Ohio recruiting battle heats up

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel celebrates with his team after their NCAA football game against Indiana University in Columbus, Ohio in this October 9, 2010 file photo. The Ohio State University announced on May 30, 2011 that head coach Tressel had resigned and that Fickell will take over as interim head coach for the 2011 season. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Things have changed dramatically in the Big Ten since Ohio State defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl last year behind Terrelle Pryor and other Buckeyes who were set to start suspensions at the beginning of the 2012 season. The ensuing scandal has claimed Jim Tressel’s job, sent Terrelle Pryor to the NFL supplemental draft and has added uncertainty to Ohio State’s 2012 recruiting operation. Ohio State vacated last season’s wins and Gene Smith is hoping the NCAA won’t impose more sanctions, but there’s uncertainty and it’s impacting Ohio State’s recruiting.

Meanwhile, the powers that be at Michigan came to their senses and parted ways with Rich Rodriguez. They hired Brady Hoke, and now they’re going after 300-pound linemen again. At Michigan State, Mark Dantonio continues to turn that program around as well.

With the problems at Ohio State, Hoke and Dantonio are going after the talented recruits in the state of Ohio that were mostly locked up during the Tressel years. Michigan just landed Kyle Kalis, a huge lineman from the Cleveland area who is a top-150 recruit according to ESPN. He had originally committed to Ohio State, but then changed his mind in the face of potential sanctions.

Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski is giddy in his recent column as he explains the potential for Michigan and Michigan State to turn the tables on the Buckeyes if more Ohio recruits shun the Buckeyes. As he points out, “since 2001, Michigan and Michigan State are a combined 1-15 against Ohio State.” Part of it was coaching, but recruiting was very important as well as Tressel did a great job of keeping the best Ohio players in Ohio.

There’s no doubt that the Michigan schools will get a boost, but even Wojnowski admits it will likely be temporary, and it might not affect the balance of power much at all.

First, consider that Ohio State had a monster recruiting class last year, and they were already loaded with young talent. The Buckeyes picked up two quarterbacks last year that could make them set at the position for the next six years! Braxton Miller was a top-ranked recruit last year, and many think he can start this year as a true freshman. He’s a mobile quarterback, but he’s also a pure passer with great instincts as well. He’s not a physical specimen like Pryor, but he’ll likely be a better all-around quarterback.

The Buckeyes also picked up Glenville’s Cardale Jones who many see as a Pryor clone. He’s big, strong and fast, and many think he has a better arm than Pryor. He’ll be grayshirting as he needs to go to a prep school to work on academics. If that works out, he can redshirt the following year and then be available for the following four years.

Next, Ohio State is still getting recruits. Kalis was a huge loss, but the other nine 2012 commits have decided to stay with the Buckeyes. They are all Ohio kids but they aren’t top-150 stars, and the Buckeyes aren’t getting an national recruits. Instead, they’re getting kids who bleed scarlet and gray. Just this week they added two more recruits, Luke Roberts and Patrick Elfein. Neither of these guys were snagged away from top programs like USC or Alabama, but they are solid recruits from the state of Ohio. Ohio State has plenty of blue-chippers from the previous three recruiting classes, having one “down” year where they load up on high-character kids who love the Buckeyes can actually be a positive.

This brings us to Luke Fickell, Ohio State’s “interim” head coach. Fickell is determined to infuse the team with values like toughness and character, and he recently brought on Mike Vrabel as an assistant coach. This was a real coup, as Vrabel brings his three Super Bowl rings and a ton of credibility to the coaching staff. Wojnowski had a peculiar reaction, calling the hiring of the “inexperienced” Vrabel an act of “desperation.” This is where the optimism in Michigan might be getting a little overblown. Vrabel played with Fickell, and hiring a 14-year NFL veteran with three Super Bowl rings as linebackers coach is hardly a desperate move. Also, Vrabel will be a huge help in recruiting, as Luke Roberts stated when he committed to OSU this week.

Unless Ohio Sate gets massive additional penalties from the NCAA, I doubt the recruiting landscape will change much as a result of the scandal after this year. Ohio State will get back to landing the best recruits out of Ohio, and that will give them a big edge against their rivals.

