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January 13, 2012
M-E-Y-E-R is often the first name in recruiting
YAHOO! SPORTS RADIO: David Fox talks about Meyer
The round trip from Columbus, Ohio, to Hershey, Pa., is about 760 miles or roughly enough to make an impression on Pennsylvania's top recruit.
In mid-December, weeks after Urban Meyer was introduced as Ohio State's head coach, Meyer and assistants Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel traveled to Hershey for a state championship game involving defensive end Noah Spence of Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt.
A nice gesture, but a grandiose one considering Spence would be on Ohio State's campus the following day for an official visit. Spence committed by the end of that visit.
That's the kind of recruiting edge Ohio State wanted when it hired Meyer in late November to replace Jim Tressel, who resigned in May amid an NCAA investigation. A bowl ban and scholarship limits will sting the program, but the Buckeyes don't expect to lose any ground on the recruiting trail.
"[Meyer] likes the thought of winning, and every recruiting battle is like another game," said Temple defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, who has served on coaching staffs with Meyer since the mid-1980s at Ohio State. "You win or you lose; you have strategy and effort. If you win you feel tremendous, and if you lose you feel lousy. Every recruiting battle was the same way."
In his first month on the job, Meyer revamped Ohio State's 2012 defensive line class. He plucked a commitment from Penn State (four-star tackle Tommy Schutt) and another from Michigan State (four-star end Se'Von Pittman) plus the five-star Spence, who strongly considered Maryland and Penn State before Meyer called.
"He's an unbelievable recruiter," Schutt told Rivals.com. "He talks to you for five minutes and you know you want to be here. He's intense."
His energy doesn't surprise Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who served as Meyer's defensive coordinator with the Utes.
"If there's an area where you're going to compromise, it's not going to be recruiting," Whittingham said. "That's your lifeblood. You can't compromise recruiting in any way, shape or form."
It always has been that way.
Meyer's career started at Bowling Green, where he built the foundation of a program that went 17-6 under him and 20-6 the following two seasons. Meyer recruited at a higher level at Utah, signing many of the key cogs on the Utes' two undefeated teams in five seasons.
[ More Ohio State: BuckeyeGrove.com ]
At Florida, Meyer became a national force on the recruiting trail. He was the Gators' coach on six national signing days, and four of those classes were ranked in the top three nationally. Those classes produced two Heisman winners (Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, who won his award at Auburn) and nine All-Americans.
Altogether, Meyer as a coach has signed 23 players who were on 2011 NFL rosters and 25 who earned first-team all-conference honors in college.
As a recruiter, Meyer has the reputation of being relentless in trying to land players. He's known for flipping recruits from other programs to his. He once was a vocal critic of the NCAA's decision to ban text messaging in recruiting, partly because he made liberal use of texts to contact prospects.
But those around Meyer note his organizational skills and ability to build relationships with prospects as bigger keys to his success. Recruiting to Florida, and now Ohio State, helps draw top talent as well.
Heater has a simpler explanation.
"A lot of it is extreme, maniacal effort," said Heater, Meyer's recruiting coordinator for three seasons at Florida. "It's not overly complicated. He has a tremendous work ethic. Most of the time, it's about the work component and the labor of it all."
One question is if Meyer can maintain his all-consuming recruiting style at Ohio State after citing health concerns when he resigned from Florida.
So far, he has not shown any indication of diminished results. In addition to the three defensive line commitments since Meyer was hired on Nov. 28, Ohio State is continuing to pursue Rivals100 and Rivals250 prospects to fill out a recruiting class that stands at 19 commitments. He's also making inroads on the class of 2013.
"Meyer has made such a big, early impact on the recruiting trail because he is fearless, and that trait certainly has not diminished in the year since he left Florida," Rivals.com Midwest recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt said. "He walks into every recruitment with the confidence that he can get that kid to sign with Ohio State, and his string of recent successes only furthers that mindset. He is not afraid to go to any region of the country or recruit against any program to get the kids he wants."
