Brian Hartline has been on fire on the recruiting trail lately, a statement that is once true and an understatement. Even by Hartline's typical on-fire standards, the Ohio State wide receivers coach has been en fuego.
Within a 3-day span, Ohio State added Noah Rogers, the No. 9 wide receiver in the class of 2023; Carnell Tate, the No. 3 receiver; and Brandon Inniss, the No. 2 receiver (all rankings per 247Sports). Ohio State's "fourth" receiver, 4-star Bryson Rodgers, publicly solidified his 3-month-old commitment amid that string of additions this week. In since-deleted tweets, Rodgers shared text messages in which Michigan wide receivers coach Ron Bellamy reached out (obviously looking to see if Rodgers was looking around now that Ohio State added three more highly-ranked players at his position), and Rodgers responded "Go Bucks."
Rodgers was no doubt aware Hartline would continue adding weaponry to his arsenal, because no single position room in college football has more firepower than Ohio State's wide receivers room.
Since Hartline replaced Zach Smith as Ohio State's wide receivers coach on July 26, 2018, Ohio State has landed 16 wide receivers. The median recruiting ranking of those 16 players -- No. 85 nationally. Hartline scooping up Rogers, Tate and Inniss in one week's time is likeTom Hanks following Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Toy Story with Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile and Cast Away.
To be clear, the school that produced the likes of Michael Thomas, Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and a string of productive pass catchers dating back to Terry Glenn and David Boston wasn't exactly struggling on the recruiting trail prior to Hartline's promotion. Ohio State's last wide receiver commit before Zach Smith's summer 2018 firing: Garrett Wilson, the No. 20 player in the class of 2019.
Ohio State Receiver Recruits, Brian Hartline Era
Jameson Williams (St. Louis) -- 4*, No. 82 overall
Julian Fleming (Catawissa, Pa.) -- 5*, No. 3 overall
Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Rockwall, Texas) -- 5*, No. 29
Gee Scott, Jr. (Sammish, Wash.) -- 4*, No. 66
Mookie Cooper (Maryland Heights, Mo.) -- 4*, No. 93
Emeka Egbuka (Stellacoom, Wash.) -- 5*, No. 10 overall
Marvin Harrison, Jr. (Philadelphia, Pa.) -- 4*, No. 97
Jayden Ballard (Massillon, Ohio) -- 4*, No. 99
Kaleb Brown (Chicago) -- 4*, No. 79 overall
Kyion Graves (Chandler, Ariz.) -- 4*, No. 88
Caleb Burton (Austin, Texas) -- 4*, No. 132
Kojo Antwi (Suwanee, Ga.) -- 4*, No. 151
Brandon Inniss (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) -- 5*, No. 18 overall
Carnell Tate (IMG Academy via Chicago) -- 5*, No. 28
Noah Rogers (Rolesville, N.C.) -- 4*, No. 50
Bryson Rodgers (Zephyrhills, Fla.) -- 4*, No. 270
But simply getting highly-ranked players to campus is half the battle. Hartline wins on the recruiting trail because his players win on the field. Wilson played all three of his college seasons under Hartline, upping his production in all three, finishing with a 2021 season in which he caught 70 balls for 1,058 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Wilson and Chris Olave -- a (gasp!) 3-star recruit in 2018 -- became the second wide receiver pair to both earn First Team All-America honors in the same season. Wilson came to campus as the No. 2 receiver in his class, and left as the No. 2 receiver in his class, drafted 10th overall in April by the New York Jets. Olave, the No. 68 receiver in 2018, went one spot behind Wilson, 11th overall to the New Orleans Saints.
Behind them, sophomore Jaxon Smith-Njigba out-produced those first-round picks, leading the club with 95 catches for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns.
In the Rose Bowl, with Wilson and Olave preparing for the NFL draft and Smith-Njigba gobbling up a Rose Bowl and Ohio State record 15 grabs for 347 yards and three touchdowns, a trio of Buckeye freshmen still showed out. Marvin Harrison, Jr., caught six balls for 71 yards and three touchdowns, Julian Fleming hauled in five for 35, and Emeka Egbuka nabbed three for 46.
In December, Hartline was chosen by prior winners as the 2021 FootballScoop Wide Receivers Coach of the Year.
Yeah, the average Twitter Reply Guy rebuts, how hard can it really be to recruit wide receivers to Ohio State? Doesn't that position pretty much recruit itself? Couldn't anybody recruit that well in that position?
Ignoring the implied compliment to Hartline's coaching abilities, the answer to that question is, No, not everyone could recruit as well as Hartline is now.
To state the obvious, Ohio State is beating A-level programs in their own backyards. "I was the director of player personnel at Washington when Emeka Egbuka committed and keeping him home was our highest priority at that time," 247Sports national recruiting analyst Cooper Petagna told FootballScoop. "But keeping a wide receiver Ohio State wants is extremely difficult."
Ohio State isn't just out-recruiting the Florida schools Florida and out-recruiting the Texas schools in Texas, they're out-evaluating them, too. The Buckeyes offered Jaxon Smith-Njigba out of Rockwall, Texas, before Texas.
"Bryson Rodgers, that's Ohio State dug that guy out. That's a case of Ohio State doing more homework on a guy like than their competition and the recruiting industry. We went back and did our homework after they offered him," Petagna said. "Noah Rogers is a guy that's continued to improve. They've been early on guys. Even when you have the wind at your back, you still have to execute. I think they're better than anybody else in the country in that regard."
Hartline joined the program as a quality control coach in 2017, the same year Ryan Day came aboard as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. At that time, Urban Meyer's team was fresh off a Fiesta Bowl shutout at Clemson's hand; the Buckeyes passed for 133 yards in that game and ranked 81st that season at just under 214 per game. The Buckeyes added nearly 50 yards per game in Day and Hartline's first season; in 2021, they ranked third nationally at 380.9 yards per game and fourth nationally at 10.0 per attempt. In January, Hartline was promoted to passing game coordinator, which came with a $350,000 raise to $950,000.
“Coach Hartline is like no other coach," Inniss told Eleven Warriors. "He breaks down the game to you in a way that no other coach will. It’s amazing to see what their receivers do in and out every single year.”
Hartline the Recruiter has shown a high hit rate, and Hartline the Coach has shown a high retention rate, another important quality in the age of the Transfer Portal. Of the 12 wideouts to sign with Ohio State thus far in Hartline's tenure, only two have transferred. 2020 4-star Mookie Cooper left after one season, and 2019 4-star Jameson Williams -- Hartline's first recruit -- became a first-round pick at Alabama. Even still, that's a compliment to Hartline's work. Williams, arguably the best player on Alabama's team last season, left because he wasn't seeing the field at Ohio State. He caught 15 passes in two seasons in Columbus, then 79 in his one year in Tuscaloosa.
"It's easy take it for granted because we've become so accustomed to it but what we're seeing right now that it's difficult to put in perspective. It's hard to find the words in terms of what he's been able to accomplish," Petagna said. "The type of talent that he's brought in, not only this year but the 2022 class is considered the best receiver class. To bring in this amount of elite level talent year-in, year-out, I'm not sure if we've seen we've seen that."