Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor
New Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer has rebuilt Buckeyes football, at least in part, on a foundation of air mattresses.
Returning players await Meyer’s instruction, but the coach’s focus on recruiting has mostly left time for pursuing the best young, football talent from across the nation.
Meyer and his fellow OSU coaches will see the fruits of their efforts on Wednesday — National Signing Day.
In his first exclusive interview with The Lantern, Meyer said he and his staff have overcome NCAA penalties and a recruiting class that was described by one national recruiting expert as “struggling.” Meyer and members of his staff will convene Wednesday with members of the media to discuss his new recruits, which comprise one of the top-rated classes in the nation.
As of Tuesday, Rivals.com rated Meyer’s incoming recruits as the No. 3 class in the country. Only top-rated Alabama and No. 2-rated Texas have bested OSU on the recruiting trail. Meyer’s new crop of talent is also the top-rated class in the Big Ten and currently boasts 23 commits, two of which are five-star recruits and 13 of which are four-star recruits, according to the website.
Meyer told The Lantern that recruiting progress hasn’t come easily, though.
In the middle of a two-month stretch where Meyer nabbed nine of the top 250 recruits in the country, the NCAA handed down a Dec. 19 ruling that said OSU would lose nine scholarships and receive a one-year postseason ban after six OSU football players were found to have exchanged Buckeye football memorabilia for improper benefits in the form of free tattoos.
“I’ve never been banned from a bowl game. This is all new for me,” Meyer said during a Jan. 22 interview with The Lantern.
Meyer was facing an uphill recruiting battle long before he arrived in Columbus, Ohio, though.
OSU was experiencing uncommon difficulties on the recruiting trail, said Josh Helmholdt, the Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
“(The class) was struggling, no doubt about it,” Helmholdt said. “They hadn’t recruited as successfully as they’re used to and a lot of their Big Ten foes were jumping in and grabbing kids from the state of Ohio. That definitely was a trend we had not seen in past years.”
Meyer reversed that trend, but the NCAA’s Dec. 19 announcement could have interrupted the positive energy around OSU’s recruiting resurgence.
Helmholdt said that while some recruits place high value on postseason eligibility, the NCAA penalties turned out to be a mere bump in the road for Meyer.
“Honestly, it was a minor bump that they navigated easily and moved past very quickly,” Helmholdt said. “(Meyer) masterfully maneuvered around that issue and it doesn’t seem to have affected them at all.”
Meyer said much of the same in his interview with The Lantern.
“I don’t know if (saying the ban) hurt us is appropriate,” Meyer said. “Because obviously we’re doing OK.”
“Doing OK” doesn’t mean OSU’s $4 million-dollar-per-year coach hasn’t had to answer for the program’s NCAA penalties.
Meyer said he and his staff have had to answer “a bunch” of questions regarding the team’s postseason ban, as well as the scholarship reduction.
“Obviously, our staff has done a really good job fighting through it and absolutely — every day you’re answering questions about it,” Meyer said. “We certainly have had to address it many times.”
Meyer said he and his staff have remained out on the road to put the finishing touches on his class, and have even used air mattresses while resting from pursuing the nation’s top recruits.
Mark Pantoni, Meyer’s director of player personnel, tweeted from his Twitter account, @markpantoni, at around 9:30 p.m. Monday: “Sleeping on an air mattress tonight. No sleep till signing day anyway #2/1/12.”
The bottom line is that kids just want to play for Meyer, Helmholdt said.
“It’s the charisma. It’s the excitement. It’s the enthusiasm that Urban Meyer has,” he said. “These kids buy what he’s selling. They want to be a part of what he’s putting together.”
The recruits are buying into Meyer despite the NCAA bowl ban and reduction of scholarships. So how will Meyer motivate his players, who won’t have an opportunity to compete in the postseason?
Meyer said to ask him that question again during spring practices.
“We haven’t even had to do that yet,” Meyer said. “I’ve been out on the road recruiting.”
Meyer and members of his staff will discuss OSU’s 2012 recruiting class during a Wednesday press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The conference is set to begin at 4 p.m.