football Edit

Buckeyes stay on the cutting edge of recruiting amid shutdown

From the Real Life Wednesday's program, to creating unique brands for its players, the Ohio State staff and recruiting department are in a constant state of innovation and trying to come up with unique ways to enhance the experience for its players and recruiting targets.

Even during times of crisis, like an in-person recruiting shutdown over the COVID-19 outbreak, that mindset doesn't change in the recruiting office led by Director of Player Personnel Mark Pantoni. In fact, it has only increased the urgency as schools must now find creative ways to connect with prospects and their families.

While no one could have foreseen the current landscape playing out the way it has, that mindset of always staying on the cutting edge has served the Buckeyes well during the past few weeks, landing five major commitments during the month of March.

RELATED: Ohio State 2021 commitment list

"We really don't have any choice," Pantoni told BuckeyeGrove.com in a recent interview. "As soon as we found out that we'd be working from home, we all got together virtually and just said, 'hey we need to start coming up with ideas and ways of making this work'."

Few things are as competitive as college football recruiting and it is a constant race to stay at the top and to continue to be innovative. That has carried over into the NCAA mandated Dead Period and Ohio State has once again been up to the challenge.

"The last thing you want to do is to be going on Twitter and reading about other schools doing something and us not thinking about it," Pantoni continued. "We've done our best to come up with some creative ways to do this from a distance and stay in contact and do all of the Face Time stuff that we need to do."


St. Louis area star defensive back Jakailin Johnson was a huge March commitment for Ohio State.
St. Louis area star defensive back Jakailin Johnson was a huge March commitment for Ohio State. (Rivals.com)

Pantoni doesn't want to give away all of the tricks of the trade but prospects and their parents have been able to video chat with the coaches and have been put into contact with academic advisors at Ohio State, which has played a big part in the strategy during this down time.

When there is a sense of urgency in any walk of life, that is often times when innovation occurs and this situation has given the Buckeyes a new perspective on things. Some things Pantoni and his staff have learned during this will be able to carry over beyond the shutdown.

"I believe so," he said, when asked if they've found some helpful ideas for the long term. "I think we've created certain ideas and ways for kids who aren't able to get here easily, to try to virtually bring the visit to them and really the parents as well. So we've been able to keep the excitement level up and get some things covered that would be covered on a visit and then we can do things more in-depth and see things more in-depth (when they are able to visit)."

We're not patting ourselves on the back yet...
— Mark Pantoni

The Buckeyes haven't skipped a beat over the past month. They have surged to the number one recruiting class in the nation, landing five commitments in March, including some of their biggest targets. While that has created a buzz around the program, recruiting veterans like Pantoni know that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

"We're not patting ourselves on the back yet," he said. "There's a long way to go and some of these kids only visited one time, or even zero times, and have committed to us. So we know that we have a long way to go to keep them firm and get them back on campus, and just continue to make sure that everything stays firm."

Which leads into the post-shutdown environment. Numerous prospects around the country have committed during this Dead Period, some with limited experience at the schools they have committed to in terms of making unofficial visits. For Ohio State, getting those kids who committed this spring and who were supposed to visit, but couldn't, is going to be among the top focal points once the shutdown is lifted.

MORE: Recruiting keeps rolling through uncertain times

"Yeah, I think so," Pantoni stated, when asked if getting prospects back on campus quickly was the top priority. "We have to do it smartly. The idea was for spring practice, to have (visits) spread out over a month to where we're not having a ton of kids on campus at the same time. Now that may have to change where we're going to have a ton of kids on campus at one time. That's a good problem to have, but it's about making sure they get the attention they deserve and making sure they have a great visit."

While Ohio State is always a factor at the top of the recruiting rankings, the two most special classes in recent memory are the 2013 and 2017 classes. Here we are again four years later and the Buckeyes are once again putting together a class that could be one of the best in program history.

Holding onto the number one ranked class on the various recruiting sites like Rivals.com isn't necessarily a goal that Pantoni and his staff set as they do their own rankings and evaluations, but there is very much a sense that, rankings aside, this could be another special group.

"Definitely the potential is off the charts," he stated. "It's definitely a talented class. At the same time, you never know how things are going to unwind until they set foot on campus. There are just so many unknowns on how they adapt to college life, how they translate to this level, playing on this big of a stage. So you never know on a recruiting class until about three or four years down the line."

The Buckeyes currently hold a 750-point lead over Clemson in the 2021 team recruiting rankings and are on pace to have one of the most highly decorated recruiting classes in the history of the Rivals team rankings.