A Welcome To Buckeye Nation, And A Pledge

Today is National Letter of Intent Signing Day!  I use initial caps, because for college football fans, it’s a Big Day.  The recruiting wars are finally ended, and the fans of each school count up the number of two-star, three-star, four-star, and five-star athletes who will be joining their teams.  By all accounts, Ohio State, its head coach Urban Meyer, and his hard-working assistants did pretty well this year.  Ezekiel Elliott, whose announcement that he will become a Buckeye is shown here, is one of the more heralded members of the Ohio State class.

When I think of National Letter of Intent Day, however, I think of kids, and their parents.  A high school student who is a stud athlete is still a high school student.  They may run faster, and bench press more, and catch footballs better than your ordinary kids, but deep down they are the same mass of raging hormones that you find in every kid of that age.  They are making a huge decision that could have tremendous, long-term consequences for their lives — and they and their parents are hoping that they make the right decision.  It’s a huge, emotional matter for any high school student about to go away from home to college.  Just imagine what it must be like for a kid who not only is leaving the cocoon of their family, but moving into new territory where their every move will be scrutinized and deconstructed by rabid college football fans.

So, on this National Letter of Intent Signing Day, I want to welcome all of the young men who have committed to come to The Ohio State University — but I especially want to welcome their parents to the family that is Buckeye Nation.

I also want to make this pledge to those parents:  no matter how high the athletic stakes, how big the game, or how colossal the blunder, I will always strive to remember that we are talking about young people here.  I will try to bear in mind that everyone makes mistakes, that we all have committed youthful indiscretions that we regret, and that people can mature and grow and shouldn’t be forever defined by a single, ill-advised decision.  I will always seek to give your kids the benefit of the doubt, just as I would hope that other parents would do with my kids. I suspect I’m not alone in this, so please remember that, for every fan who goes over the top there are dozens, if not hundreds, who support your youngster and wish only the best for him.

Welcome to Buckeye Nation!

Urban On The Recruiting Trail

Urban Meyer has been the head football coach at the Ohio State University for a little over two months.  Tomorrow we will get the first tangible sign of his impact on the program, because it’s National Letter of Intent Signing Day!

For those of you not hip-deep in college football recruiting news, breathless updates, and rankings from recruiting “gurus,” tomorrow is the day when high school seniors sign letters that confirm where they will go to college.  College football fans love the day because they can forget about last year and focus on the new members of their favorite teams — usually knowing nothing about the kid except the “rating” they’ve gotten from “ratings services” and, perhaps, a video of carefully selected high school highlights that can be found on YouTube.  And then, after the signing is done, there will be disputes about which school recruited the best class.  During the off-season, college football fans thrive on that kind of mindless argument.

Coach Meyer has been out working hard, and by all accounts he has done a tremendous job of attracting high-profile players and convincing them that the Ohio State University is the best possible place for them to get an education and display their football talents.  Tomorrow we’ll know exactly who has agreed with him and decided they want to call Columbus home for the next four years.

I don’t pay too much attention to recruiting because history has shown that on-field performance frequently bears no relation to the pre-college opinions of the so-called experts.  Still, recruiting is a big part of the job for a college football coach and his staff.  If you want an elite program, you have to recruit elite players and coach them up to their maximum potential.  Coach Meyer is showing that he is quite skilled at the first part of that job description — which is a good sign for Buckeye fans.

Happy National Signing Day!

Today is National Signing Day.  For those of you who don’t follow college football — and if you fall into that category, you really should reconsider your life priorities — National Signing Day is the day that high school athletes sign letters committing to attend certain schools.  National Signing Day has become a kind of holiday for sports fans, even though the only sports-related activity is the athlete picking up a pen and signing his name.  It has become like Selection Sunday, when the NCAA Tournament field is announced, or the day that pitchers and catchers reports for spring training.

The dynamics of National Signing Day are interesting to observe.  Most teams go into the Day with a roster of “verbals” — athletes who have already verbally committed to sign their letter of intent.  However, there are always a few holdouts who announce their decision on National Signing Day, usually by picking among the caps of competing teams and putting on the hat of the winning school.  As a result, evaluation of recruiting success or failure becomes perversely skewed to the holdouts.  Fans of schools like Ohio State, which already has “verbals” from more than 20 excellent athletes, will focus on the holdouts and feel let down if their team doesn’t land one, when they should be focused less on the prima donnas and more on the corps of fine players who long ago agreed to be part of their school’s program.

When National Signing Day comes, coaches get to finally talk about their recruits.  After they have done so, I imagine they breathe a sign of relief, and then start planning their next recruiting trip.