As of yesterday morning, Darius Slade was a Michigan State commitment and Ohio State didn’t appear to be in the picture.
But the Buckeyes pulled a national signing day surprise when the defensive end from New Jersey became the 23rd and final member of their 2014 recruiting class.
New defensive line coach Larry Johnson was the key to the signing. As a longtime assistant for Penn State, Johnson was a dominating recruiting presence in the mid-Atlantic states. He had recruited and coached Slade’s cousin, Jared Odrick, now with the Miami Dolphins.
“We’re talking about a relationship that’s developed over the years, not just today,” Johnson said.
Slade, who is 6 feet 5 and 235 pounds, originally committed to Nebraska in December and then switched to Michigan State. But the lure of playing for Johnson won out. Word spread yesterday morning on Twitter that Slade would not sign immediately with Michigan State and would visit Ohio State on Feb. 15. But then Slade decided to sign without visiting campus.
“It was just a matter of him deciding what he wanted to do,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, he’s a Buckeye and I’m really excited about that.”
Slade’s coach at Montclair High School, John Fiore, said Johnson’s relationship with Slade and Odrick was the decisive factor.
“He was going to Michigan State and the only reason he even contemplated Penn State was Larry Johnson,” Fiore said. “He wanted to play for Coach Johnson because of the great success he had with Jared Odrick.”
Fiore said that the cousins had a long conversation after Slade had some sleepless nights wrestling with his decision.
Slade, a Delaware native, transferred to Montclair as a junior. He had 37 sacks the past two seasons to help the Mounties win consecutive New Jersey state championships. Slade had 231/2 sacks last season. Fiore said he could have had many more if he hadn’t sat out the second halves of several games that were blowouts.
“He’s one of those late-bloomers,” Fiore said. “He’s a great kid, extremely coachable.”
Five-star recruit McMillan already settling in
Linebacker Raekwon McMillan is one of seven members of the recruiting class who have enrolled at Ohio State. Yesterday, coach Urban Meyer said that McMillan, the only five-star recruit in the class, already looks like a junior in drills.
“Coach Meyer always tells us that he wants his incoming freshmen to play early,” McMillan said. “He doesn’t want us to sit back and relax and wait for the (current) guy to leave, but to practice every day like you’re competing for a job and attack every drill like it’s your last drill.”
He said that college life has been an adjustment.
“It’s a total change from the workouts that I was doing,” McMillan said. “The time we spend at the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center), the time we spend on academics — it’s a culture shock. But if you want to be great, you have to put in the time.”
Some clarification in defensive coaching roles
Since Chris Ash was hired as co-defensive coordinator, there’s been uncertainty about who would have the final say in defensive play-calling.
Meyer didn’t make a definitive statement on the issue but he indicated yesterday that defensive coordinator Luke Fickell will have the final say.
“We’re going to have those conversations,” Meyer said. “Right now, Luke will.”
Then Meyer said that he, Tom Herman and Ed Warinner are in the mix with the decision-making on offense. It will be similar on defense, he said.
Ash appears unconcerned about the issue.
“If everybody has ownership in what you’re doing, then calling it on game day is not that difficult, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s going to be a team effort. A lot of people have asked about Coach (Kerry) Coombs and me coaching the secondary. It’ll be a team effort.”
What Ash cares about more than who makes the calls is how the players execute them. About that, he was quite clear about what he wants.
“You play fast,” Ash said. “You play with reckless abandon. You’re physical. You throw your body around. You play without hesitation. There’s no confusion.
“You know exactly what you’re doing and you can react to your key. There’s only one speed and that’s full speed, and that’s the way we’ve got to play.”
Bryant appeal for another season of eligibility denied
Christian Bryant’s second appeal to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility has been denied, Meyer said. The safety, acknowledged as the defense’s leader, missed the final nine games of last season because of a broken ankle suffered late in the Wisconsin game.