Doug Nester was waiting in line for the shots that Spring Valley (W.Va.) High administers to its incoming seniors when he checked his phone and saw something more troubling than a metal syringe: Ohio State had placed Urban Meyer, the head coach to which he gave a verbal pledge nearly a year ago, on paid administrative leave. “Really wasn’t expecting anything like that,” says Nester, one of the nation’s top senior offensive guards and the first player to commit to the Buckeyes’ 2019 class. “Right now, I’m just sitting back. You got to wait and see what happens with him.”
The 15 players committed to the 2019 class Meyer and his assistants are putting together find themselves in a similar position. As the school continues its investigation into Meyer’s handling of domestic violence allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the commits are all getting assurances from Ohio State staff members and, through intermediaries, from Meyer himself. “His messages are getting to the kids, and his side is being communicated,” says one high school coach of a 2019 commit. As the investigation into Meyer’s handling of the Zach Smith situation winds down—news could come at any moment, and the school put a 14-day deadline on the investigatory group’s process on Aug. 5—Ohio State has not lost any of the pledges in its 2019 class. One of the reasons for that is becoming clear: Some recruits are receiving all-will-be-well assurances indirectly from Meyer, whose university phone was confiscated when he was placed on leave Aug. 1.
As you’d expect, Meyer’s assistants are actively recruiting in an attempt to hold together a class that sits eighth in the 247Sports composite rankings. An NCAA dead period began on Aug. 1, so coaches can only converse with players if recruits open the dialogue.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and Meyer and his staff have excelled in bringing some of the best high school players to Columbus over the course of Meyer’s seven years, during which time the Buckeyes have finished no worse than seventh in the 247Sports composite rankings, earning a No. 2 ranking in both 2017 and ’18. The current class includes one five-star prospect and 11 more ranked as four-stars. Eight of the 15 players in the class are ranked in the top 10 at their position, including the No. 2 receiver (Garrett Wilson of Austin, Texas), the No. 2 center (Harry Miller of Buford) and Nester, the No. 2 offensive guard.
So far, Ohio State has held this group together, and 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong believes the staff’s communication with recruits is behind it. “I think if it was a different school with a staff that didn’t do as good of a job communicating, you’d probably have more fallout,” Wiltfong says. “Ohio State is as good as it gets in communicating with their kids and targets.”
Brad Dingess, Nester’s head coach at Spring Valley High, says the exchanges between his player and the staff, namely offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, “hasn’t changed one bit. They touch base like normal.”
Pat Cilento coaches safety commit Bryson Shaw at Maryland’s Bullis School, and he says Shaw has communicated regularly with new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins, a Bullis School product himself. “The one good thing about all of this: He has until December [the three-day early signing period begins on Dec. 19 this year] if something were to go astray,” Cilento says.
Lexington (Ohio) High head coach Taylor Gerhardt Ohio State commitment Cade Stover, has not discussed the situation with four-star outside linebacker Cade Stover, who committed to Ohio State in April. Lexington is just an hour’s drive from Columbus, the closest of any high school with a current 2019 Ohio State commitment, and Gerhardt describes it as “Ohio State country.” That said, the focus has been on Lexington’s preparations for their own 2018 season and not the situation 60 miles away. “I’ll be honest, there has not been a whole lot of talk at practice and at school about what’s going on. I’m proud of that,” Gerhardt says.
This is a busy time for high school players as they prepare for highly scrutinized senior years—for some commitments, the regular season has already started, and others begin theirs on Friday night. Still others are in the midst of the most important time in any football program’s year: preseason camp. As the status of their future head coach is being decided, the commitments’ current coaches are steering them to the present. “Once we get going, those guys love football,” Cilento says. “They only have so many opportunities to play in high school.”
Meyer’s situation hasn’t yet sent any kind of ripple through the sea of college football recruiting, Wiltfong says, aside from one prospect delaying his commitment announcement in the wake of Meyer’s leave. “If there’s going to be a fallout in recruiting, it would be afterward, if [Meyer] were to be let go,” he says. “Since there’s an end in sight, people can afford to be patient.”
Not every player’s decision hinges directly on Meyer’s status beyond 2018. Take for instance four-star athlete Steele Chambers, of Blessed Trinity Catholic (Ga.) High School, whose “decision is made” no matter what might happen, according to head coach Tim McFarlin. McFarlin has met with Chambers and his parents to discuss the ordeal.
“Steele’s approach is this: He’s committed to Ohio State. We’re planning on him being there,” McFarlin says. “If something happens … Steele is not the kind of guy to jump ship. He was impressed a lot about Ohio State. Coach Meyer is a big part of it, but when he went, the environment, game day experience and academics all played into it for him.”
Meanwhile, Nester awaits word on the man he’s built a relationship with over the last several months. “Got to stay faithful,” he says.