COLUMBUS (AP) — When opposing recruiters brought up Ohio State's bowl ban and other problems, new Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fought back.
"It was a two-week assault," Meyer said after signing 25 players in what many experts have termed a class that is top-5 in the country. "But instead of waiting for that to come, we went after it. We were extremely pro-active."
Despite a 2012 bowl ban, NCAA probation and recruiting limitations, the forced resignation of Jim Tressel and the most losses (seven) for the Buckeyes since 1897, Meyer's first recruiting class was an unqualified success.
The headline-grabbing position was the defensive line, particularly end, where the Buckeyes locked up Adolphus Washington (6-foot-4, 230 pounds from Cincinnati), Noah Spence (6-4, 245 out of Harrisburg, Pa.) and Se'von Pittman (6-4, 260 from McKinley High in Canton, Ohio).
"I call them the prize of the recruiting class," said Meyer, who won two national championships in six seasons at Florida before working last year for ESPN while sorting through health concerns.
Spence ended up in Columbus despite verbally committing to Penn State — one of four Ohio State recruits who switched allegiance from the Nittany Lions — while Pittman initially indicated he would go to Michigan State. Two others started out by committing to Notre Dame and another to Wisconsin, yet all ended up teammates under Meyer.
"It's always going to start up front," said Luke Fickell, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach and last year's interim coach. "If you're going to start a class, it's up front, whether it's on the offensive or defensive line. The excitement starts there."
Those three signings got the attention of national recruiting observers.
"As with any class at this level, there is a lot to be excited about, but the defensive line stands out as being special," said Scott Kennedy, director of scouting and recruiting for Scout.com.
Meyer also grabbed top running back prospect Bri'onte Dunn and big offensive linemen Taylor Decker (6-8, 315) and Kyle Dodson (6-6, 310).
The Buckeyes didn't get everybody they wanted, however. The player considered by some as the best in the state, offensive lineman Kyle Kalis of Lakewood St. Edward, withdrew his original commitment to Ohio State during the middle of the school's NCAA problems and decided on rival Michigan. On Wednesday, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke called Kalis "a road grader."
In addition, Ohio State only signed one quarterback — former Cleveland Glenville signal-caller Cardale Jones, who spent last year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. The new coaching staff will have just four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster for the 2012 season, although one is Braxton Miller who started almost all of the 2011 season that finished 6-7.
Still, it was a surprising bumper crop, particularly since the recruiting class ranked somewhere between 15 and 25 in the nation in most publications' evaluations before Meyer was hired on Nov. 29.
Ohio State is serving three years of NCAA-mandated probation for failing to monitor Tressel, who played ineligible players during the 2010 season who had taken cash and discounted tattoos from the subject of a federal drug-trafficking probe. As part of their NCAA penalties, the Buckeyes were docked three football scholarships each of the next three years.
The 25 signees put the Buckeyes at 81, according to Meyer. Six of the players who signed Wednesday count against last year's recruit total, plus Meyer hinted that other players may have dropped out, transferred or will not play due to medical reasons.
Many people who follow recruiting closely were stunned by Ohio State's success.
"It's been an amazing performance by Urban Meyer who has re-emphasized his ability to attract elite, national championship-caliber talent," said Allen Wallace, national editor for SuperPrep.com. "This class is strong across the board and from (my) perspective, the best Buckeye recruiting effort in the last 10 years."
Meyer repeatedly tried to rein in some of the hype about the incoming class and his role in bringing it in.
"I keep hearing this is a top 5, top 3, top 10 class," he said. "That doesn't' mean much to me. What really matters is what happens two, three years from now."
Ohio State handed out only four-year scholarships as part of a Big Ten initiative to meet terms of the new four-year rule (as opposed to the previous standard one-year agreement) established recently by the NCAA.
Kennedy expressed surprise at how big a year Meyer and Ohio State had.
"I've had to add an exception to the rule that it takes a full year for a new coach to make an impact," he said. "Urban Meyer's impact at Ohio State this quickly has been unprecedented."
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