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Ohio State

Everything's bigger in Texas — including Ohio State's recruiting pull

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    Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins is just one of the Buckeye players the program has recruited from the state of Texas.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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    The football stadium at South Grand Prairie High School looks as much like a small college stadium as it does a high school stadium. OSU cornerback Jeffrey Okudah played at South Grand Prairie before being recruited by the Buckeyes.

    South Grand Prairie High School

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    The bleachers and press box at South Grand Prairie High School help show just how much high school football means in Texas.

    South Grand Prairie High School

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    A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, J.T. Barrett started at quarterback from 2014-17.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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    Former Ohio State receiver David Boston, who starred on the 1998 team, hails from Humble, Texas.

    Associated Press

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — The first thing you notice at South Grand Prairie High School in suburban Dallas isn’t the size of the massive high school, but instead the sprawling athletic campus that includes a football stadium with a three-level press box and an indoor practice facility that would make Division I colleges jealous.

When it comes to high school football in Texas, everything is bigger. Ohio State has waltzed into the talent-rich state and picked it apart, leaving Texas, Texas A&M, and the rest of its Power Five schools helpless to OSU’s national appeal and track record of placing players in the NFL.

“Ohio State is a recruiting juggernaut, and if anybody could take [four-star and five-star prospects out of Texas] it would be a program like Ohio State,” said Jason Suchomel, who covers Texas football for OrangeBloods.com.

“It doesn’t surprise me that much. The class they signed in 2017 when they got [J.K.] Dobbins, Jeffrey Okudah, and Baron Browning [three of the top six players in the state], it surprised me that they were able to sweep those three prospects. I’m awfully impressed what Ohio State’s been able to do in Texas and the Austin area.”

Fourth-ranked OSU returns to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday for a primetime showdown against No. 15 TCU, the third time the Buckeyes have played in Jerry World since 2015. They’ll bring seven Texans with them, including five on the team’s two-deep.

Ohio State's 2018 football schedule

Ohio State football recruiting has had a broad national reach for decades. In an amusing YouTube clip from the 1975 OSU-UCLA game, ABC sideline reporter Jim Lampley tells the audience, “Ohio State has started to get a lot of great athletes from places they don’t normally recruit.”

But the scarlet and gray quill pen rarely dipped into Texas ink on national signing day. It wasn’t until Urban Meyer arrived that OSU made a habit of targeting Texas and its abundant resources. Ohio State signed three players from Texas during Jim Tressel’s 10-year career — Ashton Youboty, J.B. Shugarts, and Kenny Guiton (Anthony Schlegel was a transfer). In Meyer’s seven recruiting classes, the Buckeyes already have signed 10 Texans, and more are on the way.

“Am I surprised he’s been effective? Look who he’s hired,” said South Grand Prairie coach Brent Whitson, who coached Okudah in high school. “I know what kind of salesmen they are.”

Meyer is familiar inside Texas borders. He helped pluck kids from Texas when he was an assistant at Colorado State and head coach at Utah. It was fertile recruiting ground during his six seasons at Florida, where Meyer signed six Texans.

“Texas guys, I don’t want to stereotype them, but they’re usually very well‑coached,” Meyer said in 2014. “They love football. [If you’re a] kid in Texas, you’re probably going to play football. I've always loved going down there. I love the high school coaches. Part of the job description is to be able to go get a kid out of Texas.”

First it was assistant Tom Herman who did Ohio State’s heavy lifting inside Texas. When he left to become head coach at Houston, Tim Beck became the go-to Texas recruiter. Whitson said Beck’s placement on OSU’s coaching staff was a game changer for the Buckeyes’ Texas efforts. Now Ryan Day, Kevin Wilson, and Greg Schiano are regulars in Austin, Dallas, and Houston.

“I know Matthew Baldwin’s decision to go to Ohio State started with a relationship that was created by Ryan Day,” said Hank Carter, who coached the OSU freshman quarterback at Lake Travis High School in Austin. “That was the first person from Ohio State to reach out showing interest in recruiting him. He’s done an incredible job being upfront with our kids, their parents, and the coaching staff. I’ve been very impressed with him. Coach Day has been great to work with.

“Ohio State is one of the best college football programs in the country. When their coaching staff is here recruiting our players, it means we must have some pretty good players. They’re not here unless they know there are great players.”

There are few rock-star head coaches in college football. Meyer is one of them. When he enters a high school’s front doors, it sets off a frenzied response from secretaries to principals to students to teachers.

“It’s the same as Nick Saban walking into a school,” Suchomel said. “Frankly, Texas had that luxury for years. When Mack Brown walked into a high school, everything stopped. Urban has that same type of respect, probably at any school in any state.”

The Buckeyes already have one Texas commitment in the class of 2019 — four-star receiver Garrett Wilson, Baldwin’s high school teammate. Elijah Higgins, another four-star receiver from Austin, and three-star athlete Peyton Powell from Odessa Permian of Friday Night Lights fame remain 2019 possibilities for Ohio State.

Ohio State’s foray into the Longhorn State has coincided with Texas’ slide into mediocrity. Since 2010, the Longhorns have lost at least four games every season. They’ve had a losing record four times and lost six or more games in five of those eight seasons.

Texas A&M, TCU, and Baylor all have risen to prominence and fallen back to earth in the intervening years, allowing high-profile schools from outside the state to raid its talent base.

“It’s smart of them to do so,” Suchomel said. “A lot more out-of-state programs are recruiting the state of Texas, more so than a decade ago. A&M leaving the conference opened the floodgates for SEC schools to come into the state. Ohio State isn’t stupid. They smelled blood in the water with Texas down and A&M being up and down. They’ve been smart to be more aggressive in the state, and they’re seeing the results.”

What attracts Texas players to cold weather in the Midwest? Winning and dollar signs.

Forty Buckeyes have been drafted since Meyer’s first season in 2012 — a dozen in the first round. Five of the first-round selections are defensive backs, so when it came time for Okudah to make his selection, there really wasn’t a decision-making process.

“If you’re laser-focused on making money and you’re a defensive back, good Lord, look at Ohio State,” Whitson said. “Look at defensive backs in the first round from Ohio State the last three years. That’s a pretty easy choice. A lot of people threw numbers at Jeffrey, but if you just look at recent years at Ohio State, where would you go if you were a man cornerback?

“I heard one of the greatest quotes during Jeffrey’s first spring at Ohio State. Greg Schiano said, ‘NFL scouts don’t come here to watch you play zone.’ If I’m a corner, you just stuck a million dollars in front of me. To the guys who are laser-focused, that’s their first consideration, maybe even more than relationships.”

Said Okudah: “Their reputation really preceded them. When you see that, even being in Texas, it’s appealing to be one of the next guys in line.”

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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