Recruits visit as OSU hosts Badgers

Published 1:55 am Monday, September 30, 2013

COLUMBUS – It was a full house on Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.

A full house in the seats. And a full house in the recruiting room when OSU welcomed a long list of recruits to its Big Ten football opener against Wisconsin.

Some were class of 2014 seniors making official visits. Others were class of 2015 juniors on unofficial visits.

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Ohio State coach Urban Meyer loves the atmosphere that envelops recruits at night games, so he brought in a big group of prospects.

Eighteen high school seniors have already verbally committed to sign with Ohio State in February. When everybody is signed, sealed and delivered, OSU’s recruiting class could be around 24 or 25 recruits.

If recent history is an indicator, five or six of those recruits will have graduated early from high school and will already be enrolled at Ohio State when national signing day comes around on Feb. 5.

This year, cornerbacks Cameron Burrows and Eli Apple, defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle and quarterback J.T. Barrett entered OSU in January.

In 2012, linebacker Joshua Perry, offensive linemen Jacoby Boren and Taylor Decker, running back Bri’onte Dunn, defensive back Tyvis Powell, wide receiver Michael Thomas and quarterback Cardale Jones came on board early.

In 2011, quarterback Braxton Miller, linebacker Ryan Shazier, tight end Jeff Heuerman, defensive lineman Joel Hale and defensive back Jeremy Cash, who now plays for Duke, started college after graduating from high school early.

This was a rarity 20 years ago, but 2013 set a record for most football recruits enrolling early, with 162 players in BCS conferences doing it. The previous high was 140.

Every school in the Big Ten except Michigan State and Northwestern had at least one athlete who chose to pass up the final five months of high school to try to advance his college football career.

Ohio State and Michigan had the most early enrollees with six each. Wisconsin had two, including starting cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

Nationally, Georgia was the leader, with 10 players coming in early.

Ohio State defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs made the case for enrolling early last spring.

He admitted enrolling early is not for everyone, but said Ohio State tries to make sure its early enrollees are ready for it.

“We are looking for kids who have the academic acumen necessary to graduate from high school early and have the type of maturity that they can leave home,” he said. “We don’t push it on anybody. It’s clearly a kid’s choice.

“But those kids who want to do that and are mature enough and the parents feel comfortable with it, I think it’s a huge advantage,” he said.

When the question of whether they would enroll early again was asked if they were given a second chance, OSU’s Decker, Perry and Burrows all said they would.

Burrows called it “one of the best decisions I’ve made.”

Perry said he definitely would not be a starter as a sophomore if he hadn’t enrolled early.

“One of the great advantages of coming out of high school early was being able to hop in the weight room, hop in the film room and get started early in the classroom and finish my degree early and possibly start on a master’s while I’m here,” he said. “The combination of football and academics, coming out of high school early definitely helped.”

Still, it seems like a lot for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old to give up, especially if his college football career doesn’t turn out like he expected.

At least one Big Ten coach is not sold on the idea.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is the only Big Ten coach who has never had a player enroll early.

He says he could be convinced it is a good idea but still thinks a player should enjoy his senior year of high school right up through graduation day.

“Some of my peers are graduating kids early and bringing them in. I’m not against that, I just don’t have enough empirical data 18 months out to see the burnout. I’m really concerned about the burnout,” Fitzgerald said at the 2012 Big Ten football media days.

“I really had a fun time playing spring baseball. I had a fun time going to turnabout or Sadie Hawkins dances or whatever they call it. I really had fun going to prom. I had even more fun going to graduation parties with my boys one last summer,” he said.