Looking Back At OSU Recruiting – 1999

Jim Tressel gets credit for guiding Ohio State to the national championship in 2002 – and rightfully so. Before Tressel arrived in Columbus, the Buckeyes had at least a half-dozen legitimate shots at winning national titles after 1968 and somehow fell short.

Nevertheless, the genesis for the 2002 championship was in the 1998-99 recruiting class signed by John Cooper.

Coop and his staff started quickly, getting a bounce from an 11-1 season, Sugar Bowl win over Texas A&M and a second-place finish in the national polls in 1998. An early surge brought seven commitments to the Buckeyes by the end of spring practice and six more by the time the 1999 regular season rolled around.

OSU eventually signed each of the top seven players in Ohio, got several key out-of-state commitments and parlayed those with its early verbals to sign a strong class. Several members were consensus prep All-Americans and at least half of the class of 24 members earned high school All-America honors from at least one recruiting service.

About the only signing day suspense revolved around a pair of players – Georgia wide receiver Reggie Brown and Florida defensive back Roshard Gilyard – neither of whom signed with the Buckeyes. Gilyard would have probably seriously entertained joining the OSU class, but the Buckeyes ran out of scholarship spots.

Still, the class was an excellent one and put the finishing touches on what was to be the final stretch of glory for Cooper during his tenure at Ohio State. In a matter of six months from September 1998 to February 1999, Cooper fielded what many people believed was the best team in college football on the field and signed what was the consensus No. 2 recruiting class in the nation. Unfortunately, a home slip-up against Michigan State cost the Buckeyes the ’98 national championship and a growing concern of players more interested in NFL draft status than performing well for Ohio State began to permeate the program.

Indeed, just a few days after signing the talent-laden class of 1999, Cooper was forced to answer charges that recruiting coordinator Bill Conley and assistant coach Shawn Simms had in-home meetings with recruits during one of the NCAA’s quiet periods, a violation of recruiting rules.

Nevertheless, on national signing day, Cooper was ebullient with his praise of Conley.

“Bill Conley, as the recruiting coordinator, and the rest of our coaches did an outstanding job,” the OSU head coach said. “Bill does a great job (because) he is organized and it’s a lot of hard work.”

National recruiting expert Tom Lemming agreed: “I’ve been saying for the last few years that Bill Conley is one of the best recruiters in the country. There are 15 or 20 name schools across the country, but the Buckeyes are right there with anybody and it’s because of Conley and also John Cooper.”

As far as the ’99 class itself, Cooper was satisfied.

“I think this is a good, solid class,” he said. “Now, is it a top-5 class or a top-1 class? I can’t answer that because I don’t know the players Notre Dame signed or Florida or Florida State.”

The various recruiting experts around the country came up with the consensus that Texas had far and away the country’s No. 1 recruiting class. The Longhorns were followed by Ohio State, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Georgia. UCLA, Alabama, Michigan, LSU and Florida rounded out the top 10. But while Texas was strong throughout the country, some experts said the Buckeyes flexed their recruiting muscles just as well.

“Ohio State totally dominated the state of Ohio, maybe more so than Texas dominated Texas,” said SuperPrep publisher Allen Wallace. “Texas had to share some with Texas A&M. There were no gaps in Ohio State’s class.”

Some of shine faded from the class in the fall when six members were ruled ineligible under Prop 48 requirements. And there were a couple of Ohio players who signed elsewhere, including running back Ryan Brewer of Troy, who signed with South Carolina and became the proverbial straw that broke Cooper’s back in the 2001 Outback Bowl; receiver Lee Evans of Bedford, who became a record-setting All-American at Wisconsin; and running back Keiwan Ratliff of Columbus Whitehall-Yearling, who became a standout on offense, defense and special teams at Florida.

Here is a complete rundown of the players in the 1999 Ohio State recruiting class along with career highlights:

Tim Anderson (6-4, 270, 4.95), Clyde, Ohio

Consensus prep All-American

Registered 59 tackles and seven sacks during HS senior year

Also a member of his high school wrestling team and won the Division II state championship in the heavyweight division

Signed with Ohio State over Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan

Four-year OSU letterman (2000-03)

Started three years at defensive tackle for Buckeyes (2001-03)

Third-round selection of Buffalo Bills in 2004 NFL draft

Has played in 43 games for Buffalo and Atlanta (2004-present)

Career NFL stats: 82 total tackles, 52 solos, 1 sack, 4 passes defended

Bryce Bishop (6-5, 310, 4.9), Miami (Fla.) Killian

Consensus prep All-American

Rated as nation’s eighth best offensive line prospect; USA Today first-team All-American

Regarded as excellent run blocker; graded out at 88 percent with 12 pancake blocks during senior season

Signed with Ohio State over Florida State and Miami (Fla.)

