The crumbling walls of "Fortress Ohio" and what this means for the future of both Michigan and OSU football

Submitted by mGrowOld on July 9th, 2011 at 8:44 AM

From 1991 to 1993 I did some recruiting for Michigan here in Northern Ohio under the leadership of the recruiting coordinator at the time Bob Chmiel.  Generally speaking we held our own against OSU in the powerhouse Catholic schools (although Notre Dame could be a problem) and were competitive (not ruled out by any means) in the public schools.  We weren't afraid to go after kids anywhere in the state and taking an offer from Michigan was not always viewed by kids down here as an act of treason against mother Ohio.

Now if you are a D1 football program with aspirations of greatness it is imperative you are able to successfully recruit one or more of the "big 5" football states: California, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania.  For whatever reason, those five states seem to produce an extraordinarily high number of elite football players year in and year out.  A quick look at the home towns for many of the greatest Michigan football players since the Bo era demonstrates this as well.  Franklin, Grbac, Howard, Woodson and countless others grew up in Ohio, not Michigan, but chose to come north to play football.  And in doing so they not only made Michigan stronger - they made OSU weaker by not attending.

In the Tressel era that all changed however.  For whatever reason (charm, personality, fear, payola, cars, tats, etc) that pipeline was basically shut off. If OSU wanted a kid down here they got him - and OSU grew stronger as we grew weaker.  Fortress Ohio was real, if a kid down here even considered Michigan as an option he was considered a traitor against the home land and life wasn't very pleasant for him or his family.  Look at the rosters of both OSU and Michigan from 1990-1999 and then from 2000-2010 and you'll notice quickly that OSU became almost exclusively an Ohio based recruiting school and we stopped getting the kids we wanted out of Ohio. Double whammy and it played a big part in our conference role reversals this past decade.

Now fast forward to July, 2011.  Yesterday Jarrod Wilson, an Akron Buchtel kid coached by Ricky Powers, goes Blue.  We hear from TomVH that Kalis is making a second visit this weekend and all told we now have six (I think that's right) Ohio kids coming north this year so far and more (hopefully) on the way. Thanks to Tresselgate it appears the walls of fortress Ohio and now finally coming down and the pipeline is opening back up.  If it does, it is my prediction that we will not only get exponentially better as a team - they will get exponentially worse as every kid we get they don't.  

Keep it up Hoke and crew.  Glory days are coming back soon.



July 9th, 2011 at 9:00 AM ^

As much as we make fun of that shitty state (see there I go again), our football viability is directly linked to our viability in Ohio (and MIchigan for that matter, but our home state gives us less to work with most times).  Tressel was very smart, in that when he game in, he focused extremely heavily on Ohio, and in first full class (2002), signed I beileve 9 of the top 10 players in Ohio.  Hell, Dantonio did the same thing with Michigan while we had our attentions turned elsewhere, and he's reaping those rewards as we speak.  I believe OSU is making a mistake right now, especially considering the NCAA issues, and not going hard after Ohio talent.  The first thing Fickell should have done is given an offer to every good, but maybe not excellent, prospect in the state, and gone hard after the home state.  It's hard to bring in good out of state talent in the current situation.  As a result, they are bleeding their native sons, and a lot of them to their biggest rival.  I assume this will change down the road a bit, but Hoke and company are makiing invaluable in-roads right now that will hopefully keep our presence in Ohio for a long time.  I think in subsequent years, we will branch out to more national recruiting as our team gets more national attention, but we should always look to Michigan and Ohio first.


July 9th, 2011 at 10:56 AM ^

I noticed this as well - I find it very odd - perhaps arrogant really - that they seem to act as if Ohio will always be there regardless of what they do in Columbus. It will be to some extent, of course, but the new regime (interim even if they say otherwise) has taken a shockingly casual approach to their home state in  their darkest hour. I love that, in all the chaos, someone forgot to guard the door and we have walked right in to start plucking talent from OSU's own backyard again. It's only just. 


July 9th, 2011 at 9:01 AM ^

There are currently eight verbals from Ohio - Stacey, Ringer, Williams, Bolden, Brown, Gant, Strobel, Wilson (in order of commit date).

