January 28, 2012

As the nation fixates on the ever-growing media maelstrom that accompanies the months leading up to the presidential election, another campaign comes drawing to a close. It's also characterized by powerful men traveling the country, attempting to woo their audiences with long term goals and promises of a brighter future. That's right, National Signing Day is just days away, and time remains for many coaches to significantly bolster their programs.

"It's probably the sport that's most like politics," said JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director for 247Sports.com, "because it depends on the opinions of young people and media and coaches. The voters get to vote for the championship and the young people decide if you're going to win because that's how you get personnel."

With the end in sight, a familiar candidate has emerged for the top class in the nation. Ohio State -- coming off its first seven-loss season since 1897 -- boasts the No. 3 haul according to Rivals' team rankings. After beginning the season with a broken team, plagued by an ousted coach and a fleeting quarterback, the Buckeyes have entered the upper echelon.

The reason for the surge, of course, was the Nov. 28 hiring of Urban Meyer. In the mere months since he took over, he's lured seven four- and five-star prospects to Columbus. More could follow on Feb. 1.

"He's a relentless recruiter. I mean he is relentless," said Jeff Weachter, the coach of defensive end Noah Spence at Bishop McDevitt (Pa.). "When Urban puts his mind to it that he wants a kid, he doesn't break the rules, but he's going to pull out all the stops."

That approach certainly worked on Spence, a prized 6-foot-4, 245-pound pass-rusher who committed to Ohio State on Dec. 18. According to Weachter, Spence was still considering a number of other schools when Meyer inquired about him after his hiring. Meyer, former interim coach Luke Fickell and linebackers coach Mike Vrabel attended McDevitt's state championship game, and, in the words of Weachter, "made Noah feel that, hey, we're not just giving you lip service, we really want you to be here."

Spence soon trekked to Columbus for his official visit. Two days later, he was the newest member of the Buckeyes' incoming class.

"If it wouldn't have been for Urban and his efforts, he probably wouldn't have even went out and visited," said Weachter, who has sent 62 players, including Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, to Division-I schools. "[Urban is] very impressive when he sits down with a family."

Another huge signing for Meyer was Tommy Schutt, a four-star defensive tackle from Glenbard West (Ill.). Originally interested in Ohio State, Schutt was deterred after the Jim Tressel scandal, giving his verbal commitment to Penn State in August. He questioned that pledge after the Jerry Sandusky allegations, and soon received a call from Meyer. On Dec. 12, he committed to spending the next four years in Columbus.

"I think, as a player and a recruit, that Urban Meyer going to a place like Ohio State is definitely a big deal," Schutt said. "Kids that are committed will definitely still be taking looks at Ohio State before Signing Day now."

Dave Schutt, Tommy's father, was similarly impressed with Meyer's approach -- and not just the X's and O's of his pitch.

"I haven't seen anything quite like the Urban Meyer brand," he said. "He's enthusiastic, he puts family first, [and] he has an obviously tremendous winning record. He really tries to put emphasis on the fact that we're going to be a football family that everybody can be proud of and be a part of."

"I think he'll be a recruiting force across the nation," he added. "He is truly persuasive."

Meyer used all of that persuasive power to flip another four-star lineman, Se'Von Pittman out of Canton McKinley (Ohio). Pittman was bound for Michigan State, a program that plucked him from Ohio State's backyard in June. As with Schutt, Tressel's resignation also played a part in Pittman opting to originally spurn the Buckeyes.

"Once coach Tressel was let go, it made my decision hard," Pittman recalled. "I had to worry about, was I going to be happy at Ohio State? Because Tressel was a big part of the reason why I was going to commit there."

Pittman developed strong relationships with Spartans' coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, committing to Michigan State in June. Once Meyer took over, however, the prospect of playing for a coach with a pedigree equal to -- or perhaps even greater than -- Tressel's was simply too tantalizing to resist.

"Everyone says they want a national championship, but when a guy like Urban Meyer says he wants to go get it again you better believe him, because he's been there," Pittman said. "And let's not forget, he is at The Ohio State University, which is a great entity in itself."

It's important to remember that the bulk of the program's 2012 class has been on board since before Meyer was brought on. To these players, the chance to don the scarlet and gray was a privilege that turmoil and coaching changes couldn't taint. Linebacker Joshua Perry out of Olentangy (Ohio) committed in June of 2010 -- the first official pledge in this year's class -- and hasn't wavered one bit.

"I realized that coaches might not be there for the duration of my career, so what I had to fall in love with was the school and the atmosphere and the idea of becoming a Buckeye," said Perry. "When you hear about a program like Ohio State, you know that no matter what they're going to get back to the top. It might take a little time, but you know they're going to win games."

Warren Ball, a running back from St. Francis DeSales High (Ohio), echoed those sentiments.

"I was a little shocked at first," he said of the Tressel fiasco, "but Ohio State is more than one person. It never once changed my viewpoint of Ohio State. I still remained 100 percent committed."

That mentality, coupled with the efforts of interim coach Fickell to recruit in a season fraught with instability, allowed the Buckeyes to land six four-star recruits before Meyer's hiring. Thirteen of the 16 pre-Meyer commits hailed from Ohio, demonstrating the school's reputation resonated with in-state players even as the team stumbled to a 6-7 finish.

But make no mistake: Meyer's impact is tremendous. And given what's shaping up to be a top three class -- and possibly No. 1, if Meyer can land No. 8 prospect Stefon Diggs -- Ohio State should be a recruiting behemoth for years to come.

"I think the stability question was answered in such a dramatic way with Urban Meyer coming and taking that job," said Shurburtt. "I think he's one of the top recruiting head coaches in the country. I see them signing great classes year-in and year-out."

Despite being ineligible for a bowl in 2012, Ohio State will certainly be a candidate for next year's top recruiting class -- and could be gunning for a national championship run in the not so distant future. Don't be surprised if several "Meyer for President" signs start appearing on lawns in Columbus before the election next fall.

"If you're a Buckeyes fan you're going to enjoy seeing your school in the thick of things for the nation's top prospects," said Shurburtt.

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