When Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State in November 2011, he brought along several traditions developed during his time at Bowling Green, Utah and, most notably, Florida. And while quick cals and circle drills have already found their respective places in Buckeye lore, perhaps none has excited fans as much as the annual Friday Night Lights camp.
Traditionally held on the final Friday before the start of fall camp, Friday Night Lights provides Meyer and his staff with one last weekend to fully focus on recruiting. Top prospects from all across the nation come to Columbus to work out at the camp under the bright lights of Ohio Stadium in an event that was originally developed during Meyer's time with the Gators.
"Just to do something different and give campers a game-like atmosphere in the stadium," Meyer explained of the camp. "Since we're getting close to the season, it's never very long. It's only a couple hours. But we're going to put them through a weight workout and then just try to get them a little feel for what college football's all about."
Open to the public—but not advertised, per NCAA rules—fans get in on the action, catching an early glimpse of the college football stars of tomorrow while inadvertently aiding Ohio State in its recruiting efforts. A packed house on a July Friday night can go a long way in the mind of a recruit, and the rabid, recruiting-obsessed Buckeyes fanbase has proven capable of providing just that.
In recent years, Friday Night Lights has helped pave the way for Ohio State to land the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Donovan Munger and Chris Worley in 2013 and Raekwon McMillan, Jamarco Jones, Marshon Lattimore, Curtis Samuel and Erick Smith in 2014.
Shortly after last year's event, the Buckeyes received their first verbal commitment for the 2015 class in 247Sports 4-star athlete Eric Glover-Williams and later added pledges from fellow attendees in 2015 cornerback Jamel Dean and 2017 quarterback Danny Clark.
Meyer is hopeful that this year's Friday Night Lights will be as successful as his first two installments of the camp in Columbus. If it is, that would bode well for the Buckeyes, as once again there will be no shortage of stars participating under the lights of The Horseshoe this Friday.
Headlining this year's FNL is a player who won't even be taking part in workouts but will surely still find a way to capture the attention of fans in Torrance Gibson. The 5-star quarterback currently sits atop the Buckeyes' recruiting wish list, and this Friday will mark the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native's first trip to Columbus for an unofficial visit.
I will still be attending Ohio State "Friday Night Lights" #BuckeyeNation 🅾🙌❗️🅾— Torrance Gibson (@quick_tg6) July 24, 2014
While he won't be working out at the camp, this weekend is more about Ohio State impressing Gibson than it is vice versa. And with the Buckeyes coaching staff and a number of 2015 commits in attendance and ready to help recruit, this weekend could go a long way toward accomplishing just that.
Although a commitment from Gibson isn't expected until national signing day, just getting the highly touted signal-caller on campus is big for the Buckeyes. B/R national recruiting writer Tyler Donohue anticipates this weekend being a milestone in Gibson's recruitment, as Ohio State looks to solidify itself as one of the favorites in the race for his services.
My guess is after his Ohio State visit, Torrance Gibson either drops Buckeyes from list or puts them in top three with Auburn and Tennessee.— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) July 24, 2014
Gibson won't be the only big-name recruit in attendance in The Shoe on Friday, as the Buckeyes will also aim to impress 4-star offensive tackle Drew Richmond. The 6'5", 320-pounder from Memphis, Tennessee, is one of Ohio State's top remaining targets, and the interest between the two is apparently mutual.
This Friday will mark Richmond's third unofficial trip to Columbus in the past 13 months, and his college decision seems to be between the Buckeyes and Tennessee. Like Gibson, this weekend could go a long way toward the Buckeyes locking down the big-bodied lineman, who would be considered a cornerstone in Ohio State's 2015 class.
Another 2015 offensive target who will be camping for the Buckeyes on Friday is University of Miami commit and 4-star running back Jordan Cronkrite. The Miami Westminster Christian School product has been committed to the Hurricanes since April, but it's no secret that Ohio State is looking to add two running backs to its 2015 class, and his decision to visit Columbus could only be viewed as a positive sign for OSU.
On the defensive side of the ball in the 2015 class, the Buckeyes' expected visitors are headlined by Monaca (Pennsylvania) Central Valley 4-star cornerback Jordan Whitehead, Detroit Cass Tech 3-star defensive end Joshua Alabi and Macedonia (Ohio) Nordonia 3-star defensive end and Michigan State commit Justice Alexander.
Of those players, Whitehead appears to the be priority for the OSU staff, as the Buckeyes look to pry the Keystone State native away from the grasp of the Nittany Lions.
As far as committed targets, most of Ohio State's 2015 class is expected to attend this year's Friday Night Lights, including Glover-Williams, Dean, quarterback Joe Burrow, offensive lineman Kevin Feder, defensive linemen Jashon Cornell and Dre'Mont Jones, linebackers Nick Conner and Justin Hilliard, defensive backs Tyler Green and Denzel Ward and long-snapper Liam McCullough. Expect for these players to be on recruiting duty for the OSU staff as they look to bolster what currently stands as the nation's 15th-ranked class.
Looking To The Future
While most of the big names in attendance come from the 2015 class, the Buckeyes will also attempt to make early impressions on a number of underclassmen at Friday's camp.
In addition to two 2016 commits in running back George Hill and offensive lineman Tyler Gerald, Ohio State will be aiming to impress, Atlanta Woodward running back Elijah Holyfield, Fort Wayne (Indiana) Bishop Luers wide receiver Austin Mack, Cincinnati Moeller tight end Jake Hausmann, Perry (Ohio) tight end Luke Farrell, Saint Clairsville (Ohio) linebacker Brendan Ferns and Miami Gulliver Prep defensive back Cedrick Wright.
Each of those players currently holds an Ohio State offer, and if history is any indication, one or more could be making a commitment by the end of the weekend.
As for juniors looking to earn Buckeye offers at this weekend's camp, Ohio State will be keeping an eye on Dublin (Ohio) Coffman quarterback Gunnar Hoak, Cleveland Benedictine wide receiver Justin Layne, Farmington (Michigan) wide receiver Desmond Fitzpatrick, Versailles (Kentucky) Woodford County center Drake Jackson, Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln defensive end Jonathon Cooper, Detroit Cass Tech defensive back Lavert Hill and Columbus DeSales defensive back Austin Andrews, among others.
As the past two years have shown, Friday Night Lights is the perfect opportunity for a player to prove that he's deserving of an invitation to play for Ohio State, and this year shouldn't be any different.
Aside from Clark, who will be in attendance serving as one of the Buckeyes' chief recruiters, big names from the 2017 class expected to participate in Friday's camp include Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas wide receiver Trevon Grimes, Cass Tech wide receiver Donovan People-Jones, Miamisburg (Ohio) offensive lineman Josh Myers and Westerville (Ohio) South defensive back Marcus Williamson.
While Myers already holds an Ohio State offer, the other high school sophomores in attendance will aim to prove they're worthy of one while still in the early stages of their recruiting process.
What It All Means
Friday Night Lights serves a two-way street of sorts, as the Buckeyes attempt to impress the big-name prospects in attendance while players without offers look to impress the Ohio State staff. It all culminates in a rare competition-filled July night inside Ohio Stadium, offering fans an inside look at both the nation's top prospects and the recruiting process that helps lure them.
Evidenced by the number of big-name targets that FNL has helped the Buckeyes land, the track record of the camp's success speaks for itself. With Gibson, Richmond and a slew of other top targets in attendance on Friday, Ohio State is hopeful that tradition will continue, as it's proved to help lead to another all-important tradition in Columbus that Meyer is plenty familiar with.
All quotes, unless indicated otherwise, obtained firsthand. Visitor list provided by 247Sports.