True Blue in CO

July 9th, 2011 at 9:01 AM ^

is that we are actually up to 8 players from Ohio committed and there is no reason to believe we should not have 2 to 4 more Ohio kids in this recruiting class.  While this change is great, it will only be sustained when the wins on the field steadily increase against all of our opponents,  especially against OSU.  While we should not compare Hoke and Co. to Bo, the recruiting in Ohio has been very "Bo-like".

Maize and Blue…

July 9th, 2011 at 11:38 AM ^

The only of the eight with an OSU offer IIRC.  Even with all the problems at OSU we aren't beating them head to head for Ohio kids.  I realize there is still time for more to commit to the good guys, but until we can beat them head to head for the players OSU wants things won't change much.  If we are going to spend so much of our time recruiting Ohio we better not end up with ranch steaks instead of filet mignon. 


July 9th, 2011 at 11:57 AM ^

That's exactly part of the problem with OSU right now though; they aren't looking in-state for prospects that can become really good, but maybe with a little bit more work.  They have been on the outside looking in for the top flight DE's for qutie a while but never offered Brown.  Look at their LB's too.  They've missed on a lot of out of state prospects (including our very own Ross), and never even extended an offer to Bolden.  If you respect the opinion of Duane Long, Bolden is the best ILB in the state of OH.  The exact same situation just happened with Wilson and safetys.  Now would all of them have chosen UM if OSU offered early?  Who knows.  But if OSU doesn't want to take care of their own backyard, we'll gladly come in at take what we want.  Don't let the fact that only Strobel had an OSU offer diminish the fact that we're getting very good prospects.


July 9th, 2011 at 9:04 AM ^

Has always been integral to Michigan's success.

Tressel certainly locked down the state during the last decade.  But part of it was our lack of focus on the state.  We started to recruit 'nationally' after our championship year.  I think we lost sight of where our stars mostly come from. 

The top schools recruit their bases first, and then recruit nationally, not the other way around.  

That said, Hoke has us back on track recruiting wise.  This year's haul could be legendary...and get the ball rolling again. 


July 9th, 2011 at 11:34 AM ^

I think that directionality (in-state/regional first, nationally second) is wildly important. In-state/regional kids are the ones who appreciate the rivalries, have grown up around them. I think this has been a problem for us over the past few years. We're a team entrenched in traditions, and we brought in a lot of players from various regions, but few players from the surrounding regions, few from Big Ten country. It was a crisis of player motivation, largely. Our success is dependent, as many teams successes are, upon our in-state and region recruiting. If you have a team that is largely made up of athletes who appreciate the traditions, rivalries, etc. then you lay the foundation for a team that works well together and motivates each other. It's a particular type of foundation that Michigan has always had an easy time laying down because of our history. Without that base, we can have a good team, but it's much more easily shaken.


July 9th, 2011 at 1:04 PM ^

And the main point from MGroWorld, if you recruit locally in the B1G area, you're taking prospects away from your rivals. This is the key here. You hurt your opponents. When we stopped recruiting as strongly locally, State and OSU started making gains on us and it's taken its toll. The key is to now dig back in and make inroads in both Michigan and Ohio to establish relationships with schools both through players and coaches. Hoke has keyed on a path to success.


July 9th, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

Also, it's easier to establish and maintain recruiting pipelines with schools in your own region.  The kids grow up in the same area, with the same weather conditions and so forth, so there generally is less worry about homesickness or culture shock when they get on campus.  We should, of course, recruit talent wherever we can find it, but it's more of an uphill climb the farther away we have to go for it.


July 9th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^

I don't think UM has lacked motivation to win.  I don't know what your basis for that assertion is, but it's kind of insulting to the players who have stuck with the program despite all the adversity.  I also don't think brining in players from all over the place dilutes our tradtitions, whatever that means.

Brian of Ohio-…

July 9th, 2011 at 9:13 AM ^

I would love to see Hoke get the pipeline going again with the NE Ohio schools. Ignatious,McKinley, Massillon and St Ed's are loaded. Wilson will help. Now we need Kalis and Dunn to get that really entrenched


July 9th, 2011 at 9:43 AM ^

The top three states are the same, but the top 5 have shifted some.  Georgia is often considered on par with Ohio now and Louisiana has also moved ahead of Pennsylvania.


