Buckeyes in major battles for top defensive back targets

Jeremy Birminghamover 1 year
Aritcle written by:Jeremy BirminghamJeremy Birmingham


JK Johnson arrives at Ohio State with a big opportunity. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The 2021 recruiting class is officially on the clock, and the Buckeyes are off to a great start after finishing the 2020 cycle as the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class. With ten commitments already, it’s time for Ohio State to begin narrowing down its lists. Lettermen Row is taking a position-by-position look to break down a number of the top targets being courted by Ryan Day and the Buckeyes. 

The Buckeyes put together and executed a pretty darn good recruiting plan for the secondary in the Class of 2020.

Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts, Lathan Ransom, Cameron Martinez (maybe) and Clark Phillips, along with the versatility of a player like Kourt Williams, gave them a solid group of athletes who could help bridge the gap between a number of departing stars and a current roster that is talented but unproven.

The departure of Jeff Hafley put a little wrinkle into the plans and led to a decommitment from Phillips, who signed with Utah rather than enrolling early at Ohio State as planned. Recent legal issues have removed two other defensive backs from the roster, and Amir Riep and Jahsen Wint each had contributed recently for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes are likely to turn to the transfer portal to try to replace Riep and Wint in 2020, but what about beyond that? How will Ohio State restock its secondary under former-and-now-current defensive backs coach and coordinator Kerry Coombs? There are a lot of real options out there for the Buckeyes, and the reintroduction of Coombs is already underway on the trail.

But the competition is going to be stiff as Ohio State chases the best of the best nationally. Here are some of the key names and battles for the upcoming months, acknowledging that 3-star safety Jaylen Johnson is committed and taking one of the likely two safety spots in 2021.

Kerry Coombs-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Kerry Coombs is back on the field for Ohio State in 2020. (Birm/Lettermen Row)


  • Tony Grimes • Virginia Beach, Virginia  • ★★★★★

    • The country’s top-ranked cornerback is a top-10 national prospect, and he’s obviously being recruited by everyone. Ohio State needs to get Grimes back on campus for more in-person time with Kerry Coombs and Ryan Day if it wants to compete with Clemson, Georgia, Alabama, Penn State, Virginia Tech and everyone else for his eventual commitment. The Buckeyes depth chart is very appealing here — so is the success Coombs has had in Columbus during his previous stint with Ohio State and in the NFL.
  • Jakailin Johnson • St. Louis, Missouri  • ★★★★

    • Brian Hartline has been the guy leading the recruitment of Johnson in the wake of Jeff Hafley’s departure, but he’s turning that over to Coombs now. The Buckeyes remain in very good shape. He recently released a top-six schools list that included Clemson, Oklahoma and Florida. But the Buckeyes are hoping that his next visit, whenever he makes it to campus this spring, will prove to Johnson that there’s no need to visit anywhere else.
  • Jordan Hancock • Suwanee, Georgia  • ★★★★

    • Ohio State was one of the first big-time programs to offer Hancock, and that early recognition put the Buckeyes out in front of his recruitment very early. When Jeff Hafley left, though, the Buckeyes fell behind as schools like Georgia, Clemson, Alabama and more came through with offers and hosted the 6-foot, 170-pound defensive back on key visits in January. The Buckeyes may not be the favorite here any longer, but they’re certainly not out of it and remain in a good, fighting position with two likely visits still to come. Hancock will take his offiical visit to Ohio State in June.
  • Jaylin Davies • Santa Ana, California  • ★★★★

    • The nation’s No. 10-ranked cornerback hasn’t yet talked to Coombs, and because of that it’s hard to know exactly where the Buckeyes stand. But he was a priority for Hafley before he left. There’s been no visit yet to Ohio State, so it’s probably safe to say that there’s work to do here. But there’s always been true interest from Davies.
  • Andre Turrentine • Nashville, Tennessee • ★★★★

    • Coombs made a late January visit to Turrentine in Nashville — a city he recruited for Ohio State and is now pretty familiar with following his time with the Tennessee Titans. The two have remained in contact since.
  • Kamar Wilcoxson • Lilburn, Georgia  • ★★★★

    • Ohio State offered this big-time athlete from the IMG Academy in January, and the two-time Florida commitment instantly began talking about getting to Columbus for a visit. He’s already scheduled an official visit with the Buckeyes in June, but things could really crank up here if the 6-foot-2, 185-pound defensive back makes a trip in the spring as he’s aiming to take.
  • Hunter Washington • Katy, Texas • ★★★★

    • Washington, like Davies, hasn’t yet talked to Kerry Coombs. But he did tell Lettermen Row earlier this week that he’s hoping to visit over the weekend of March 28. He has an excellent relationship with Buckeyes defensive backs assistant Asa Jackson, and that’s carried the interest to this point, along with a visit last summer. But for now, it’s hard to consider him a top-level candidate because of the lack of communication with the new defensive coordinator.
  • Jamier Johnson • Pasadena, California • ★★★★

    • Kind of an unknown to many right now is Jamier Johnson, a long cornerback who really fits the mold of what Coombs has traditionally sought for his outside defenders. Johnson has suggested that he’ll visit the Buckeyes at the end of March, and though there’s no specific date picked yet, he’ll be on this list because of that possibility. If he doesn’t make it in March, it’d be safe to remove him from the list of possibilities.
  • Damond Harmon • Highland Springs, Virginia • ★★★

    • One of the big challenges with a new defensive coordinator who is also the lead recruiter in the secondary is finding out which prospects the new guy likes compared to the old guy. Hafley, for example, was a big Damond Harmon fan. But because there were only a few days Coombs could be active on the recruiting trail, it’s unclear where he stands on players like this. What is clear is that at 6-foot-1, 180-pounds, Harmon looks like an Ohio State cornerback.
  • Devonta Smith • Cincinnati, Ohio • ★★★

    • Smith is the lone, non-offered cornerback on this list, and the simple truth is that we could add 15 or 20 other potential options to the pool of candidates like that. But as far as the up-and-coming types, the Ohio-native makes a lot of sense. Alabama, Penn State, Notre Dame, Oregon and more big-name programs have offered, but Smith is waiting patiently for the Buckeyes to get on board. If Ohio State offers, Smith is likely to accept it, quickly.


  • Derrick Davis • Monroeville, Pennsylvania • ★★★★

    • It’s been a while since Gateway High School’s Corey Brown and Dorian Bell picked the Buckeyes. But it also feels like Ohio State has been recruiting the country’s No. 2-ranked safety, Derrick Davis, that long. The Buckeyes offered the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Davis in the summer of 2017 and have stayed very involved in his recruitment since. This could end up being an Ohio State and Penn State battle, but Clemson is an interesting team to watch as well.
  • Hunter Wohler • Muskego, Wisconsin • ★★★★

    • Though he’s committed now to Wisconsin, Wohler was very high on the Buckeyes list. The departure of Hafley seemed to quicken his decision and help push him toward the Badgers, though that was likely going to be the end result regardless.
  • Jordan Lovett • Radcliff, Kentucky • ★★★

    • Another of the players who was being recruited by Jeff Hafley, Lovett is another guy that really looks the part of a Buckeyes defensive back. He’s 6-foot-2, 200-pounds and long in coverage, but whether or not he hits it off with Coombs like he did Hafley will eventually decide if he’s going to get back to Columbus for a second visit. Matt Barnes, who recruits Kentucky and initially reached out to Lovett, could help bridge the gap.