, but that championship still provided a lift late with guys like Hill, running back Mike Weber and offensive lineman Isaiah Prince.

But where it might really offer a jolt is with the next batch of targets. And just in case Smith happens to doze off for a minute or two in the coming weeks, there’s a nice safety net that will help pitch the program even when he can’t.

“I think it definitely helped this year, but right now we have a seven-month marketing campaign,” Smith said. “Basically we don’t have to do anything. That’s all they’re playing, talking about and that’s all they’re seeing. The class of ’16 has the next seven months to hear about Ohio State and how we’re the best team in the country.

“For 2015, it did help kind of spark us at the end and help us close some kids, I’m sure it did. But not like it should next year.”

Maybe a dynasty, then, is sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The reigning national champions showed no signs of slowing down on national signing day, reeling in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country. ESPN.com caught up with coach Urban Meyer to look back at the end of last season, success on the trail and what is next for Ohio State.

Austin Ward: One thing that you have talked a lot about recently is theory vs. testimony. How does that apply to recruiting efforts now compared to when you arrived at Ohio State?

Urban Meyer: It means, my daughters went through recruiting, both of them were volleyball players, one went to Georgia Tech and one went to Florida Gulf Coast, and I remember as a parent sitting there listening. Some of it is a leap of faith. Who is this new staff? What are they trying to do? But any time there is a for-sure, and right now with the way we do our business at Ohio State with academics, with the way our weight room is, the Real-Life Wednesdays and then the success on the field, if you’re a guy that wants to be playing for a group of assistant coaches and some teammates who are really good players and know how to win and do things right, this is a pretty good system right now.

After the title game, you mentioned that championships have a way of opening up doors. Did that apply to finishing this class or more for 2016?

Meyer: I think there’s no doubt K.J. Hill, Isaiah Prince, [Matthew] Burrell -- I think we might have got him anyway -- but there’s no question it opened the doors. And I’m seeing it a lot for the ‘16s, too. It’s a 30-day infomercial on Ohio State and the program, the college football playoff was.

I saw [wide receivers coach] Zach Smith about a week after the national championship and he could barely keep his eyes open. How difficult was the time crunch for you all after such a long season?

Meyer: These guys are toast. But once again, as I always complain about, everybody forgets about our student athletes. Yeah, the coaches are tired, but go sleep. You’re not in a high-level class against 30-ACT kids like our players are. They miss two days of class -- I can imagine the professor marking them absent for two days when they’re out there winning the national title for Ohio State. My strength coach is so good, and we just have to make sure that we don’t blow this thing out, because they deserve to be taken care of -- and I think we’ve done a good job monitoring our staff, but more importantly our players.

How do you recruit two more quarterbacks to come in and compete on such a talented depth chart?

Meyer: There’s a little bit more involved, but everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every school in the country. Don’t penalize us because our guys played great. Same with Kenny Guiton, he played good. The guys at Florida, the guys at Utah, the guys at Bowling Green, it’s because I like the way we teach them, I like the personnel around them, I think it’s a quarterback-friendly offense that we try to do the things that they do well. So, don’t penalize us. If there’s a better place, and I actually did that with some players, I said let’s look at their rosters. Everybody has three or four quarterbacks, every one of them. And if you don’t, well then you’re probably not very good. That’s the approach that we took.

Did you feel a different intensity with Jim Harbaugh coming into the rivalry and recruiting now?

Meyer: We felt it. They contacted all of our players, they really went after Mike Weber and Josh Alabi and Joe Burrow. But you expect that. I remember when I first got here people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that, and I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The competition was fierce, went down to the wire and ultimately kept Ohio State coaches up for most of Tuesday night.

The Buckeyes also know their work might only be beginning with a new regime at Michigan, and it’s exactly what they’d expect from the most intense rivalry in college football.

The battles between certainly never lacked for intensity under the previous Wolverines coaching staff, though it’s pretty clear who has had the upper hand since Urban Meyer arrived and took his program in a much different direction than Brady Hoke did his before he was fired. Ohio State was able to maintain its edge in the first true head-to-head battle with Jim Harbaugh leading up to national signing day, but if the tug of war over running back Mike Weber is any indication, The Game is about to return to being a 12-month war.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber
Tom Hauck for Student SportsGetting running back Mike Weber's signature was the first major recruiting battle between Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh. Ohio State was able to sign the top player in Michigan on Wednesday, but not without some anxious moments.
“No doubt,” Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “I mean, Harbaugh’s presence was felt up north, no doubt about it. He went in there guns a-blazing trying to get the best player in his state, which he should.”

This time the recruiting barrage from Harbaugh and his staff came up short, but not without making the Buckeyes sweat it out into the late-night hours leading up to Weber’s decision Wednesday.

A former Michigan commitment, the ESPN 300 prospect from Detroit's Cass Technical High School had some doubts creep into his mind late in the process for a variety of reasons, keeping Meyer and Drayton busy on the phone with Weber to help fight off the pressure that had been building on the other side of the border to keep him at home, where he would have provided a significant boost to Harbaugh’s first class.

It wasn’t the only time the Buckeyes had been forced to deal with Michigan’s new presence on the recruiting trail, with Meyer also pointing to quarterback Joe Burrow and defensive tackle Joshua Alabi -- Weber's high school teammate -- as other Ohio State commitments whom the Wolverines made a push to flip during the last month. And it definitely won’t be the last time these storied programs tangle off the field in the coming years.

“We felt it,” Meyer said. “They contacted all of our players ... but you expect that. I remember when I first got here, people were saying things [about not recruiting committed players.] That’s their job. If they don’t, are you kidding me? Kids in their home state? I expect that.