July 9th, 2011 at 10:03 AM ^

Totally agree.  Yesterday there was a post asking for personal rankings of our top 3 most coveted recruits left on the board.  First thing I thought, was, I really don't know enough about these kids (beyond what rivals or scout tells me) to have a preference.  I mean, most 4-5 star recruits propably have similar probabilities of success at the next level, unless someone is just an absolute freak of nature athlete or talent. Further, in terms of position on the field, it seems we really only need DTs and running back, and a QB would be nice, but not necessary in my opinion.

So I thought about it from a strategic standpoint....The best recruits for us are the ones that bolster our class, as well as gut the hopes of our rivals.  It's like a pennant race....a win in any game is nice, but a head to head victory over the division leader guarantees a 1 game swing.

I felt like we brought in some great Texas and Florida talent and speed under RichRod, but this never really had an impact on OSU or MSU, as we seemed to pass on a lot of the Ohio and Michigan talent.  Sure, we had some top 10-20 classes, but it never put a dent in their respective hauls.  MSU profited the most, as we used to own the in-state recruiting battles and they really can't recruit nationally, and OSU (who used to at least have to battle to keep 70% of their home grown talent) had that Blue monkey off their back.

So now that we have owned the state of Michigan recruiting battle of 2011 (still want Burbridge and O'Brien of course), I feel the best scenario is to stick it to Ohio State.  My top 3...

1) Kalis (Former OSU lock, total dysphoria in Columbus if they lose this guy.  Poetic justice for neckless Boren family values saga)

2) Brionte Dunn (Sure it's a position of need, but that's not why we should really covet this guy.  Beyond bringing his great ability up North, imagine the Buckey shame spiral and self-pity implosion to ensue upon losing this former commit to their biggest rival.)

3) Washington (Pulling a 5 star monster out of Ohio is always fun)

I did not have Wormley on my list, simply because he has long been rumored a Michigan lean, so it wouldn't have the same dong punch effect on Columbus as the other 3.

Perhaps my agenda is a bit too vindictive....but really, especially after the pain caused by that fraud Tressel over the past decade, does OSU not deserve to watch their native sons beat them like a drum.



July 9th, 2011 at 10:19 AM ^

How about an alternate look here: Tressel was so successful in Ohio not because of anything Michigan did, but becuase he was buying players.  

Tressel offered money; Michigan didn't.  Tressel's hostesses were on it: literally, while Michgan's were actually hostesses.  Tressel told parents that he would make sure kids got their education, while the kids themselves were told by their futrure peers on trips that they wouldn't have to work for their degree because "tutors" would take care of it for them.  

Maybe that's why Tressel was so successful, both in recruiting and on the field.  Tressel said all the right things to the parents, but the kids knew that they were going to Columbus to get paid, get laid, and play football, without worrying about trivial details like going to class and taking tests.  


July 9th, 2011 at 11:25 AM ^

I agree with mostly everyone point you make above Tater but you can't discount the ultimate "good guy"  aura he had around him while at OSU.  Even if it turned out to be mostly a sham, it definitely helped him land almost whoever he wanted in Ohio because he could charm the pants off of a recruit's parents.  


July 9th, 2011 at 11:22 AM ^

Tressel offered money...Tressel's hostesses were on it: literally...Tressel told parents that he would make sure kids got their education, while the kids themselves were told by their futrure peers on trips that they wouldn't have to work for their degree because "tutors" would take care of it for them.

I don't recall hearing tOSU was doing any of that. It sounds like you just grabbed every scandal of the past 5 years and attributed them all to Tressel.


July 9th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

That is most likely true, but going to back to back NC games and pulling out 10-11 win seasons on a regular basis also seals the deal.  If we want to rebuild and get back to powerhouse recruiting in ohio and the nation we are going to have to win games.  Thats how you attract big players.  Great players are used winning.  Simple as that.


July 9th, 2011 at 11:37 AM ^

This was the second class for Tressel, coming off the 2001 season featuring their at-the-time surprising victory over UM in Ann Arbor.

First, the UM recruits from Ohio were Mark Bihl and Willis Barringer. That's it. They were both three-star recruits and had nice careers at UM, but in comparison to previous years, 2002 was a very slim year for getting highly-ranked kids out of the Buckeye State.