Sat out 1999 season after failing to meet academic requirements under Prop 48

Three-year OSU letterman (2001-03)

Two-year starter for Buckeyes at right guard (2001-02)

Ricky Bryant (6-1, 165, 4.5), Farmington Hills (Mich.) Harrison

Considered one of top receiver prospects in his state

Caught 51 passes for 995 yards and 13 TDs as senior for state championship team that finished 13-0

Also scored three other TDs as senior, two on kick returns and one rushing

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin

Two-year OSU letterman (2000-01)

Left team early in 2002 to transfer to Division I-AA Hofstra and finished his collegiate career there

Drew Carter (6-4, 187, 4.5), Solon, Ohio

Totaled 33 receptions for 890 yards and 13 TDs as a senior

Did not play HS football as a sophomore or junior to concentrate on basketball and track; averaged 19.0 points per game as a senior in basketball

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State and Colorado

Three-year OSU letterman (2000, ’02-03)

Battled knee problems throughout his college career

Started one year at split end for Buckeyes in 2003 but was again felled by a knee injury

Fifth-round selection in 2004 NFL draft by Carolina Panthers

Sat out ’04 season on injured reserve after suffering another knee injury during first day of Panthers’ mini-camp

Finally injury-free; has played in 30 games for Panthers over past two seasons, including nine starts

Career NFL stats: 33 games, 71 receptions, 977 yards, 8 TDs

Adrien Clarke (6-5, 315, 5.1), Shaker Heights, Ohio

Consensus prep All-American

Strong offensive line prospect able to bench 375 pounds and dead lift more than 600

Piled up 62 pancake blocks over his last two HS seasons

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Illinois and Syracuse

Four-year OSU letterman (2000-03)

Started four seasons for Buckeyes; one at left tackle (2000) and three at left guard (2001-03)

Seventh-round selection in 2004 NFL draft by Philadelphia Eagles

Sat out ’04 season on injured reserve after suffering torn hamstring in Eagles’ second preseason game

Played in 14 games and started two at guard for Eagles in 2005

Played in 14 games and started all 14 at guard for New York Jets in 2007

Curtis Crosby (5-11, 175, 4.4), Columbus Eastmoor Academy

One of earliest players to verbal to class of ’99, offering his commitment on Feb. 11, 1998

Consensus prep All-American considered one of top defensive back prospects in nation

As a senior, recorded 100 tackles, 12 pass breakups and two INTs; had seven INTs and also rushed for 1,500 yards as a junior

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan

Sat out 1999 season after failing to qualify academically under Prop 48 requirements

Lettered one year with Buckeyes (2000)

Mike Doss (6-0, 185, 4.55), Canton (Ohio) McKinley

One of earliest players to verbal to class of ’99, offering his commitment on Feb. 10, 1998

Consensus prep All-American

Key member of back-to-back state championship teams and logged 14 career INTs as defensive back

Totaled 111 tackles and three INTs as HS senior; also rushed for 1,454 yards and 22 TDs as running back that year

Committed to Ohio State over Penn State

Four-year OSU letterman (1999-2002)

Three-year starter at strong safety for Buckeyes (2000-02)

One of only seven Ohio State players to become three-time All-Americans

Second-round selection in 2003 NFL draft by Indianapolis Colts

Starting strong safety for Colts (2003-06)

Signed free-agent contract April 4, 2007, with Minnesota Vikings and played eight games for Vikings last season

NFL career totals: 54 games, 266 tackles, 7 INTs, 17 passes defended

Richard Hall (6-0, 205, 4.45), Cincinnati Wyoming

One of top-rated running backs in America

Ohio Division IV offensive player of the year

Totaled 2,855 yards and 46 TDs as senior; career prep totals were 7,376 yards and 121 TDs

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State and Indiana

Failed to qualify academically under Prop 48 requirements

Never played for Ohio State

Transferred to Cincinnati and completed his collegiate career there

Maurice Harris (6-2, 200, 4.5), Jacksonville (Fla.) Raines

Consensus prep All-American

Totaled 80 receptions for 1,782 yards and 28 TDs during his final two seasons at Raines