Meyer's "maniacal effort" starts early for most recruits. A major part is homework - learning about a recruit's family, friends, girlfriend and overall personality. After that, it's developing a game plan, not unlike a game plan for Saturdays - what tactics will work for an individual recruit, and what kind of coaching-staff teamwork will help successfully close on a recruit.
Weeks after he was introduced as Ohio State coach, Meyer asked his director of player personnel Mark Pantoni to contact Middletown (Ohio) athlete Jalin Marshall, one of the state's top prospects for 2013, via Facebook. Pantoni passed along a phone number for Marshall to give to his brother, De'Ante.
The number was for the Ohio State football offices. When De'Ante called, he was put in touch with Meyer.
De'Ante believes the previous staff mentioned Jalin and De'Ante were close despite their age difference (De'Ante is 30, Jalin is 16) and that De'Ante lives in Columbus while Jalin lives outside Cincinnati.
Meyer invited De'Ante to visit the campus. In a twist of luck, Marshall's parents planned to visit the same weekend. All three visited with Meyer and met the coach face-to-face before Jalin, the recruit.
"Most people would think 'Have your brother call me' is strange," Marshall said. "They did some research."
Any other time of the year, that research could be called scouting.
Meyer's recruiting success is not just because of him. Throughout his career, he has surrounded himself with assistants who are considered among the top recruiters in the country.
At Ohio State, he retained interim coach Fickell, who was one of Rivals.com's top 25 recruiters nationally for the 2011 class and a top-10 recruiter in the Big Ten in 2009 and '10. He also retained Stan Drayton, one of Rivals' top recruiters in the SEC during his time at Florida.
The list goes on: Temple coach Steve Addazio has been Rivals.com's SEC recruiter of the year. Louisville coach Charlie Strong was among Rivals' top 25 recruiters in 2007 and '08. New Illinois offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales, Marshall coach Doc Holliday and Florida running back coach Brian White were other Meyer assistants among Rivals' top SEC recruiters during their time at Florida.
"He has great recruiters around him all the time," said Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray, who was in Meyer's 2008 class. "He didn't recruit me that much. It was more my position coach, Charlie Strong, coming around to visit."
Letting an assistant fly solo - or almost solo - may be an aberration, though.
"He was involved in everything in recruiting," said Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who worked with Meyer from 1998-2008 at four schools. "That was his deal. He has great relationships and great rapport with kids."
There also was a lengthy record of player arrests (30) during Meyer's tenure at Florida. Some charges were dropped or reduced, and Meyer called the record at Florida "exaggerated" in his introductory news conference at Ohio State.
Meyer said he did not recruit players with poor character, rather players who made mistakes.
"Sometimes he can become so tight with these kids during the recruiting process and he treats them like members of his extended family," said Mark Wheeler, publisher of InsidetheGators.com. "He can overlook some off field stuff where other coaches might kick them to the curb."
For all of Meyer's successes, he has had his share of misses, too. From his final three recruiting classes (2008-10) at Florida, only two players, cornerback Janoris Jenkins (who was later dismissed) and kicker Caleb Sturgis, has earned first-team All-SEC honors.
While preparing for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, the state of Ohio's top prospect, said he took a phone call from Meyer. Kalis, from Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward, said he told Meyer he appreciated the thought but that he remained committed to Michigan.
The remarkable part wasn't Meyer reaching out to Kalis, a Michigan commitment since July. It's that Kalis resisted when others didn't.
Recruiting always will be hard work, requiring that maniacal effort, fearlessness and contributions from an entire coaching staff. Now at Ohio State, Meyer has the same advantages he had during his latter years at Florida: Momentum as a title-winning coach.
"Now, he's built a reputation as a winner," Mullen said. "It always makes it easier to say, 'We've won a bunch of national championships and we can do it again.'"