The top third of that list is dotted with players who sided with in-state programs Virginia and Virginia Tech, but Alabama, Florida State, Tennessee, Nebraska and Notre Dame all staked their claim to at least one prospect as well. Six spots down the rankings sits four-star defensive end Jalyn Holmes, whose recruitment went just about perfectly for Ohio State and ended with a signature on a National Letter of Intent to play for head coach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
So how did a highly sought prospect with offers from Florida, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and just about every other prestigious program in the southeast end up in Columbus? It took a positive visit, the Big Ten recruiter of the year, an HBO documentary, a four-year-old and a player willing to forsake the program he rooted for as a child. But most of all, it took an assistant who was willing to tell the truth.
Let's start there.
Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the grandson of former Buckeyes head coach Earle Bruce, was named the Scout.com Big Ten recruiter of the year for 2014 largely because he managed to land a trio of four-star prospects in Holmes, Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Dwyer wide receiver Johnnie Dixon and Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII wide receiver Noah Brown. He did so by gambling that an honest approach with players would ultimately pay off when contrasted against fawning recruiters who told recruits whatever they wanted to hear.
"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 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."
That approach paid off with the Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor product. Titans head coach Hank Sawyer took notice of that as well as the aggressive way that Smith recruited Holmes. He said that Smith visited frequently and maintained a humble approach throughout the process.
That was perfect for Holmes, who told Smith from the start that he didn't want to be fed any half-truths during his recruitment.
"Zach, we're real tight," Holmes told BuckeyeSports.com. "I could probably walk in his house and walk straight to the refrigerator. When I first met him, I told him I didn't want him to tell me any B.S. He's always been real honest with me. I felt like he was there for me and my best interests."
On top of that, Holmes quickly ingratiated himself with the rest of the Smith family, including the assistant's 4-year-old son, Cameron. For all Smith's accolades, his son may have turned out to be an even better recruiter than he is.
"I see that (relationship) when I walk in Jalyn Holmes' house and he's on that Facebook or Facetime, whatever that is, he's sitting there talking to Zach Smith's son for five or ten minutes," Meyer said. "I knew we were in pretty good shape if he has a great relationship with Zach's son."
When Holmes actually got to Columbus last summer, he realized quickly that it was a team for which he could see himself playing. The Buckeyes put Ryan Shazier and fellow Virginia native Curtis Grant on hosting duties. It couldn't have gone better.
The night before he committed, Holmes took to YouTube to do a little research on the Buckeyes. He stumbled across the hour-long HBO documentary "Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry" and was instantly hooked. Seeing the passion of the fans and the gold pants that came with victories over Michigan helped push Ohio State over the top in the race for his services.
"Watching that, I learned a lot of stuff about the rivalry that I didn't even know," he said. "I always knew it was a big rivalry but I never knew it went that deep and the accolades that came with it. That's one of the reasons I came too, to play in a big game like that at the end of the year."
That came as no surprise to his coach, who said that Holmes is one of the rare players he has coached who seems enamored with the history of college football.
"One time I was talking to him last summer about Woody Hayes because I kind of admire Woody Hayes, he knew all about it," Sawyer told BuckeyeSports.com. "Some kids don't read about football in the past and the storied tradition that Ohio State as well as Michigan have. Once he realized Ohio State was the place he needed to be, he just went crazy about it."
There was still one small obstacle in the way. Holmes grew up a fan of the Florida State Seminoles and held an offer from the ACC program. When it came down to it, though, he said he felt he had a better chance to quickly make an impact and be successful in Columbus than in Tallahassee.
He certainly has the capability to do so. His athleticism allowed him to play a prominent role in the Titans' passing offense throughout his career as a receiver. Defensively, he showed off his versatility by playing linebacker and defensive tackle in addition to the defensive end spot that he projects to play in college.
"I think I fit real well," Holmes said. "I bring speed off the edge. People always tell me I'm an SEC player playing in the Big Ten. I feel like I could make an impact early if I come in ready and have my mind right."
According to Sawyer, Holmes' mentality is more advanced than many of the players he's seen throughout his career. During a 15-0 junior campaign that ended with a state championship, Holmes saved Lake Taylor's unbeaten season in the penultimate game of the regular season. After the Titans absorbed three straight sacks, he came up with the game-winning grab on fourth down and was mobbed by his entire team in the end zone. Instead of basking in the victory, Holmes tried to focus on making sure his team didn't end up in that type of position again.
"In the ninth game of the year we were down by four points to Granby High School," Sawyer said. "He caught a pass in the end zone and we won the game right there as time expired. He called me that weekend and said, ‘Coach, what if I hadn't caught the ball?' You have to look at it from the perspective of what if you hadn't made the catch, and when he said that I knew I had something special. He went on to make three or four great catches in the state semifinals and we came back and won that one, too. He's like a coach, man."
He was on hand for the 63-14 win against on Oct. 26 when the OSU defensive line hit quarterback Christian Hackenberg for four sacks and was also in Ohio Stadium for the spring game on April 12 as the Buckeyes combined for five sacks. It's a role that he sees himself playing soon.
"When I watch them, I just think about myself doing it with them," Holmes said. "I just want to do anything I can to make it even better. The ultimate goal is to win a national championship, so I'm just getting ready to go there at the start of camp and contribute any way I can."
He has a close bond with his fellow members of Ohio State's "Dream 14" class and said he talks to Damon Webb, Johnnie Dixon and Raekwon McMillan on a daily basis. In fact, he (half-jokingly) takes credit for the December haul in which the Buckeyes landed McMillan on Dec. 16 and Dixon one day later.
"I take the credit for the Raekwon commit. That was me. Don't give it to anybody else," he said with a laugh. "Me and Raekwon, we got real tight at camps. Me, him, Johnnie Dixon and Damon Webb, we talk to each other every day."
While Meyer was left to sweat out McMillan's commitment, Holmes said he had a pretty good idea the four-star linebacker would be headed to Columbus because of the way he spoke about Ohio State. Dixon's announcement was another story.
"Johnnie, I was nervous. I didn't really know," Holmes said. "I always tell them, I really, honestly didn't care which school they went to if it wasn't Ohio State. We were that close. Raekwon, when we went on our visit to Ohio State together, he would say, ‘We have to get this for our room when we come here,' or ‘This is what we have to do when we come here.' I kind of knew, but I was more nervous with Johnnie than Raekwon."
That he would develop friendships so quickly didn't come as a surprise to Sawyer, who watched Holmes bond with his teammates throughout his high school career.
"It's kind of unbelievable how much he's concerned about his teammates," Sawyer said. "When you're first around him and you hear his conversation, you think it's not natural and it's not real. You almost think he's putting on a show. But then when he does it every day all the time, even with some of the other students in the school, you realize what an awesome personality he is."