Helped team to 27-2 record during those years including a state championship as a junior

Signed with Ohio State over Miami (Fla.), Tennessee and Purdue

Failed to qualify academically under Prop 48 requirements

Never played for Ohio State

Ben Hartsock (6-4, 250, 4.8), Chillicothe (Ohio) Unioto

First-team, Division IV All-Ohio tight end

Career HS numbers included 86 receptions for 1,562 yards

Also played defensive end and registered 61 tackles and 19 sacks as a senior; additionally played some at running back his senior year and totaled 356 yards and nine TDs

Signed with Ohio State over Purdue, West Virginia and Indiana

Four-year OSU letterman (2000-03)

Started two seasons for Buckeyes at tight end (2002-03)

Third-round selection in 2004 NFL draft by Indianapolis Colts

Played two years with Colts (2004-05)

Spent 2006 and 2007 seasons with Tennessee Titans; started nine games for Titans in ’07

Career NFL stats: 45 games, 15 starts, 24 receptions, 247 yards, 0 TDs

Jesse Kline (6-2, 210, 4.5), Upper Arlington, Ohio

Highly rated prospect because of size, power and speed

Rushed for 1,110 yards and 15 TDs as a senior despite missing 3½ games with hamstring problems

Totaled 3,466 yards and more than 50 TDs for his high school career

Signed with Ohio State over Notre Dame and Michigan

Battled lower back and shoulder problems throughout college career

Lettered for Buckeyes for one season (2001)

Scheduled to begin 2002 season as starting fullback but decided to quit the team just before the opener, citing chronic injuries

Craig Krenzel (6-4, 215, 4.85), Utica (Mich.) Ford

Earned scholarship offer after dazzling coaches at OSU camp

Completed 110 of 220 passes as senior for 1,760 yards and 20 TDs

Threw a state-record seven touchdowns in one game

Totaled 224 completions in 440 for 3,100 yards and 30 TDs his final two prep seasons

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Boston College, Stanford and Duke

Four-year OSU letterman (2000-03)

Started two years for Ohio State at quarterback (2002-03)

Two-time Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP

Finished career fifth on OSU career passing percentage list (56.8); eighth on career passing yardage list (4,493); ninth on career total offense list (5,097)

Fifth-round selection in 2004 NFL draft by Chicago Bears

Played in six games for Bears in ’04, started five times, and completed 59 of 127 attempts for 718 yards, three TDs and six INTs (rookie bests for Chicago since Jim McMahon in 1982)

Sprained right ankle in Thanksgiving Day loss to Dallas shelved him for remainder of ’04 season

Spent 2005 season as backup quarterback for Cincinnati Bengals

Injured elbow that required surgery in 2006, a procedure that has ended his playing career

Career NFL stats: 6 games, 5 starts, 59 completions, 127 attempts, 46.5 percent, 718 yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs

Maurice Lee (5-10, 170, 4.43), Cleveland South

Rated ninth-best prospect in Ohio regardless of position

Used mainly as an option-style quarterback in high school, but still played running back and receiver

Had over 3,800 all-purpose yards during his final two seasons; ran and threw for 1,250 yards as a senior and also caught 18 passes for 426 yards

Sat out 1999 season after failing to qualify academically under Prop 48

Special teams performer for much of his college career

Lettered one year for Buckeyes (2003)

Kelton Lindsay (6-1, 195, 4.4), Lebanon, Ohio

Consensus prep All-American

Rated top prospect in Ohio regardless of position

Division II offensive player of the year

Became first verbal of class of ’99, committing to Buckeyes on Jan. 27, 1998

Helped his team to Division II state championship by rushing for 1,500 yards and 16 TDs; had game-winning 41-yard touchdown run in title game

Rushed for 5,156 yards during high school career

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame

Began collegiate career as defensive back but was scheduled to move to running back in 2000

Lettered one year for Buckeyes (1999)

Tore up knee during pickup basketball game in January 2000 and never played football at Ohio State again

Scott McMullen (6-4, 195, 4.9), Granville, Ohio

Consensus prep All-American

As a senior, completed 118 of 191 attempts for 2,577 yards and 24 TDs against just five INTs

Three-year starter with career numbers of 6,100 yards, 58 TDs and a 27-3 record

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Florida State

Four-year OSU letterman (2000-03)