The factor that will have an effect on the balance of power is coaching. Michigan made a huge mistake going to RichRod and getting away from physical football. They panicked when Tressel was racking up wins against Lloyd Carr, so they made things worse by bringing in a coach who thought he could win with Big East tactics and players. With Brady Hoke, Michigan has a good change of at least getting back to a competitive rivalry just by playing Big Ten football. Hoke is taking advantage of the current situation, so that will help speed up Michigan’s anticipated comeback. Dantonio will keep Michigan State competitive, and Ohio State will be fine either with Fickell if he proves himself or another coach next year.

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Maurice Clarett sticks up for Jim Tressel and Ohio State

As an Ohio State fan, I was dreading what Maurice Clarett might say when I heard that he would be appearing on the Dan Patrick radio program this morning. The bad news has been coming out daily regarding Terrelle Pryor, and the last thing Buckeye fans needed was more allegations from Clarett.

Instead, Clarett defended Jim Tressel and Ohio State, laying the blame instead on the culture surrounding college football and the difficulty have putting inner-city kids in a situation where they’re treated like gods but have to live on a modest stipend that doesn’t cover the real costs of living in a place like Columbus.

Here’s Clarett on Tressel:

“People respect Jim Tressel because he’s a man,” Clarett said. “He’s a man’s man, you know what I mean? The guy has integrity. He has class. I look at Jim Tressel every day and just Google his name and see articles come up with reputable people sticking their necks out for him. He’s a good man who got caught up in a bad situation. You can’t be a fraud for 30 years. It’s impossible, you know what I’m saying? People could smell a fraud within the first few months. You’re going to be exposed. But for 30 years that man has been respected by the people who are very respectable throughout the country. It’s not right for that man to get done like that.”

This one is surprising, since Clarett made all sorts of allegations about Tressel in the past. Has Clarett grown up? Is he able to see Tressel’s entire body of work now that he has some perspective? Is he trying to win back favors from Ohio State fans? Life in Columbus can be very lucrative for former Buckeyes who were winners, and Clarett blew that opportunity in the past.

More importantly for Ohio State, Clarett doesn’t implicate the university in the recent scandals or with his own problems in the past:

During a sometimes rambling 13-minute interview on the Dan Patrick Radio Show on Wednesday morning, Maurice Clarett insisted there is no organized system of providing extra benefits to Ohio State football players.

“There’s no secret regime, no secret congregation of people who sit around at Ohio State and give young guys money, who say, ‘Let me give you X amount of dollars or thousands of dollars,’ nothing like that,” Clarett told Patrick on his nationally syndicated show. “Anything that any players goes and gets is all based on him and who he meets in the community. When he goes out and meets a fan or he meets somebody, he’s going to meet that person himself and create a relationship himself and do what he does. A coach has no control over what the young guys are doing, know what I’m saying?”

In light on the NCAA’s absurd decision to vacate USC’s national championship, some Buckeye fans have been dreading any news from Clarett that might stretch an investigation all the way back to the 2002 National Championship. Ohio State will face some stiff penalties, but the Buckeyes need to contain the damage.

In the end, Clarett adds to the drumbeat of players, coaches and commentators saying that the current system is deeply flawed. The flawed system doesn’t exonerate Pryor or Reggie Bush, guys who seem to have gone well beyond minor violations for petty cash, but guys like Clarett have a point when they describe the circumstances that will inevitably lead to violations in every major program.

Terrelle Pryor ends his career at Ohio State

Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) drops back to pass while taking on the University of Arkansas during the NCAA BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl football game in New Orleans, Louisiana January, 4, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Terrelle Pryor has released a statement through his attorney stating that he’s done at Ohio State.

Several days ago he was pushing back on reports that he was using cars improperly through his attorney, but now he’s ending his career. It makes you wonder what else Ohio State and the NCAA has discovered during their investigation.

Last night I wrote about the absurdity of taking away championships and wins from schools like USC after the fact. Here, Pryor was suspended and was facing the potential for more penalties, and it’s appropriate to punish players going forward for their actions. It’s not appropriate to look back and punish his teammates who earned their victories on the field. Instead, as I argued last night, the school should be punished by forfeiting bowl money and TV money. It’s all about the money these days anyways . . .

UPDATE: More dirt is coming out about Pryor, with allegations being reported by ESPN that Pryor made tens of thousands of dollars signing memorabilia.

