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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- More than two months after capping off an undefeated debut season at Ohio State, Urban Meyer again has a cause for celebration. Receiving 24 National Letters of Intent from a class that ranks second in the nation, the Buckeyes' head coach walked away from Tuesday's National Signing Day a big winner, capitalizing on the early success he's already found in Columbus.
Just hours after receiving a commitment from five-star safety Vonn Bell and before getting a reaffirmation from running back Ezekiel Elliott, Meyer and his staff met with the media to discuss their latest class and how it came to be.
Battle for Bell
Announcing his decision at 10 a.m. on national television today, Bell was perhaps the biggest get of the day for Meyer, who beat out Tennessee and Alabama for the Rossville, Ga. native. OSU safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers led the charge to secure Bell's commitment, and said his success stemmed from making the Under Armour All-American feel comfortable.
"The recruiting process is about relationships and you want to find out as much as you can- whether it be good or bad- about a young man. You want to find it all out," Withers said. "When you get involved and you get into relationships, you feel good about what you're doing."
Meyer admitted that he came into Tuesday with Bell being one of his three priorities in terms of uncommitted players. And while the second-year Buckeyes' coach felt unsure of Bell's status, the player himself seems to have known where he wanted to be all along.
"When Vonn Bell called me two minutes before he walked on the stage, or whatever he was doing, and said, 'You know I'm in, right?' And I said, 'No, I didn't know you're in. Congratulations,'" Meyer recalled.
Bell may snag the headlines like an under-thrown ball, but there is equal excitement around Columbus due to a trio of playmakers that Ohio State nabbed in Dontre Wilson, James Clark, and Jalin Marshall. Meyer admitted at several times last season that he was unhappy with the lack of explosive speedsters on his roster, which was something that was clearly a priority for in his 2013 class.
"We wanted to get some playmakers ... big plays were a problem for us," Meyer said. "We just didn't have enough 'make you miss guys' on offense would be the one area (OSU lacked), and I think we addressed that."
Perhaps the most exciting player of the bunch is Wilson, a former Oregon commit who could play the 'pivot' position that Percy Harvin made famous under Meyer during his time at Florida. Buckeyes' running backs coach Stan Drayton also coached Harvin in Gainesville, and see a few similarities between his former and future player.
"He's a kid who primarily played running back in his system of offense in high school at DeSoto. A very dynamic athlete," Drayton said. "You sit there and look at his track times, I mean gosh, his track times are national times. He can be collegiate track athlete and be an All-American. I mean, he's that fast. But he's a kid who can put his foot in the ground and change direction."
Street fights and sleepless nights
Of course what would National Signing Day be without a little drama? While there were several examples of this in the 2013 Ohio State class, one particular instance came in the case of linebacker Trey Johnson, who took a visit to Tennessee just weeks before committing to the Buckeyes, who he ultimately signed with.
"Trey Johnson, it was nonstop. There was a couple SEC schools that were just ruthless- I shouldn't say ruthless- they just did a good job. They were going after him as hard as they can," Meyer said. "We hung in there and got it done."
Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell downplayed any hiccups in Johnson's recruitment, stating that such strains are common place in today's world of college football.
"It was a battle. Was there a situation? I don't know. Obviously he took another visit, those are things that you don't always know about or catch wind of," Fickell said. "We did everything we could and we could rest well."
While signing day victories are great, the results won't show for another seven months, when the Buckeyes return to the field. Restating a policy that he brought with him to Columbus last season, Meyer reminded the media that he only recruits players who he feels are capable of contributing immediately.
"Really, we don't redshirt here at Ohio State. We're going to recruit guys and get them on the field as fast as we can when they're ready and push them to be ready," Meyer said. "That's the same we tell them when they come visit our campus. We're not recruiting you to sit for a year or two and then we'll try to get you ready. We want to go recruit guys that are jump in the fire and want to go play as soon as they can."
Drayton stands by Meyer's policy, stating that not only is it what's best for the players- both new and old- but the program as well.
"We're not going to redshirt. We're going to give everybody an opportunity to come in and earn a position. We're going to give our current players and opportunity to maintain their positions," Drayton said. "Don't we owe that to the Ohio State football family and the Ohio State fans to put the most prepared person on the football field, regardless of what year he is?"
What a difference year makes
A season ago, Meyer and Co. pulled together the fourth-ranked class in the country, after only being on the job in Columbus for two months. And while that class helped contribute to an undefeated season and lay a foundation for the program moving forward, it is clear that the 48-year-old head coach is even more pleased with the job that his staff did this year."
"Our first year together as a coaching staff. Last year did not count because that was not a coaching staff. That was a bunch of guys coming together like a bunch of gypsies trying to find players anywhere we could find them. You know, we did pretty good," Meyer said. "This year, it was a full cycle of recruiting, and I'm very impressed with our coaching staff."
Of course given the Buckeyes' recent success, recruiting is sometimes easier than it looks. At least that's how OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who successfully nabbed three players from the state of Texas, views things.
"We're 12-0, our head coach is named Urban Meyer, and I get to the block O on my shirt every day walking into high schools," Herman noted. "We are fortunate to- as Coach Meyer puts it- be a little bit of the 'flavor of the month' and have Coach Meyer and his track record and obviously this great university and this support system.'"
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