Ohio State is one month into its season that ended in a last-second Peach Bowl loss to Georgia.
But there has been no offseason for assistant athletic director of player personnel Mark Pantoni and his scouting team. Over the past few months, Pantoni has been working hard to complete the Buckeyes’ recruiting class of 2023 and assess OSU’s prospects to target in the transfer portal.
When the dust cleared on National Signing Day on Wednesday, OSU had signed 20 high school prospects in the 2023 cycle, all of whom signed during the early signing period, and five players from the transfer portal, giving them 25 new additions in total for next season.
With the Class of 2023 finalized, barring any additional additions through the transfer portal when it reopens in May, Pantoni – who says he watches an average of eight to nine hours of film per day during the season – said that he and his team had already pivoted to evaluating recruits from the graduating classes of 2024, 2025 and 2026. But Ohio State’s approach to recruiting for future cycles may be changed from how the Buckeyes have operated in the past now that NIL is a major driving force in college football.
In the 2023 class, Ohio State missed several high-end targets, with NIL playing a role in at least some of those prospects’ decisions to head elsewhere. As such, while OSU still operates with the goal of recruiting the best players possible, Pantoni said he’ll likely put more emphasis on recruiting prospects in Ohio and the Midwest in general. That mindset has been reflected on the recruiting track over the past few weeks, with various Ohio prospects receiving offers including Devontae and Deontae Armstrong, Sam Williams-Dixon, Marquise Davis, Dorian Brew, Marc Nave Jr. and Carter Lowe.
“I think this year is the learning curve of feeling it the hard way,” Pantoni said of NIL hurting OSU’s recruiting. “But you know, now that we’ve gone through a full cycle, I think we’re going to come into this class with a better mindset to spend our time and resources in certain areas versus others.”
Even with a greater potential focus on Ohio prospects, the Buckeyes will still try to recruit top prospects across the country. But Pantoni said OSU could pull out of the race for a prized recruit sooner than it would have in the pre-NIL days if it becomes clear that NIL is the driving factor behind that recruiting.
“Definitely a new mindset on how we’re going to have to approach things during this time,” Pantoni said when meeting with reporters on Wednesday. “So obviously (we’re going to recruit) a lot heavier in Ohio, in the Midwest. And then regionally we’re going to do our best like we always have but we might have to pull out of recruiting guys nationally quicker than we did if we know any immediately that the NIL is going to be a main factor in their recruitments. It’s probably not something we’ll want to end up being able to compete with by choice as well. You know, is that something we want to bring into the locker room as well? So those are the conversations that we have, you know, on this day.
“Obviously we’re going to do our due diligence on everyone as usual. And then we really need to do a better job of checking and seeing what really matters. We want kids, first and foremost, to want to come to Ohio State because of Ohio State and the great tradition and history of all the guys who have been here before them. And the main reason we win is that culture in that dressing room and so there’s nothing we can do that will take that away.
Pantoni said he and OSU staff discuss particular prospects daily and the most important factors in their recruiting, including knowledge of the player’s inner circle and background to try to accurately assess whether he is a suitable fit. in Columbus.
“These are conversations we have all the time,” Pantoni said of him and his team trying to gauge a rookie’s motivation. “Just going through the names and where we are on the guys, and what is going to make this kid make his decision? Is it going to be NIL? Will it be development and brotherhood and culture and victory? And all the great things this place has to offer? Or is it going to be strictly because of the money? And so these are conversations that we have. The worst thing we can do is waste a lot of time and effort with the kids knowing this and then you lose them at the end of the day… In today’s world we truly understand some of these national kids, we can make their top five or top three, but ultimately that could change very quickly.
Regarding the NIL in general, Pantoni said that the NIL was not used nationwide as it was supposed to be. He hopes safeguards will be put in place to help alleviate the gray areas that currently exist.
“I just hope there are a lot of really smart people in this profession, that we can all come together and find a solution to this problem as soon as possible,” Pantoni said. “Because I don’t think there are a lot of people who like what’s going on. And I think, you know, NIL is not what it was supposed to be. And so I raise my hand to help in any way possible to find a solution to solve this problem.
Where Pantoni thinks NIL will continue to be an asset to the Buckeyes, he’s holding players back. Only five scholarship players from last season transferred elsewhere from Ohio State, and Pantoni says helping his current players land NIL opportunities will continue to be a focus for OSU.
“Our current squad and our current retention is what NIL is for, you know, the guys who have truly earned their namesake through their on-field play,” Pantoni said. “And now, with their name, image and likeness, they can capitalize on that. And I think a place like Ohio State, in the 15th largest city, with the power of that brand and the fanbase, our guys are enjoying it right now because of that. So that’s what it was supposed to be. And we are happy that they have this opportunity.