Zach Smith admittedly isn’t the best recruiter on Ohio State’s staff. At 29-years-young, the Buckeyes third-year wide receivers coach is still learning some tricks of the trade from his older co-workers.
But surely, Smith should be the best recruiter in his own family -- even if he is Earle Bruce’s grandson. Right?
Offering unsolicited praise of Smith’s 2014 recruiting haul -- which featured four-star prospects Jalyn Holmes, Johnnie Dixon and Noah Brown -- Smith’s boss, Urban Meyer, recalled witnessing Holmes video chatting with a member of the Smith family. But it wasn’t Zach on the other end of the defensive end’s FaceTime connection, as his four-year old son, Cameron, took it upon himself to aid his father’s recruiting efforts.
“Jalyn, on his visit he met my family and met my son,” Smith explained. “My son’s four-years-old, but he’s an outgoing and intelligent four-year-old. He’s a better recruiter than I am probably. We had just gotten snow up here and my wife texted me and said, ‘Cam wants to talk to Jalyn.’”
Thanks in part to Cameron’s efforts, the Buckeyes landed a commitment from the nation’s 13th-ranked defensive end. That’s not to say that the older Smith, however, hasn’t begun to build a track record that speaks for itself, as evidenced by him being named Scout.com’s Big Ten recruiter of the year for the 2014 recruiting cycle.
Winning such an award wouldn’t have been likely for Smith in his first two years at Ohio State, a time in which Meyer stated that his receivers coach did “just okay” as a recruiter. Meyer’s opinion of Smith since has changed, however, and seeing Cameron’s interaction with Holmes played a big part in that.
“I knew we were in pretty good shape if he has a great relationship with Zach's son,” Meyer said of Holmes. “He knocked it out of the park this year.”
Asked what changed in him as a recruiter, Smith pointed to his age and experience, as well as his ability to build relationships. The reason that Holmes was willing to spend so much of his time chatting with a four-year-old is that he saw Cameron as a little brother -- as did Dixon, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“To go to Virginia Beach or Norfolk and get him to come to Columbus, Ohio and beat all those schools that were recruiting him, or go to South Florida and take a receiver out of other peoples’ backyards, I mean they had to know that someone’s going to take care of them when they get here, somebody’s going to have their back, that it’s more than just a coach-player relationship,” Smith said. “I think that’s what I’ve established with both of them.”
The other secret to Smith’s success? He’s honest, and not to a fault.
Taking a play out of his former coach's playbook -- he played for Meyer as a walk-on receiver at Bowling Green in 2002 -- Smith isn’t afraid to tell a player the truth, even if it isn’t pretty. While opposing head coaches on the recruiting trail are busy trying to inflate prospects’ egos, Smith would rather give them a preview of how he plans on actually coaching them -- a method that helped him lure Dixon over the likes of Alabama and Miami (Fla.).
“To tell a recruit that you didn’t play very well in a game, probably no one else in the country says that to them,” Smith said. “But I went down and watched Johnnie Dixon practice and I told him a couple times, ‘That was awful’ and then we talked about it. But the kid at the end of the day, he goes home and he says, ‘That guy’s going to make me better and he’s real.’ These other guys say, ‘You’re the best, you’re the best’ -- they’re full of you know what.”
Of course it doesn’t hurt to have a recruiter-in-training like Cameron on his side. Smith's recent efforts have led to more than "just okay" results for the Buckeyes on the recruiting trail -- even if they've caused some confusing moments for his four-year-old.
“When Jalyn came on his official visit, the recruits walked by and my wife and son were there and my son looked at him and thought he got in trouble or something,” Smith said. “He was like, ‘Shouldn’t you be on the field? What are you doing?’ He was so confused.”
Thanks to his father’s -- and perhaps his own -- efforts, there won’t be any confusion for Cameron this fall.
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