Ohio State has picked up its highest-rated member of the class of 2015. Cincinnati St. Xavier four-star linebacker Justin Hilliard, the No. 58 overall prospect in the country, announced his decision Wednesday at his high school.
It marks the second straight year that the Buckeyes have swooped into Cincinnati to claim a highly touted linebacker. In 2014, OSU landed Cincinnati Moeller five-star linebacker Sam Hubbard, who has since been moved to tight end.
Officially, the Buckeyes beat out Alabama, Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame for his services, but it appears to have come down to Ohio State and the Irish. At the Columbus edition of the Nike Football Training Camp on June 1, he hinted as much by saying there were two teams that stood out more than the other three.
He acted like it, too, visiting Ohio State and Notre Dame several times each, including one final time for both on the weekend of June 20-22. Unlike most of Ohio State's commitments in June that came during visits, Hilliard instead preferred to give himself time after each visit to decompress and evaluate.
"Whenever I see someone commit right after a visit, I feel like they're making a decision based on their gut," he said on June 1. "I don't believe in that. Sometimes after every visit, I'll have that moment like, ‘This could be the school I want to go to.' So I try and wait a couple days to think everything out and talk to my parents and really see what I really think."
When it came down to it, Hilliard believed Ohio State had more to offer than Notre Dame did. Having recently been named "Linebacker U" by ESPN.com, the Buckeyes own a rich history at that position. Ohio State has produced 16 draft picks at the position since 2000, including three first-round picks since 2006.
That's something that appealed to Hilliard, who noted at the NFTC camp that a path to the NFL was an important consideration in his decision.
"I look at how many people they've sent to the NFL, definitely my position coach and how talented he is at doing his job and how the players feel about how they're doing right now," he said. "Also a big thing, I believe, is the strength coach. You guys know recruiting is a big thing in college. Your position coach will be out recruiting, but the strength coach will always be there, you know, getting you better at all times."
Ultimately, he knew Ohio State better than the four other schools that missed out on him.
"I basically know everything," he quipped back on June 1. "I even know some of the professors."
One month later, he knew it was the place he wanted to be.