That same 2002 recruiting class for Ohio State included these in-state kids for Tressel (this is an amalgam of Scout and Rivals rankings; for some kids there were differences in stars):

4 Justin Zwick
5 Maurice Clarett
4 Roy Hall
4 Doug Datish
4 Nick Mangold
4 Quinn Pitcock
4 Rob Sims
5 Mike Kudla
4 Tim Schafer
3 A.J. Hawk
4 Tyler Everett
4 E.J. Underwood
4 Troy Smith
4 Bobby Carpenter
5 Mike D'Andrea

How much of Tressel's recruiting success was due to illegal inducements versus great sales and marketing ability is a question for the NCAA and recruiting experts. Regardless of how it was achieved, the turnaround in Ohio recruiting was near instantaneous and absolutely critical for both programs.


July 9th, 2011 at 5:44 PM ^

True, but let's not forget that one year later - on the heels of an OSU national championship, no less - we signed Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess, two five-star kids out of Ohio.  IIRC, Burgess was the state's top-ranked player.

It's possible that OSU cheated to get those guys, but it's also possible that OSU in 2001 simply experienced what we have this offseason - a fractured fanbase coming back together and a new coach establishing rapid momentum.  Tressel's OSU team also beat us on our home field that year, something that hadn't happened since 1987.  Since then, OSU has kept up the momentum in the rivalry for a decade (2003 excepted).  We haven't been beating them, and haven't been finishing as high as them in the standings, so maybe it's not surprising that we haven't been able to recruit against them, either.



July 9th, 2011 at 11:48 AM ^

of Ohio recruiting. No doubt it has value but the Southeast Conference does very well with little to no recruiting in Ohio.


July 9th, 2011 at 12:09 PM ^

Uh, that might just be because of their success in recruiting Florida, Missippippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Just a guess, but it might be because the SEC schools are in those states.

You might as well say that USC and Oregon do very well with little or no recruiting in Ohio. That would make as much sense and be as relevant to Michigan's recruiting.

Where do you think Michigan is likely to have more consistent and long-term recruiting success: in states hundreds of miles away where the major instate programs play in a completely different conference (and weather) than Michigan does, or in a state that shares a border, weather environment, and culture with Michigan?


July 9th, 2011 at 12:32 PM ^…

The decommitment of St. Edward (Lakewood, OH) offensive tackle Kyle Kalis from Ohio State last week was major news in the world of college football recruiting.

The uncertainty surrounding the Ohio State program will almost certainly continue to affect the recruiting world, Ohio recruiting analyst Bill Greene said. And losing Kalis' verbal commitment, specifically, is the type of loss that could hurt the Buckeyes both in the short and long term.

"(Kalis) is a legit 6-foot-5, better than 300-pounder, and he's a guy who plays with attitude," Greene said. "He's a house out there. He's a very good football player and a very good right tackle prospect."

Recruiters obviously share Greene's opinion. Since decommitting last week, Kalis has added offers from Penn State, Florida and LSU.

Greene said Kalis is looking for stability in his choice of college programs and that "the Ohio State he committed to last October just isn't the same Ohio State." Kalis had planned to re-open his recruiting earlier this month before he said a conversation with interim head coach Luke Fickell changed his mind.

Now, it's changed again.

"That stability has been their strength at Ohio State," Greene said. "And for as good as Luke Fickell is as a recruiter, there's nothing he can do about it right now.

"Fickell is out there fighting these battles with a squirt gun. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out."

Greene said he believes the other 10 players who have already verbally committed to Ohio State will remain with their choice, with the possible exception of Canton GlenOak running back Bri'onte Dunn. Dunn is a five-star recruit, one of the nation's top running backs and, like Kalis once was, is considered one of the true gems and must-haves of this recruiting class at Ohio State.

"I do think that Dunn ultimately will stick with Ohio State," Greene said, "unless the school ends up getting totally slammed  by the NCAA sanctions. To me, I don't think they will get hit as hard as some people think, but I know Bri'onte and his family are watching closely."

The news that Kalis was looking elsewhere came in the same week that highly regarded defensive end Se'Von Pittman from traditional power Canton McKinley announced he would be attending Michigan State. Both Ohio State and Michigan State have history with McKinley players, but Pittman's announcement counts as a recruiting upset. Michigan State, coached by Ohio native and former OSU assistant Mark Dantonio, already has five commitments from Ohio natives for its 2012 class.

