Commentary

Buckeyes hold up on recruiting trail

Rivals turn up heat on Ohio State, prospects in wake of Jim Tressel's resignation

Updated: June 13, 2011, 12:00 PM ET
By Mitch Sherman | ESPN Recruiting

Questions filled the days in the wake of Jim Tressel's resignation at Ohio State -- questions on the subject of recruiting from every opportunistic OSU rival to its own recruits.

Linebacker Joshua Perry of Galena, Ohio, pledged to the Buckeyes last summer before his junior year at Olentangy High School. He recruited Ohio State, according to Olentangy coach Ed Terwilliger, beginning as a freshman. He dreamed of playing at Ohio Stadium.

"It would take something extremely ridiculous for me to decommit," Perry said.

Even the mention of such an event, though, serves as a sign of the times for Ohio State. Embattled on the inside as it faces months ahead likely to include sanctions from the NCAA and much debate over the football program's coaching future, OSU also faces serious external concerns.

It must forge a plan to attract recruits during this dark period. Say this for the Buckeyes: They're making a strong effort. But so are their conference and national rivals, who smell blood and envision a chance to hammer the reigning six-time Big Ten champions.

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
Greg Bartram/US PresswireInterim Ohio State coach Luke Fickell knows the program can't show any vulnerability on the recruiting trail.
All things recruiting have turned interesting since Tressel's May 30 resignation after the collection of potential NCAA infractions grew too large for him to withstand.

Under the direction of interim coach Luke Fickell, Ohio State has circled the wagons. It's reaching out to committed recruits such as Perry -- and undecided prospects such as wide receiver Dwayne Stanford II of Cincinnati's Taft High -- and calling for unity in the face of adversity.

But other schools are calling, too, to plant the seeds of doubt.

"I don't want Ohio State to get hit like USC got hit," said Stanford, No. 111 on the ESPNU 150 for the class of 2012.

So far, Ohio State has not suffered major hits. It retained the seven commitments, all from Ohio players, in place before Tressel's resignation and added defensive back Tyvis Powell of Bedford, Ohio, two days after the Tressel announcement.

OSU sits 18th in the first ESPN team rankings for this class, released Friday.

Notably, Michigan, with six pledges from Ohio among its 14 commitments, ranks sixth. First-year UM coach Brady Hoke, an Ohio native, would have scored his share of Ohio players in normal conditions. The mess in Columbus enhances Hoke's opportunity.

Lance Schneider, coach at Northmont High School in Clayton, Ohio, watched this spring as his linebacker Kaleb Ringer fell for the Wolverines. Ringer committed to Michigan two months ago.

"Couldn't be a better situation for Michigan," Schneider said. "I know Brady is probably sitting up there laughing right now. He's got to think this is a dream come true."

To muddy the waters further, college coaches are not permitted to call recruits during the summer months. That hasn't stopped the communication, though. Often, a college coach calls the high school coach and asks for a player to return a message.

It has happened plenty of late around Ohio State prospects. Terwilliger, Perry's coach at Galena Olentangy, said he received correspondence from coaches at LSU, Stanford, Southern California, Michigan and Northwestern. They all received the same message -- Perry remains committed to Ohio State.

The only thing that could make him reconsider? "If you ever get to the point where you know you can't be competitive," Terwilliger said, "then that's something you've got to look hard at."

Perry talks regularly to a few of the other OSU recruits.

"We all share the same sentiments," he said.

Ohio State will get its day in front of the NCAA's infractions committee, scheduled for Aug. 12. Sanctions include the possibility of scholarship reductions and a postseason ban, though Perry said he hopes the NCAA takes into consideration the departures of Tressel and tainted quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

"There is a business side to this," Terwilliger said. "Joshua has a great rapport with Coach Fickell, who actually recruited him, but the gray area is waiting to find out what happens down the road."

Stanford, through his high school coach, got calls immediately after Tressel's resignation from assistants Mike Groh at Alabama, Mark Smith at Michigan, Charlie Williams at North Carolina and LSU's Billy Gonzales.

One assistant mentioned that if Stanford picked Ohio State he probably wouldn't get to play in bowl games. Still, the 6-foot-3 receiver plans to stay patient.

"If all this hadn't happened, I definitely would feel much stronger about Ohio State than I do right now," Stanford said. "I don't want to say I would have been already committed, but it would have been something close to that."

Stanford talked to Fickell on Wednesday. On Thursday, coveted defensive end Chris Wormley of Whitmer High School in Toledo, Ohio, received word that Fickell would like to hear from him.

[+] EnlargeStanford
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comOhio State target Dwayne Stanford II, an ESPNU 150 WR, is the kind of player who can help the Buckeyes weather the storm.
The message is consistent.

"They told me they want me to be one of the guys who helps them get through this adversity," Stanford said.

ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said he expects the fallout from the OSU scandal to cause more collateral damage for the Buckeyes outside of Ohio.

High school coaches agree.

"Other schools are going to have to come in and prove themselves," said Dan Reardon, three-time defending Division V state champion coach at Youngstown's Ursuline High School. "People who aren't from here just assume that's going to be easy to do. I'm not so sure."

Powell, the defensive back who committed two days after Tressel resigned, said he didn't worry about long-term problems at OSU. He hoped to make a statement about the stability of Ohio State with the timing of his decision.

"The guys who are there now, they've got something to prove," Powell said. "They can go out there and show they're a good team, no matter who's running the program.

"Yeah, they've got all this negative publicity, but when the season starts, they just go back to being Ohio State."

Sounds promising ... if only it was that simple.

Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at mshermanespn@gmail.com. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman