COLUMBUS — Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford was roasted by some people on the sports talk shows and message boards when two highly regarded running back recruits flipped to other schools after verbally commiting to OSU’s 2020 recruiting class.
Turn the clock forward a few weeks, add a 5-star running back and a 4-star running back to the list of commitments in Ohio State’s 2021 recruiting class and those critics have gone silent.
So far this year, OSU has gotten verbal commitments from TreVeyon Henderson, a 5-star running back rated the No. 1 recruit at that position, and from Evan Pryor, a 4-star player ranked No. 6 nationally among running backs in the 2021 recruiting class.
Alford shrugs off the praise the same way he did the criticism.
“Nothing changed about my approach,” Alford said during a teleconference on Wednesday that included seven OSU assistant coaches. “And let me say this, I’m not gonna lie, I get tired of talking about last year. And next year at this time, I’ll get tired of talking about this class.
“As for what has changed? I can’t tell you that. I don’t have an answer for you. I don’t know,” he said.
“We’ve got a great product, if you will, to showcase at The Ohio State University in our football program. It all goes back to the fact that we have an amazing staff with many great mentors and teachers. And we’ve got players who are second to none. So, it feels good. But we’re not done. We’ve got a long way to go until signing day.”
With J.K. Dobbins likely to be one of the first or even the first running back taken in the NFL draft, OSU’s reputation also plays a role in attracting recruits at that position.
“I think our track record speaks for itself,” Alford said. “We also want to make sure to say to recruits that this place is much, much, much bigger than the NFL. The NFL is a piece, but there’s so many other pieces that help us out with these players. So, we do we talk about the players we put in the NFL because that’s part of it.
“It does come up, but that’s not the main selling point. It’s all about relationship building,” he said.
Some other thoughts from some of the other assistants:
— High energy defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs says he is “absolutely climbing the walls” after a month of staying at home because of the coronavirus.
“I’m not going to tell you I’m not. For me, sitting in my house for a month, I can’t even begin to describe it,” he said.
One solution was to buy a ping pong table on Tuesday. “I told my wife, ‘We’ve got to do something, we’ve got to compete, we’ve got to find something to do.’ So we’re going to play ping pong. But I’ll tell you this — it gives you a lot of time to recruit and watch tapes and stuff like that. That’s been productive and exciting. We’re going to make the most of it.”
Coombs also said he does not plan extensive changes in the Buckeyes’ defense in his first year as defensive coordinator.
“You have a team that had the No. 1 defense in the country last year. If it’s not broke, you don’t fix it and you don’t make a lot of changes. You use what these guys have been doing,” he said. “Do I think we’re going go make some additions, changes and modifications? Absolutely. We’ll have to see. Those are things that are down the road.”
He also said Damon Arnette might surprise some people with how early his name is called in the NFL draft.
“Damon Arnette is going to be a very, very good professional football player. I think he is going to have a long career. Don’t be surprised at how high he gets drafted,” Coombs said.
— Defensive line coach Larry Johnson called fifth-year senior Jonathon Cooper “a warrior.”
Cooper, who was expected to start at the defensive end spot opposite Chase Young last season, missed all but four games with an ankle injury and decided to take a redshirt year and return for the 2020 season.
“When you look in the dictionary and see the word warrior you’re going to see Coop’s picture beside it,” Johnson said. “It was tough to watch him going through that because he had put so much work into getting into that position. He’d had a great spring and a great preseason. Going into the fall, we felt he was exactly where he wanted to be and then he has this injury that he just can’t come back from.
“He tried to come back too early and it didn’t work out. He had a tough decision, do I go out now or do I come back? We’re looking for great things from Coop. Here’s a guy you root for all the time. We’re cheering for him. He deserves the best for all the time and work he put in to make himself a great player,” he said.
— Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa talked about the competition for the two open starting positions on Ohio State’s line this season at right tackle and left guard.
Former 5-star recruit Nicholas Petit-Frere, Dawand Jones and freshmen Paris Johnson appear to be the top three at right tackle. Petit-Frere might be the favorite to win the job at this point.
“I think this is Nick’s time,” Studrawa said.
He also said he has been impressed with the development of Johnson, a 5-star recruit, who enrolled at OSU in January.
“Coming in early, the weight lifting part that he had in the winter was unbelievable. It transformed him,” Studrawa said.
Studrawa said Harry Miller, Gavin Cupp and Matthew Jones are all going to compete for Ohio State’s left guard spot.