It’s written on walls around the Ohio State football facilities.
It’s a motto that has echoed through the Buckeyes program since first being uttered by Woody Hayes decades ago.
“You win with people.”
That’s true on the field, obviously. The Buckeyes are one of the country’s most talented football teams year in and year out, dominating their opposition with 85 of the nation’s best players being coached by some of the best coaches in all of organized football.
That decades-old adage is true on the recruiting trail as well. It’s a business built on relationships, honesty and mutually-beneficial future outcomes. Coaches recruit players that they believe will help them win. Players choose coaches they believe will prepare them best for a future in football and as a husband, father and man — decisions that have lasting repercussions well beyond their college choice.
It can’t just about be about football.
â€œI would say that the keys for us in the kinds of players that weâ€™re looking for is, first and foremost, how they fit into the culture of our program, and I donâ€™t want to undersell that at all,â€ Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs said Wednesday. â€œI think that is true at every position. Just finding the right kid is important — it’s not just physical talents, skills or abilities because of what all is going to be required of them here.
“I think those things are important.â€
Nothing is more important for the long-term health of a program than recruiting families that uphold and promote a winning culture. The only way to achieve that is for coaches to really know the young people they recruit, not just their highlight tape.
“Itâ€™s not used-car sales,” Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “Youâ€™re talking about peoplesâ€™ lives. Thatâ€™s why I stay as honest as I can and share my thoughts.
â€œThereâ€™s an ability to invest in peoplesâ€™ lives. Thatâ€™s what drives me every day. I get up in the morning and have a chance to speak to young people and their parents about what we can do for them in the future.â€
Recruiting isn’t sales, if it’s done right. It’s an honest investment in a young football player’s future. It’s an invitation, for three or four or five years, to be a part of a family. Part of being in a family means being around people that care about your well-being.
Ohio State certainly isn’t the first to emphasize the brotherhood that comes from being a part of a team. But they’ve done it better than any other program in the last two decades and to be successful long-term, it can’t just be talk. It has to be a real, tangible experience for young men and the families that turn them over to Ryan Day and his coaches.
“Ryan has a great feel when players and their families sit down and talk with him about the program,” Coombs said. “He has a wonderful thing called Circle of Care, and it really has nothing to do with football.
“It has everything to do with their sons and everything to do with their life.”
The Buckeyes are not reinventing the wheel.
Day’s Circle of Care isn’t a brand-new concept. It’s an updated, enhanced iteration of what former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called the Block O of Life. For Tressel, that was a six-part structure, with the first three designed to increase attention for playerâ€™s purpose in his life, including family, spiritual, and giving back to others. The second set of three were goals in physical fitness, football success and academics.
For Day, the idea is similar, but his provides an increased focus on mental health and personal care. Like the Real Life Wednesday program that Urban Meyer put into play, everything being done inside the Buckeyes camp appears to be aimed at one thing: Taking care of people.
It’s not a new idea, it’s just being executed in a way that few other places are able to compete with
“There’s so much that this institution and the administration and Gene Smith has provided — not just for our athletes — but for all the athletes,” Buckeyes offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “Ryan came in and saw that, and our logo is the big Block O, and we talk to our kids: ‘Hey, you’re dead in the center of this thing. We’re going to surround you with our big Block O of care, of taking care of you.'”
Maybe that’s why Ohio State is rolling the way it is on the recruiting trail right now as most other schools are plodding along during a now two-month-long, NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period. The Buckeyes are working hard to be the best — and to give the best.
Ohio State owns the country’s top-ranked 2021 recruiting class, and it has dedicated itself not only to outworking opponents, but to bettering itself. The Buckeyes are pushing not just for great football players, but great young men from great families and for the chance to give them a shot to do something truly special.
It’s about the people, after all.