There's no question that Urban Meyer has always been able to bring in elite offensive recruits, but he recently has proven he can attract big-time defensive players, too. The roll continued on Wednesday, as Ohio State landed two top-100 prospects, according to Rivals.com, in defensive end Jashon Cornell and linebacker Justin Hilliard. This comes on the heels of a strong June, when the Buckeyes secured commitments from two consensus four-star recruits (linebacker Nick Conner and defensive end Dre'Mont Jones) along with five other players (offensive linemen Grant Schmidt, Liam McCullough and Kevin Feder, safety Tyler Green and cornerback Denzel Ward).
Hilliard, out of St. Xavier High in Cincinnati, is the top-rated inside linebacker in the 2015 class, per Rivals.com. He held offers from just about every major program in college football. At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, he has the size, speed and instincts to contribute right away. Cornell, out of Cretin-Derham Hall High in Saint Paul, Minn., shows good burst, runs a 4.67 40-yard dash and, at 6-2 and 261 pounds, should have the frame to put on a little additional weight if Ohio State decides to keep him at end.
"For Hilliard, I see a guy who fits into things quickly," Michael Felder, a college football analyst for Bleacher Report, said. "He understands pass coverage. He understands hammering and splattering. Those are things that define the linebacker position at the college level, and he has that athleticism to run down plays, which is always a plus. With Cornell, as we see a lot with defensive ends, he is going to have a sort of double transition. Certainly, he is a guy who can be cut loose to get after the quarterback on passing downs, but he will have to grow both in size and execution to become a player who can engage with tackles in the Big Ten, disengage and be effective in stopping the run."
What makes these commitments more intriguing is the timing. The Opening is coming up next week in Beaverton, Ore., and both players previously mentioned their plans to advocate for the schools to which they would be headed. This opens up the potential for package deals, as Hilliard and Cornell will try to draw even more blue-chip talent to Columbus. A name that's already being mentioned is five-star running back and top-five overall recruit Damien Harris, who tweeted out his excitement over the news not long after the pair announced their decisions.
Ohio State's defense lost plenty of production from 2013, with Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby moving on to the NFL, among others. But Meyer expressed optimism about the unit after this year's spring game, especially his defensive line. Freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, is set to receive early playing time, and guys like Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett should have opportunities to shine with a deep rotation of capable players.
The Buckeyes coaching staff wants to add reinforcements, particularly ones that can make an immediate impact. After locking up Hilliard and Cornell, it hopes to seize on that momentum and haul in even more star power.
"Ohio State had a bit of a slow start, but recruiting is a long game." Luke Zimmermann, an editor for Land-Grant Holy Land, said. "Every single year. As long as Urban Meyer is at Ohio State, the Buckeyes can expect to finish their recruiting classes with these type of players and classes that average in the top five to top 10 year in and year out."