The state of Ohio has always been synonymous with the game of football.
Ohio has produced Heisman winners Desmond Howard, Troy Smith and Charles Woodson as well as OSU standout Braxton Miller.
But a simple analysis of recent recruiting classes and other data shows how important the state is in producing football talent for Big Ten schools, those in the Mid-American Conference and other programs across the country.
A check of signees in recent years shows that Ohio is the overwhelming leader in signees for both Big Ten and MAC programs. There are a ton of illuminating stats regarding the prowess of Ohio as a recruiting hotbed. They include:
* Over the last three signing classes (2011-13) for the 12 Big Ten schools, Ohio has accounted for 153 of the conference’s 874 football signees. That equates to 17.5 percent. It is almost double the next closest state for Big Ten signees, which is Florida (80 signees last three years, 9.1 percent).
The next four top talent producing states for Big Ten teams in the last three years were: Illinois (76 signees, 8.7 percent), Michigan (54 signees, 6.2 percent), Texas (53 signees, 6.1 percent) and Indiana (49 signees, 5.6 percent).
Those top six states combined to account for 53.2 percent of Big Ten signees in the last three years.
As for the other five Big Ten states, here were their number of Big Ten signees in the last three years: Pennsylvania (40 signees, 4.6 percent), Wisconsin (31 signees, 3.5 percent), Minnesota (22 signees, 2.5 percent), Nebraska (20 signees, 2.3 percent) and Iowa (19 signees, 2.2 percent).
* Looking at the 2013 cycle, Big Ten schools signed 307 players. Ohio produced 55 of those players (17.9 percent).
Ohio was either the leading talent producer or tied for the lead for six of the 12 Big Ten schools, including Ohio State (11 signees), Michigan (nine) and Michigan State (five). Every Big Ten school except Penn State had at least one Ohio product in its 2013 class.
Class of 2014 five-star LB Dante Booker will play his college football for the home-state Buckeyes.
After Ohio, the next closest states for producing Big Ten football talent in 2013 were Illinois with 29, Florida with 28, Texas at 18, California with 16 and Georgia and Michigan with 15.
* Historically, Ohio has produced more than its share of All-Americans. The Buckeye state can boast 11 Heisman Trophy winners in the 77 years of that award.
That list includes two-time winner Archie Griffin (Columbus native) as well as Roger Staubach (Cincinnati native), Desmond Howard (Cleveland native), Charles Woodson (Fremont native) and Troy Smith (Cleveland native).
* Looking at the Mid-American Conference – which has six of its 13 member schools in Ohio – those schools combined to sign 275 athletes in 2013. A total of 57 of those signees (20.7 percent) were from Ohio.
* Opening day rosters for NFL teams in 2013 are being finalized now. Using last year’s NFL roster figures from this survey by USA Football, Ohio more than held its own.
Ohio is seventh nationally in population with an estimated 11.5 million residents. But the Buckeye state was fifth in terms of NFL players on rosters last year with 81.
California (tops in population at 38 million) led in the NFL survey with 207 players. Texas (second in population at 26 million) was next with 200. Florida (fourth in population at 19.3 million) was third in NFL talent with 189. Georgia (eighth in population with 9.9 million residents) was fourth with 92 NFL players last year.
In terms of NFL talent producing hometowns, Miami led the way with 30, followed by Houston (23), Los Angeles (17), Dallas (14) and Cincinnati and Detroit (13 each).
Michigan's Brady Hoke is one of the many coaches from Ohio that recruit the state at their current program.
Cincinnati Elder High School was tied for fifth in terms of high schools with active NFL players with four. (Far and away tops on that list was St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with nine active NFL players last year.)
Ohio: Cradle Of Coaches
Besides talent, a number of top college coaches can say they came from the state of Ohio.
In fact, five of the 12 current Big Ten head coaches are Ohio natives. They include Illinois’ Tim Beckman (Berea native), Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (Zanesville), Michigan’s Brady Hoke (Kettering), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (Ashtabula) and Nebraska’s Bo Pelini (Youngstown).
MSU’s Dantonio discussed how football is part of the fabric of Ohio.
“You grow up on football in that state,” he said. “It is very organized from the bottom up. For example, my high school team, we had 100 kids on the team. You went with two platoons. You had a lot of people who would attend the games.
“It was the event in your hometown every Friday night. I think that was the norm in a lot of towns across Ohio, so you have a lot of strong high school programs. There are some strong traditions across the state. There are some intense rivalries in the different conferences across the state. That’s one of the things you grow up.