Served as mainly a backup quarterback; had three starts during Ohio State career

Career stats: 87 of 141 (61.7 percent) for 1,103 yards, nine TDs and four INTs

Signed NFL free agent contract with Philadelphia Eagles in April 2004 but was released in June

Played briefly with Columbus Destroyers of Arena Football League in 2005

Completed 33 of 64 passes for 332 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs

Serves as quarterbacks coach at Granville (Ohio) High School

Richard McNutt (6-0, 175, 4.4), Park Forest (Ill.) Rich East

Consensus prep All-American and rated as nation’s top defensive back prospect despite not playing his senior year because of an ankle injury

Projected as cornerback although he starred as running back, cornerback, receiver and kick returner in high school

Was also standout track performer in triple jump and long jump

Signed with Ohio State over UCLA, Northwestern, Michigan State and Florida

Three-year OSU letterman (2000-02)

Chronic ankle injury forced him to give up football shortly before his senior season in 2003

Went into coaching; serves as DBs coach at Washington & Jefferson College, VMI and Toledo

Named assistant defensive backs coach with Cleveland Browns in late March

Pat O’Neill (6-4, 215, 4.7), Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit

Ohio Division III defensive player of the year

Totaled 93 solo stops, 22 tackles for loss and six sacks as a senior for 13-1 team that was state title runner-up

Had over 200 tackles and 11 sacks during his final two HS seasons

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Indiana and Pittsburgh

Three-year OSU letterman (2000-02)

Fred Pagac Jr. (6-2, 230, 4.55), Dublin (Ohio) Coffman

Consensus prep All-American

Rated as No. 3 prospect in Ohio regardless of position

As a senior, totaled 98 tackles and six sacks; had 110 tackles, six sacks and two INTs during junior year

Son of former Ohio State defensive coordinator and current Kansas City Chiefs linebackers coach Fred Pagac

Signed with Ohio State over Florida, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern

Four-year OSU letterman (1999, 2001-03)

Battled injuries throughout his college career including broken leg in ’99, ankle injury that cost him entire 2000 season, shoulder surgery in ’02 and a chronic knee problem in ’03

Started one year for Buckeyes at middle linebacker (2003)

Signed NFL free agent contract with St. Louis Rams in June 2004 but was released the following month

Returned to Ohio State as graduate assistant coach in spring 2007

B.J. Sander (6-3, 195, 4.7), Cincinnati Roger Bacon

Left-footed specialist who was punter and placekicker in high school

Averaged 40.0 yards per punt as senior, 43.5 as junior

Extremely strong leg; kicked state-record 60-yard field goal as a senior and also converted kicks of 54, 51, 47, 47 and 43 yards as a junior

Signed with Ohio State over Notre Dame and Michigan

Two-year OSU letterman (2000, ’03)

Started two seasons as punter for Buckeyes (2000, ’03)

2003 Ray Guy Award winner

Fourth-best career punt average in OSU history (42.2 yards)

Third-round selection in 2004 NFL draft by Green Bay Packers

Punted 64 times for 39.2-yard average for Packers in 2005

Nate Stead (6-0, 255, 4.8), Marion (Ohio) Harding

Powerful fullback prospect with bench press of 350 pounds

Totaled 471 yards and 14 TDs during senior season despite missing the first four games with a knee injury; returned to help his team to a 10-2 record and the Division I state regional finals

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan State, Central Florida and Akron

Played in four games in ’99, becoming only true freshman on roster to run the ball and catch a pass, but did not letter

Lettered one year for Ohio State (2000)

Fred Sturrup (6-4, 270, 4.9), Plantation, Fla.

Recorded over 100 tackles, including 25 for loss and 15 sacks during senior year for team that went 10-1 and made state playoffs

Recruited to play defensive end and had already shed 10 of a planned 20 pounds by national signing day

Signed with Ohio State over Florida State and Miami (Fla.)

