LEXINGTON, Ky. — As Ohio State shifted from the Jim Tressel era to current Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer, Kentucky became an unlikely benefiter.
Proximity — albeit a 190-mile trip — is one of the few connections between the two universities that compete in different conferences and haven’t faced each other on the football field since 1935. Although the Wildcats and Buckeyes won’t meet on the field in the foreseeable future, they share the same Ohio recruiting grounds.
That’s where the shift from Tressel to Meyer has aided Kentucky’s staff — Ohio recruiting extraordinaire Vince Marrow, specifically.
“If Jim Tressel was still there, he would always take the top 15 guys in Ohio. Period, end of story,” Marrow said. “Half of these guys you see here…”
Marrow rattled off a slew of Kentucky players from Ohio: Dorian Baker, C.J. Conrad, Mike Edwards, Jordan Jones, Benny Snell…
“They wouldn’t be here,” he said.
The change is in Ohio State’s national approach to recruiting. The Buckeyes brand is big enough to pluck players from coast-to-coast, not just their home state. Tressel put an emphasis on home-grown talent. Meyer has not.
Ohio State currently boasts the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018, according to 247Sports. Of its 16 commitments, two are from Ohio. The others are from a medley of states: New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, California, Virginia, and so on.
Tressel’s last class in 2011 had 14 signees from Ohio.
Kentucky also has 16 commitments in its 2018 class, ranked 17th by 247Sports. Of those 16, seven are from Ohio.
“I bet you 80 percent of our roster of Ohio kids normally would be at Michigan State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin,” Marrow said. “We have raided that and got most of them guys. That’s what I’ve started to see now.
“Even in the SEC — Ole Miss, Mississippi State — they’ve started going to Ohio and try to get guys because they’re saying, ‘Man, how did Kentucky turn this thing the way they’ve turned it?’ That’s what you’re seeing.”
And don’t expect it to slow down. Kentucky might not battle Ohio State for the best of the state’s recruits, but Marrow said the Wildcats aren’t shying away. Take Blue Smith, for example. He’s the No. 4-ranked prospect in Ohio and the No. 3 athlete in the nation, according to 247Sports. Smith, who’s likely to play receiver or tight end, likely will choose between Kentucky and Ohio State come late August.
Marrow, without mentioning Smith, per NCAA rules, alluded to the one-on-one battle the Cats and Buckeyes are waging for Smith.
“Well, we’ve got a little situation coming up,” Marrow said, not holding back a grin. “I think you know what we talking about.”
Smith would be Kentucky’s top signee in the 2018 class, just as Ohio native Lynn Bowden was Kentucky’s No. 1 signee in the 2017 class.
“I love battling top-tier guys,” Marrow said. “It shows where we at and where we want to go. We ain’t never gonna take a back seat to none of them guys. Never.”