“I was fortunate to have coached in Ohio in college and also come from there.”
Pelini has gone back to Ohio each year to find players to augment his recruiting classes at Nebraska.
“Ohio is a good recruiting territory for a lot of people,” he said. “There are a lot of good football players there. You have Ohio State, but they can’t take everybody. A lot of schools can go in there and sign players. You have a large population and a lot of good high school coaching in that state. It is just a fertile recruiting area.”
At Michigan, the Wolverines have won a number of championships and individual honors over the years with Ohio prospects leading that charge.
“We’ve always had great connections in Ohio,” said UM’s Hoke. “I am from there and I recruited there when I was at Ball State and when I’ve been at Michigan. You look at the guys who have come out of there and played at Michigan like (Elvis) Grbac, Desmond (Howard), Charles (Woodson) and others. You could go on and on.
“There has always been a connection between those kids in Ohio and the University of Michigan. It goes back to Coach Schembechler and his roots and what he did. They have a population base. There are a lot of numbers there and Ohio high school football is good.
“We have great respect for the high school football here in the state of Michigan. But when you have a neighboring state you also believe coaches do a great job there. They have a great association, they interact with us, it's a great football state. It's a passionate football state. We're always going to be in the state of Ohio.”
OSU’s Meyer said it’s not a surprise that Ohio has been such a fertile recruiting ground.
“It’s beyond chance that it happens,” Meyer said. “It’s just a great high school atmosphere in this state. Football is very important from the day you’re born. That’s all I knew growing up was the Bengals, Browns, the Buckeyes and high school football.
“I don’t think it happens by coincidence. You are born into the game of football.”
Creating A Culture Of Football
Eric Frantz is the managing editor of JJHuddle.com, a website devoted to Ohio high school athletics. The site is centered around football and attracts more than 10 million page views per year from fans who want to discuss the games, rivalries, players and coaches.
Ohio is seventh nationally among states in population. But the Buckeye state is second in Football Bowl Subdivision schools with eight. Texas leads the way with 12. Florida and California each have seven FCS schools, while Michigan has five and Indiana has four.
Frantz said that by having so many college programs within driving distance it opens opportunities for Ohio student-athletes to get scholarships. That push helps fuel the fire for the state’s 700-plus football playing high schools.
“You have so many colleges in this state,” Frantz said. “I played at Ashland. In my senior year, we made it to the Division II playoffs. We were the only Division II team in the state at the time and the only one who could accomplish that but we did it.
“In the same year, Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in the national polls, Youngstown State won the Division I-AA title. I think Mount Union won the Division III title and in the NAIA Findlay may have won the national championship. And even at high school, Canton McKinley won the USA Today national high school championship.
“At every level of football, this state can produce. There are 718 high schools. Most states don’t have anywhere near that. That’s just phenomenal.”
This 2013 season will mark a change from six state high school championships to seven division. Those title games will be spread out over three days in early December in the Canton and Massillon area.
“I don’t think it will impact the schools at the lowest levels that much,” Frantz said. “They will still have about 100 schools statewide in each division. It pushes the biggest 72 schools in Ohio to the top qualification. Thirty-two of them will make the playoffs.
“There are towns like Troy and schools like Massillon Washington and Cleveland Glenville that will actually be in the Division II classification instead of Division I because of their enrollment. They’ve been Division I in the past. It will open up avenues for schools that haven’t won a state championship recently to contend for it.”
Frantz talked in general about what makes Ohio high school so special.
“To me, one of the big things is the tradition of football in the state,” Frantz said. “You look at Ohio State as a huge public institution that has been successful for a long time. They had Woody Hayes and that regime. Those things were ingrained into the fabric of this state.
“When you also have the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton and the season officially starts every year with that Hall of Fame Game, it just seems like Ohio is a lightning rod for the game of football. That carries down throughout the younger ages.
“When I was younger, they didn’t offer football until the fourth grade. Now my son can play flag football in kindergarten. The interest in football in this state just continues to bubble over. I think it’s a trickle down effect. There are two professional teams in the state as well.”
While Ohio has a reputation of producing linemen, Frantz noted how a number of top skill position players – like Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. from Cleveland Glenville, current Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller from Huber Heights Wayne and others – have also come from the state.