UPDATE 2: This story is going to get ugly for Ohio State. Brooks is reporting even more details about Pryor and the money he was making selling stuff.

Terrelle Pryor and other Ohio State players attack SI report

Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor and head coach Jim Tressel celebrate after defeating the Oregon Ducks in the 96th Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California, in this January 1, 2010 file photo. Five Ohio State American football players, including Pryor, were suspended on Thursday for five games next season for selling awards and gifts but can still play in next month’s Sugar Bowl. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said the players must also repay money and benefits they received ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 to charity for selling off items including championship rings. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Do you believe everything you read? Well it seems like every national sportswriter and pundit is treating the Sports Illustrated article on Ohio State written by George Dohrmann as if it were holy scripture. Never mind that the primary source is an admitted criminal and most of the other allegations came from anonymous sources. SI cited 9 more players who sold Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos, so that’s the number – right? 28 players did the same thing starting in 2002. Check! So as a result you have every college football “expert” tossing around phrases like “completely out of control” when describing the Ohio State program.

Now we have Terrelle Pryor and other players responding to the allegations through their families and representatives, and the story no longer seems so cut and dry.

The attorney assigned to represent Terrelle Pryor and the other current Buckeyes identified in the SI article, Larry James, said that he doesn’t expect the Ohio State quarterback to be hit with NCAA violations over the cars he’s been driving at OSU, saying “I’m satisfied that this should go away.”

As for the cars, James said Pryor’s mother, Thomasina, purchased three cars for him during the course of his Ohio State career. James said Pryor also used three or four loaner cars in the past three years while his car was being repaired.

James said the first car was a Hyundai Sonata, which Pryor drove for a year, and the second was a Dodger Charger, both bought in the Pryors’ hometown of Jeanette, Pa. James said that the Charger was recently traded in for the 2007 Nissan 350Z that Pryor drove to a team meeting Monday night. James provided the bill of sale that showed a trade-in of more than $7,000 for the Charger, with Pryor’s mother then paying $11,435.05 for the car, financed at nearly $300 a month for more than four years.

James said Thomasina works 40 to 50 hours a week as a lab technician at a hospital, and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Columbus.

“She has a home, not in the most desirable place to be, at a very nice rent rate because of the area of town that it’s in,” James said, explaining how she can afford to buy the car for her son.

“It paints a different picture. I think it’s unfortunate how the picture has been painted. You don’t have someone living high on the hog.”

Also Thursday, Pryor had his previously suspended license reinstated when he showed proof of insurance at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles office.

Also, James is pulling together Ohio State memorabilia from the other current players included in the SI article.

James said he is working with those players and their families to gather memorabilia, like Big Ten championship rings and Gold Pants trinkets. He estimated that if there are 50 items in question among the nine players, he expects to have 48 of the items in his Columbus office by 5 p.m. on Monday. Asked why he was gathering the memorabilia, James said he couldn’t say. But it’s reasonable to assume it is to show as proof to NCAA investigators.

The presence of that memorabilia would not rule out the possibility that players traded other items or autographs for cash or tattoos, but James said, “There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that.” James said some, but not all, of the nine players in question have visited the tattoo parlor in question, adding, “but unless you got something, there’s not a violation.”

Coming out of his meeting with the NCAA, James said the following: “I would say the proceedings do not cause me any angst at this point.”

Parent of some of the players are also speaking out.

Junior linebacker Storm Klein was listed as one of the players that sold personal items for tattoos or money, and his father, Jason Klein, has issued this response to the charges.

“I have raised my son right,” Jason Klein stressed Thursday evening. “Storm has no tattoos on his body whatsoever. He doesn’t have a drug problem, and multiple tests prove that. I have every single bit of his Ohio State memorabilia in my possession.”

Jason Klein went on to say that he was consulting his attorneys to consider legal action against SI.

Here’s another response:

Friday morning, John Simon Sr. issued a statement proclaiming the innocence of his son, Johnny, once again calling into question the accuracy of Dohrmann’s piece.

“Please understand the only reason you are hearing from family members of Ohio State players is because the players are forbidden from speaking out on their own behalf,” the elder Simon stated. “I would much rather be just a dad behind the scenes supporting our Buckeyes.”

