"Sometimes the lights all shinin on me;
Other times I can barely see.
Lately it occurs to me what a long, strange trip its been." ~ "Truckin", The Grateful Dead
While highly doubtful that members of the 2011 recruiting class were/are avid fans of The Grateful Dead, I would surmise that the players who signed with Ohio State on February 2, 2011, would not disagree with the lyrics up above as they would reflect upon their experiences and careers at Ohio State. Think about it this way - the players signed at Ohio State to play for Jim Tressel, who was only weeks away from the NCAA violations that would result in his resignation as Ohio State's head coach. Luke Fickell would serve as the head coach during their freshman season in 2011, only to be replaced by Urban Meyer on November 28, 2011. Three head coaches, in less than one calendar year.
The twenty-three players of the 2011 recruiting class who would eventually spend time as Buckeyes have all had varying levels of successes and challenges, as all recruiting classes do. For years, I have reviewed Ohio State's recruiting classes, and I have always subscribed to the "Rule Of Thirds".
"The Rule Of Thirds" is pretty simple - within any class, there will be approximately a third who will develop into starters as the coaching staff hoped and recruited, a third will be contributors in some fashion, and a third will not work out, leaving due to transfer, injuries, or possibly disciplinary reasons.
Using this very unscientific approach to a very inexact recruiting process, how did Ohio State's Class of 2011 stack up with "The Rule Of Thirds"? Let's see how it all turned out...
I. The Starters (39%)
1. Michael Bennett, DL: Bennett committed to Ohio State on 05/16/2010, and was rated a four-star recruit by 247sports.com, rivals.com, and scout.com. Projected as a possible first round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Bennett has realized his recruiting accolades as a three year varsity letterman. Bennett is also in line for a captain position this coming season for the Buckeyes.
2. Curtis Grant, LB: Grant signed with Ohio State on Signing Day in 2011, ranking as the highest-rated incoming recruit in the 2011 class. While rated a five-star recruit, it could be argued that Grant's biggest play as a Buckeye took place as a freshman versus Wisconsin in 2011, when Grant recovered a blocked punt by classmate Ryan Shazier in a 33-29 Buckeye victory. Grant will be pushed by incoming freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan for the starting middle linebacker position this season.
3. Doran Grant, CB: Grant earned playing time as a backup in 2011 and 2012, emerging as a starter in 2013. The biggest play made by Grant in 2013 took place as Ohio State was trailing Northwestern in the fourth quarter, and Grant intercepted a pass that helped spark the Buckeyes to eventual victory. Coach Meyer has high expectations for Grant as he heads into his senior season to emerge as one of the best defensive backs in The Big Ten.
4. Bryce Haynes, LS: A late commitment to the 2011 recruiting class (01/28/2011), Haynes was viewed as somewhat of a surprise scholarship offer as a long-snapper. Redshirted in 2011, Haynes lettered in both 2012 and 2013. Haynes will have an additional year of eligibility for the 2015 season.
5. Jeff Heuerman, TE: Heuerman is a probable captain for his final season of eligibility in 2014. While only catching one pass in 2011, Heuerman's importance and role has expanded in 2012 and 2013. Heuerman has been described by Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti as "the the "ringleader of what we want in terms of work ethic".
6. Braxton Miller, QB: Arguably the most important player on the team, Miller's role has exponentially grown since he arrived in 2011. Originally intending to back-up Terrelle Pryor in 2011, Miller was thrust into the starting role as a true freshman. With the arrival of Coach Meyer, Miller has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014, and should be a captain again for the Buckeyes, having served in that role in 2013.
7. Ryan Shazier, LB: A later commitment to the recruiting class (12/17/2010), Shazier originally intended to sign with Florida to play for Coach Meyer. When Coach Meyer resigned his position, Ohio State was fortunate to land Shazier. While Shazier only played three seasons, Shazier was arguably the most dominant defensive player for the Buckeyes from 2011-2013. Shazier left Ohio State for the NFL after the 2013 season, being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
8. Devin Smith, WR: Smith lettered 2011-2013, often delivering clutch plays for the Buckeyes at the most crucial moments. Of these clutch plays, none will loom larger than catching the desperation pass by classmate Braxton Miller versus Wisconsin that allowed Ohio State to defeat the Badgers, 33-29. Smith is a dependable deep threat for the Buckeyes, but it remains to be seen if Smith can develop his receiving skills beyond this area in his final season of eligibility.
9. Evan Spencer, WR: Lauded by the coaching staff for his prowess as a blocker, Spencer enters his final season of eligibility. While not a burner, Spencer is a dependable and reliable possession receiver for the Buckeyes. Spencer's most memorable reception took place in his first game versus Akron in 2011, with a one-handed reception from classmate Braxton Miller.
While these players above have emerged as starters for Ohio State, part two of this series will review the players from the class who have either become occasional contributors for Ohio State, or departed the program altogether.