“You look at guys in the past like Desmond Howard,” Frantz said. “Ohio has produced outstanding and athletic football talent for years. Just here recently with Ohio State’s performance in championship games and the Big Ten’s performance in bowl games, it may be a black eye for that conference.
“They will have to get rid of that stigma and that will happen. In Ohio, there is a lot of speed and athletic talent. Just look at Braxton Miller right now … enough said.”
Plenty Of Talent To Go Around
Mark Porter operates ScoutingOhio.com, which is primarily a scouting service for college coaches to locate and assess high school talent.
In any given year, Porter has noted that Ohio will produce 150 to 175 Division I signees. That could typically break down as 50 or so to Big Ten schools, 50 to MAC schools and another 50 or so to other conferences. (Cincinnati, another Ohio-based school, is a member of the new American Athletic Conference.)
Ohio State typically has dominated with high end Ohio talent, signing the likes of Miller in 2011, defensive end Adolphus Washington in 2012 and Jalin Marshall and Cam Burrows this past year. Michigan has also gotten its share of Ohio blue chippers like Joe Bolden, Kyle Kalis and Chris Wormley in 2012.
But there have been some leaks. In 2010, Texas nabbed linebacker Jordan Hicks and LSU snagged running back Spencer Ware. In 2011, Alabama came north and grabbed linebacker Trey DePriest. This past year, North Carolina struck gold with quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
“Ohio State has said many times, ‘We can’t take all of them,’ ” Porter said. “You want to take them all and offer every good kid in Ohio. But at a certain point, they only end up around 10 or 15 Ohio guys each year.”
Porter agreed that the opportunities MAC schools create – both in and around the rim of Ohio – is what helps perpetuate the talent cycle in Ohio.
“The state would not be as powerful without the MAC,” Porter said. “Think of all the pro prospects that come out of the MAC each year and are drafted so highly. Recruiting is not an exact science. You don’t know who is going to go to class, who’s going to lift weights and who will project four years down the road. The MAC is a nice landing pad for ones that don’t make it to Ohio State or Cincinnati.
“Then you have other places like Pittsburgh or Michigan or Kentucky that can make Ohio a home state with recruiting. Louisville is another one as well. Michigan State almost considers Ohio more important to recruit than Michigan. That pool is tiny, the Pennsylvania pool is tiny. West Virginia and Kentucky, there is no pool. So a lot of schools target Ohio.”
Porter said the proliferation of year round workouts, camps and combines for football prospects – even without organized spring football practice, as they have in Florida, Texas and other states – has led more kids to specialize in just training to play football.
“There are two schools of thought on that,” Porter said. “Some football coaches say, ‘I want to see my guys play different sports. I want to see them wrestle or play baseball or basketball because it shows what kind of great athlete they are.’
“But it has become so specialized now that if you don’t train year round in your sport, you’re going to get passed. You have to work on speed training and the finite details. It’s too competitive. There are too many kids competing for scholarships and not enough of them to go around.”
Football prospects are constantly bombarded with invitations to camps and combines where they can get exposure. They are also invited by colleges to their summer camps during June and July. Porter said he could probably attend a recruiting event within driving distance nearly every weekend from February through July.
“It has become way oversaturated,” Porter said. “It’s way unnecessary. I classify the camps as college camps or press camps. College camps are held on college campuses by college coaches. If you have a good day there, you can be awarded a scholarship. You could say $100,000 is on the line.
“That’s an NFL tryout-type scenario. That’s a big-time event for you. I don’t care if you’re going to Bowling Green or Kent State or Ohio State. There is a lot riding on it.
“Then there are the press camps that are run by Nike, Under Armour, Rivals, Scout or whoever else. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has a camp. Those aren’t as necessary because even if a player attends those camps, the college coaches still want to see you at their camp. You can run a 4.4 at that camp, but the college coach will still want to see you do that on their stopwatch and legitimize it.
“The best thing that happens at the press camps is you may get an article on you and a star rating from the services. It’s debatable how powerful that really is for your future. The tryout in front of coaches is more important.”
Porter said prospects – particularly in a talent-rich state like Ohio – should pick the college camps they attend on a realistic basis.
“Out of 30 camps you could go to, maybe you pick six or eight camps,” Porter said. “The players don’t want to burn themselves out or get injured. They want to go to these press camps for exposure and I tell them they don’t want to go there and get exposed.
“Out of 500 kids at a camp, maybe 15 will be the elite guys. The rest get exposed as not good enough. That can happen sometimes, especially when the competition is tough like it is here in Ohio.”
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