Two minutes before Rossville, Ga., defensive back Vonn Bell stepped before the cameras on Wednesday morning to declare where he would go to school, he dialed Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s cell phone.
Too anxious to sit still, Meyer had gotten on a treadmill to burn off his pent-up energy.
“(Bell) said, ‘You know I’m in, right?’” Meyer recalled later. “I said, ‘No I didn’t know you were in. Congratulations.”’
Bell’s commitment to the Buckeyes was the crowning piece to a strong recruiting class for Meyer, who was hamstrung a year ago in his first year at Ohio State because he wasn’t hired until late November. He termed last year’s recruiting, which netted several freshmen who made solid contributions to a stunning 12-0 season, as “a bunch of cowboys out there trying to find players.”
Most major recruiting experts and publications rate the Buckeyes in the top five in the nation — some even have them No. 1. So, given a full year to work at it, Meyer and his staff had a huge day.
The group he brought in was rich in wide receivers along with help up front and in the secondary on defense.
“We went to bed last night with three guys that were very on edge as far as where (they were going),” Meyer said. “I thought if we hit one out of three, that’d be all right. Two out of three would be a good day and three out of three would knock it out of the park. We hit three out of three, so I’m very pleased.”
Bell supplied the biggest get. Rated as a five-star prospect by most of the top recruiting services, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder had 146 tackles and three interceptions as a senior at Ridgeland High. On offense, he had more than 1,700 all-purpose yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
He had been rumored to be going to Tennessee — until he pulled Meyer out of his impromptu workout.
Unhappy with his receiving corps most of last season, Meyer brought in potential wide-outs James Clark from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., along with native Ohioans Gareon Conley, Darron Lee and Jalin Marshall, and JC transfer Corey Smith.
Meyer’s offense requires deep threats and players who can stretch the field — and a defense. He said he’s getting closer to getting those weapons.
“When you run an offense where you want three or four split guys all the time, and you only have one or two — it’s not enough,” Meyer said.
“We’re starting to get a little bit of that built up. We just didn’t have enough make-you-miss guys on offense (last year). I think we addressed that.”
If there was an area where the Buckeyes came up short, it was offensive linemen.
They lost one senior from last year’s team (right tackle Reid Fragel) and will lose starters Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall after the 2013 season.
Yet they signed just Tim Gardner, a 6-5, 320-pounder from Indianapolis, and Evan Lisle, 6-6 and 290 from Centerville, Ohio, in this year’s class.
Although they finally have last year’s bowl ban behind them, the Buckeyes are still facing NCAA-mandated recruiting restrictions that limit them by three scholarships this year and next.
Meyer said he didn’t think that would be a problem this season, although he said even the loss of three scholarships can deprive a team of a player who might blossom into a great contributor.
With the help of offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who used to be an assistant coach at Rice, the Buckeyes made inroads in the Lone Star state. They landed three prime players out of Texas in quarterback J.T. Barrett, linebacker Mike Mitchell and running back Dontre Wilson.
Late in the day, they added running back Ezekiel Elliott from St. Louis as their 24th and final member of the class.
Meyer said he hopes in the future to get more players out of Ohio and then “cherry pick” top players from the south and elsewhere.
Asked if he was chasing after Alabama, which has won three of the last four national championships, and the Southeastern Conference, which has won the last seven national titles, Meyer didn’t deny it.
He said the recruits he was pursuing at Ohio State weren’t different from the ones that the Crimson Tide and the rest of the SEC were after.
“Us and 130 other schools (are after) guys who run really fast and are tough,” he said. “There is a little bit of a chase going on after the SEC. That’s fine. You have to give credit where credit is due. And if that’s a perception that we’re chasing them, that’s fine. I wouldn’t disagree with you.
“We want to increase the speed on our team a little bit.”