COLUMBUS â€” The writing is on the wall for Ohio State and programs around the country: It’s very likely that summer football camp season will be cancelled.
Wisconsin already announced the cancellation of its camps. The rest of the Big Ten is almost sure to do the same. And then, of course, the hope in Columbus would be that every program in the nation would follow that course.
And if that happens, Ryan Day and coaches around America will be losing one of the most important stretches of the recruiting calendar. The opportunity to work with recruits in person is often what separates a potential offer from a real offer. In many instances, it’s the first chance for a recruit to work side-by-side with their prospective coaches.
“If camps disappear, that’s a significant loss,” Ohio State director of player personnel Mark PantoniÂ saidÂ last week. “And our coaches going on the road and watching these guys practice, that’s a significant loss. That’s just another checkmark in the full evaluation process. So we’re going to have to really trust our eyes on the film.”
Some of that time being spent watching film is focused on the Class of 2021. Ohio State has the country’s No. 1-ranked class and have been able to work ahead on that group to this point, but the final pieces need a closer look. The loss of the April evaluation period and the potential loss of camp season puts a serious damper on the Buckeyes opportunities to put final checks in proverbial boxes on top remaining targets.
“Some of these ’21 kids that we were hoping to make final decisions on, by either watching them practice live or by having them at the camp, that may be in jeopardy now,” Pantoni said. “The film is going to take a lot of weight now, and hopefully we’ll be getting these kids on campus again when it opens up to spend more time around them.”
For most high school prospects, the most important timeframe in recruiting is the period between the sophomore and junior seasons. A lot of times, these players using the the summer camps to showcase their talents are relative unknowns as they work into the varsity level of high school football. The high school tape, whether it’s junior varsity or limited chances on varsity to play real minutes, isn’t always a piece of art.
Not having the chance to match up that tape with actual in-person evaluation sets things back, especially in Ohio and states that don’t utilize spring football and can’t point to it as another evaluation period. Ohio State is watching tape it wouldn’t have needed to in previous years. It’s hard to avoid letting that first impression sour opinion of a player’s potential.
“This free time has given our coaches a lot more time to start watching 2022 [prospects], and a lot of them already have, which if this didn’t happen definitely would not have happened this early,” Pantoni said. “I was talking to [Ohio State defensive coordinator] Kerry [Coombs] yesterday and just joking he said, â€˜These guys arenâ€™t very good.â€™ And I was like, â€˜I know, Kerry. Theyâ€™re 14 or 15 years old.â€™
â€œThese coaches arenâ€™t used to watching these guys this early, so I always tell them itâ€™s really hard to do a pure evaluation of some of these guys. Because you donâ€™t wanna cut them too early because theyâ€™re so young. But, if anything, it gives you that initial preview of who they are, what their upside is gonna be over the next few years.â€
There’s no position in sports more important than the quarterback, and there’s no position that requires in-person evaluation more, either. The Buckeyes didn’t have Kyle McCord on campus for camp before accepting a commitment from him, but they did get to see him throw in person. They also had the chance to see varsity football tape from his state-championship winning sophomore season. They’d seen plenty of McCord. That’s not the case for any of the young 2022 quarterbacks being pursued now.
“If you look on some of these lists, they may have top quarterbacks, No. 1, 2,3 who didn’t play varsity last year,” Pantoni said. “You can’t really say: ‘OK, he’s going to be our top guy,’ because we just don’t know enough information yet.
“Again, it’s a long process and we’re going to put on the film, what there is. We’ll keep investigating and doing our homework, and when coaches can go out, they’ll go out and we’ll get them on campus.”
And there’s nothing that can be done to work around the in-person limitations, either. The bad news is that everyone is going to be a bit behind in the 2022 class. The good news? Everyone is going to be behind in the 2022 class.
“Not much [to do about it] — most high schools are shut down right now, training centers are closed down, our players are struggling with that too, finding places to train,” Pantoni said.Â “We’re really just relying on game film. There’s been a few camps that there is film on, we’re using any piece of information we can. Everybody is trying to come up with stuff, but I think we’re all kind of stuck with one hand tied behind our backs.”
Until the world of recruiting normalizes, the other arm is likely to be on a mouse, clicking play, pause and rewind on as much high school football tape as the Ohio State coaching staff can watch.