Nebraska received a commitment last week from Akron Hoban defensive end Greg McMullen, who entertained offers from top programs nationwide but always held Nebraska as his leader. With Nebraska joining the Big Ten and being coached by a former Ohio State captain and Youngstown native Bo Pelini, the Huskers can be expected to become a much bigger player in recruiting Ohio in the coming years.

The promise of playing in Ohio Stadium and the chance to play in the Big Ten title game -- something potential sanctions could take from Ohio State --  should only help Nebraska's ability to recruit top Ohio talent. Michigan and new coach Brady Hoke, also an Ohio native, have also secured seven early 2012 commitments from Ohioans.

"That's what Ohio State is facing now, uncertainty that it hasn't faced in a long time," Greene said. "You sell these kids on who the coach is going to be, who the position coach that's going to get them to the NFL is going to be, how many bowl games you're going to play in, etc.

"At places like Notre Dame and Michigan, they can answer those questions right now. At Ohio State they just can't."

McMullen's high school teammate and defensive line mate, LaTroy Lewis, holds offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Tennessee and Cincinnati, among others, and an offer from Nebraska could be coming, according to a source at Hoban.


July 9th, 2011 at 1:26 PM ^

If the topic is recruiting out of the state of Ohio, let's look at the numbers, according to Scout:

2011 (combination RR and BH) - 7

2010 - RR alone - 11 players

2009 - RR alone - 3 players

2008 - (combo LC and RR) - 7

2007 - LC alone - 0

2006 LC alone - 3

2005 - LC alone - 4

2004 LC alone - 1

2003 LC alone - 2


In the last five recruiting classes of Lloyd Carr, he averaged 2 kids from Ohio. In the two classes for which he was solely responsible, RR averaged 7, and was responsible for several more Ohio signees in the 2008 and 2011 classes he shared with Carr or Hoke. If you're going to point fingers at RR for a perceived lack of Ohio recruiting, then you have to point several more fingers at Lloyd Carr. What a surprise you neglected to do the latter.

True Blue Grit

July 9th, 2011 at 1:25 PM ^

until the NCAA has concluded their investigation and announced their decision.  If TSIO gets hit hard, Michigan will have s short term advantage in recruiting that will really help us.  If they don't get hit too hard, we'll have less of an advantage.  It's always going to be tough to recruit head-to-head in Ohio with TSIO for the top players, just as it will be for them to come up here and go after top players.  But, we can really turn things around the fastest simply by beating them.  I think our constant losing to TSIO has hurt us more than anything.  It has made a flim-flam artist like Tressel's job all the easier. 


July 9th, 2011 at 4:36 PM ^

I don't know.  If you go back to the '90s, Michigan usually finished with the to-rated recruiting class in the Big-10 every year, and then OSU and Penn State would be 2 & 3.  So, I don't think there is any reason to think UM won't be able to consistently recruit as well as, or better than, the Buckeyes in the future, regardless what the sanctions are or how long they last.  I do think Tressel was unusually successful at locking-down Ohio; how much of that was due to improper benefits I couldn't say, but I personally think it had much more to do with Tressel's success on the field than anything else.


July 9th, 2011 at 2:03 PM ^

Honestly, Fortress Ohio has proven to be huge for the Big Ten as a whole.  PSU, Wisconsin, MSU and Nebraska, in addition to us, have all picked up big time recruits from Ohio that people expected to be Buckeyes.  In previous years, some of these guys may have left, but not to the extent they are now. 

The playing field in the Big Ten will be about as level for the next 5 years as it's ever been.


July 9th, 2011 at 2:34 PM ^

The larger problems for Ohio is, aside from their former ability to provide improper benefits/free tats/tattoo parlour game rooms to hang out at/smoke week, is the presence of Hoke and Mattison.

In Hoke you have an old school approach to Ohio recruiting from a coach who made connections while at Ball State and who, himself, is originally from the state.

In Mattison you have, allegedly, the best recruiter in the country and a guy who can always fall back on the whole Ed Reed/Ray Lewis/Ravens mantra.

Hoke's "this is Michigan" and demand for respect is very different from the vibe sent out by previous regimes. 

Without Tressel and the inducements Ohio is going to have a much harder time and it seems that Hoke/Mattison enjoy a fight.