Battled academic problems throughout college career

Lettered one year for Ohio State (2000)

Ziyier Walker (6-1, 195, 4.5), Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy

Originally committed to Buckeyes in 1998, but failed to meet academic requirements under Prop 48

Enrolled at Fork Union where he continued his reputation as hard-hitting safety

Prepped at Paterson (N.J. Catholic) and recorded 47 solo tackles and one INT as a senior; also played running back and rushed for 800 yards and a touchdown

Never qualified academically

Never lettered at Ohio State

Matt Wilhelm (6-5, 240, 4.6), Elyria (Ohio) Catholic

First-team Ohio Division IV linebacker

Rated as No. 4 prospect in Ohio regardless of position

As a senior, totaled 100 tackles, including 26 for loss and 11 sacks

Also played running back as a junior, running for 1,200 yards and 20 TDs

Signed with Ohio State over Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Indiana

Four-year OSU letterman (1999-2002)

Started three years at middle linebacker for Buckeyes (2000-02)

Fourth-round selection in 2003 NFL draft by San Diego Chargers

Starting right inside linebacker for Chargers

Career NFL stats: 55 games, 170 tackles, 131 solos, 2 sacks, 5 INTs, 10 passes defended

Matt Zahn (6-7, 360, 5.4), St. Henry, Ohio

Considered one of top offensive line prospects in state

Displayed good movement for his size; also played basketball for Redskins

Signed with Ohio State over Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan and Indiana

Battled weight problems through his OSU career, eventually topping 400 pounds

Never lettered for Ohio State

Transferred to Marshall and completed his collegiate career there

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Among the luminaries around the world celebrating birthdays today: former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Tony Award-winning and prolific film actor Brian Dennehy (“First Blood,” “Tommy Boy,” “Silverado,” “Presumed Innocent” and “Cocoon”); actor Richard Roundtree (the one and only original “Shaft”); novelist Dean R. Koontz; actor Jimmy Smits; actor Fred Savage (Kevin Arnold in “The Wonder Years”); actress Kelly McGillis (flight instructor Charlie in “Top Gun”); former Entertainment Tonight co-host/composer John Tesh; pro wrestler Kevin Nash; singer/songwriter Courtney Love; St. Louis Rams quarterback Trent Green; former Cleveland Browns quarterback Kelly Holcomb; The White Stripes frontman Jack White; two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks; and former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL Hall of Famer and acquitted Crime of the Century defendant O.J. Simpson.

It is also the 81st birthday of singer/actor Ed Ames, who had a successful run in the 1960s playing the Indian sidekick in the TV series “Daniel Boone.” Ames is perhaps best known for his 1965 appearance on The Tonight Show when he tried to showcase his tomahawk-throwing expertise to Johnny Carson. I can’t do it justice, so you’ll have to click on this link to witness one of the funniest moments (and longest continuous laughs) in television history: The Tomahawk Incident.

AND FINALLY

** Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez has reportedly agreed to pay West Virginia the $4 million that was contained in the buyout clause of his contract. Translation: U-M has decided to pony up the money after enduring months of bad publicity for stealing a coach who was giving his opponents ammunition in the recruiting wars – basically that his word meant nothing. My only question: What took officials in Double-A so long to extricate themselves from what everyone else realized was a public relations disaster?

** Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio will throw out the ceremonial first pitch tonight at Comerica Park when Detroit hosts Cleveland. Dantonio may be a little conflicted as to whether to cheer for the Tigers or the Tribe. He may be coaching in Michigan but he grew up in Ohio.

** CC Sabathia left more than his oversized uniform in Cleveland. He also left behind the periods after the initials in his first name. Always known as “C.C.” when he was with the Indians, Sabathia let it be known that he now wants to see just “CC” in print. The reason? It supposedly has a cleaner look. That’s somewhat odd in that Sabathia resembles an unmade bed whenever he’s on the mound. The pitcher’s given name is Carsten Charles, by the way.

** In my fantasy baseball league, we traditionally ridicule the final pick of each year’s draft. We are an NL-only league with 11 teams, and that last selection is usually a minor-leaguer or veteran hanger-on. This year’s final pick was Washington shortstop Cristian Guzman, who hit .219 two years ago and was limited to only 46 games last year. Apparently, however, the joke was on the rest of us who didn’t pick Guzman. He is currently hitting .311, leads the NL with 119 hits and is riding a 14-game hitting streak.

** How is U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger preparing for the September event? By playing the preliminary round of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. Azinger made it through the initial cut on Sunday and is on the felt again today. The finals are in November, and this year’s winner will pocket more than $9 million.

** When the U.S. economy slows, folks at the lower end of the income scale begin suffering first. Those people are also the core of NASCAR’s fan base, so should it be any surprise that racing is experiencing a financial downturn for the first time in many years. Attendance is down, a company which owns several tracks has been hammered recently in the stock market, and former IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti lost his NASCAR ride last week from a lack of sponsorship dollars.

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