“I think the previous coach was a heck of a recruiter and they’re always going to have great recruiters there. But we’re well aware of everything they’re doing.”

Like anything else that can be boiled down to a winner and loser in the rivalry, Meyer also didn’t mind making people aware that “absolutely you keep score” on those recruiting victories over the Wolverines. But he also didn’t hide from the fact that Harbaugh certainly made it a challenge coming down the stretch.

For his part, Harbaugh wasn’t pressed about recruiting against his once and future rival, and he didn’t feel any need to address the Buckeyes on his own. Perhaps the nature of some of the individual battles will change moving forward, with Michigan potentially not needing to chase committed prospects as aggressively as it did with such a short window following the coaching transition.

But Harbaugh is officially back in the game now, and with a full recruiting cycle to work with, the two coaching staffs figure to see each other much more often than just on the opposite sideline at the end of November.

“You make a call and ask someone if they are interested in talking about Michigan,” Harbaugh said. “Certainly if someone says no, it is no. But if someone says yes, then I want to show them Michigan.

“We were trying to build a recruiting base and that is kind of the way the pickle squirted this year.”

Don’t mistake that for an apology from Harbaugh, and Meyer made it clear it wasn’t necessary anyway for a coach just doing his job.

Both guys understand the business and The Game, and one key recruitment already indicates the stakes are only going to get higher.

Torrance Gibson has stuck to his guns about his pledge to Ohio State for months now, but a trip this weekend to Auburn has him thinking long and hard about his future. And his future will be the focus of one of the biggest recruiting battles in the country leading up to signing day.

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- At the American Football Coaches Association convention, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's ability on the recruiting trail was the talk of high school coaches from all over the country.


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When Wisconsin and Ohio State take the field in Indianapolis Saturday for the Big Ten championship game, their similarities might not be that distinct.

Ohio State is flash, speed and boatloads of playmakers. Wisconsin seems like it's all brute strength and the best running back in the country. One is a historic power and the other has only more recently become a dominant program.


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LSU and Texas A&M have become bigger rivals on the field and in recruiting now that both are in the SEC. Plus, few programs are trending like Ohio State is on the field and on the recruiting trail.


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Oregon is still working hard on its 2015, but that hasn't stopped the Ducks from landing quality 2016 targets like receiver Dillon Mitchell. Plus, why is Branden Bowen important to both Ohio State and Utah's 2015 class?

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Big Ten teams need to find a way to increase athleticism through recruiting and Wisconsin is working hard in Florida to make that happen. Plus, UCLA quarterback commit Josh Rosen continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for the Bruins on the recruiting trail.


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Early Offer: OU's big chance to impress 

September, 11, 2014
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Oklahoma is the place to be this weekend as the Sooners are bringing in a number of elite recruits for what is shaping up to be the biggest recruiting weekend by any program so far, and despite losing last week to Virginia Tech it looks like Ohio State is still in good shape with prospects.


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1. Much has been written about the defensive talent Florida State has been able to attract to Tallahassee under Jimbo Fisher, but what truly impresses rival coaches is the stockpile of offensive talent.

“We try to tell the recruits that they’re loaded everywhere -- quarterback, running back and receiver -- but they just keep picking FSU,” an ACC recruiting coordinator said.

Opposing coaches point to Fisher’s background as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator as a big reason why FSU’s had success recruiting on the offensive side. And boy have they had success. The 2014 class featured the No. 2 receiver, No. 3 running back, No. 6 receiver, No. 7 tight end and No. 11 quarterback. It’s much the same in 2015. On Monday, FSU added No. 7 running back Johnny Frasier. He joins a class that has the No. 4 quarterback, No. 9 quarterback, No. 11 quarterback, No. 7 offensive tackle and No. 9 tight end.


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The Sound Mind Sound Body camp was full of top prospects from all over the country. The recruits, ranging from the 2015 to 2017 classes, came in for a two-day camp with on-the-field instruction and off-the-field speakers.

College coaches from nearly every Big Ten team, Stanford, Notre Dame and MAC schools were on hand to take in the event, and some were given the opportunity to speak to the prospects.

The coaches took advantage of the face time by spending time with top targets, including defensive end Jashon Cornell, running back Jacques Patrick, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and others.

Given the nature of the camp there was plenty of recruiting news and visit updates from those top recruits.

Patrick takes in Michigan
Michigan is still in pursuit of a top running back after losing Damien Harris to a decommitment earlier in the year. Mike Weber and Jacques Patrick have been two big targets, along with Harris, and Patrick made his annual trip up to Michigan to see the campus and take in the camp.


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Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."

Early Offer: QBs wanted in Columbus 

February, 21, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Ohio State has made quarterback recruiting a major priority under Urban Meyer and it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon; and it’s a good year for talent in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington. Will that translate to good classes for Washington and Washington State?


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Early Offer: Meyer key to DB commit 

February, 12, 2014
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: One of the better defensive back prospects in Florida is heading to Ohio State, and Urban Meyer is a big reason why; this weekend is Missouri’s chance to impress a number of top 2015 prospects; and one of the top 2015 prospects is making rounds on unofficial visits.

Meyer seals it for Edwards
Three-star safety Ben Edwards (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian) gave high marks to Ohio State assistants Tim Hinton and Chris Ash for playing a role in his decision to commit to the Buckeyes on Tuesday. But it was head coach Urban Meyer who made the biggest difference. “Who wouldn’t want to play for Coach Meyer?” Edwards said. “People down here in Florida still love him and talk about him all the time. He won two national championships and has always had winning teams. My family is also comfortable with me playing for him, so he definitely played a big factor in my decision.” Edwards picked Ohio State over offers from about 20 other teams.


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