“The only thing the Sports Illustrated article got right about Johnny was the spelling of his name,” he continued. “Other than that, NOTHING was accurate. He has NEVER been to that tattoo parlor. He has NEVER sold or traded any of his memorabilia. I have ALL the awards he has earned, including rings, jerseys, and anything else in question. In fact, I have everything he has been awarded since the days he played t-ball as a youngster.”

“He has never taken drugs, nor ever failed any type of drug test,” he continued. “He does have a few tattoos, but they were received from a local shop in Hubbard (OH).

Who knows where all of this will lead, but everyone is assuming that Ohio State is cooked. Yet if this attorney is correct, then the SI story is riddled with errors and character assassination. I’m sure the NCAA will find more problems at Ohio State now that they are digging around, but it might not be nearly as bad as suggested by Dorhmann in SI.

Maybe it would be best for Ohio State if Terrelle Pryor moved on

Ohio State University quarterback and MVP Terrelle Pryor (2) celebrates after his team defeated the University of Arkansas during the NCAA BCS Allstate Sugar Bowl football game in New Orleans, Louisiana January, 4, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

For the moment, let’s refrain from calling Terrelle Pryor an entitled “punk kid” who just got his coached fired. That may be an accurate statement but that isn’t what this is about.

This is about the Ohio State football program and more specially, what’s best for the Ohio State football program. Gerardo Orlando touched on this briefly when Jim Tressel resigned on Monday but the statement is worth revisiting: Ohio State is bigger than just one player. It’s bigger than Terrelle Pryor and it was bigger than troublemaker Maurice Clarett. Whether the Buckeyes suffer the same fate as USC did for the Reggie Bush scandal remains to be scene but nevertheless, they will recover. Ohio State is still going to be Ohio State in the end, even though their rivals to the north would like to believe that the program is falling apart.

With that in mind, maybe it would be best if Pryor got lost – left Columbus with his bags packed and headed for destinations unknown. The Buckeyes have enough to worry about these days without fielding questions about whether or not their star quarterback will be under center after he serves his five-game suspension for trading his sports memorabilia for free tattoos.

Is Terrelle Pryor a special player? No doubt. Since he’s arrived in Columbus, the Buckeyes are 33-6, which includes two-straight bowl victories over Oregon and Arkansas. He’s the type of player that, had he and his tattoo buddies not been suspended for five games, could have taken the Buckeyes to a national title.

But again, he’s only one player. He also represents a massive headache for a program that needs to do some major damage control right now. After Tressel announced his resignation on Monday, Pryor, while being investigated for possibly receiving free cars from a dealership mind you, had the stones to show up at a players-only meeting driving a Nissan 350Z with temporary tags. I guess if he thinks he hasn’t done anything wrong then there’s no reason to take the bus or carpool with a teammate, but is he serious? That ride is valued around $30,000, which is hardly the type of money that a college athlete would have between his couch cushions.

Ohio State doesn’t need this. Not right now, not ever. Pryor might be able to help them win but, as rare as this is, winning might not be the most important thing right now. And again, the Buckeyes will recover.

USC is currently in year two of a two-year bowl ban thanks to the Bush infractions. And while their recruiting has taken a hit, Lane Kiffin isn’t going to have trouble getting California kids to come to Southern Cal. That’s not to say that they’ll win under him, but he won’t need to try very hard to convince high school athletes to be a Trojan.

The same can be said for Urban Meyer when he starts recruiting as the head football coach at Ohio State. (I’m kidding – relax.) Let me start over: The same can be said for whoever takes over as head coach of the Buckeyes. Even given the current state of the program, they’re still on the top step of the Big Ten ladder. Prospects in Ohio and surrounding regions aren’t suddenly going to flood Purdue, Illinois or even Notre Dame (which has high academic standards) because Ohio State is in turmoil. The Buckeyes will still be able to recruit after this.

That’s why it may be beneficial for OSU if Pryor applied for the NFL supplemental draft. Or was suspended indefinitely. Or drove one of his 12 new cars to South Beach to hang with LeBron and never return. Many people in Columbus are already blaming him for the program losing Tressel and chances are he is guilty of violating NCAA rules. With that in mind, maybe Pryor can do OSU a favor and exit stage left.

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