LeBron James' Role in Ohio State Football's Biggest Recruiting Weekend of 2014

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LeBron James' Role in Ohio State Football's Biggest Recruiting Weekend of 2014
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A mere three weeks after LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer issued an open invitation for the NBA megastar to attend any Buckeyes game he'd like.

It didn't take long for James to take Meyer up on the offer.

"I think he'll be in town," Meyer responded on Wednesday when asked if James would be in attendance for Ohio State's game against Virginia Tech on Saturday—the first Buckeyes home contest of the 2014 season.

Should James find himself standing on the Ohio State sideline, the four-time NBA MVP will be joined by a plethora of the nation's top high school prospects. Since arriving in Columbus in 2012, Meyer has attempted to turn night games at Ohio State into can't-miss events for recruits, and Saturday's prime-time showdown with the Hokies will be no exception.

"[It's] probably the biggest of the year," Meyer said of the Buckeyes' upcoming recruiting weekend. "I just see who's coming. A night game in The Horseshoe—last year we had Wisconsin and Penn State [at night], and those were big hits."

Given the tentative visitor list, this weekend could prove to be an even bigger hit for the Buckeyes, as several of their top targets and the nation's top high school players are slated to be in Columbus. Even with 4-star quarterback Torrance Gibson rescheduling his official visit for a later date, there won't be any shortage of stars standing underneath the bright lights of Ohio Stadium on Saturday—James included.

"He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said of James at Big Ten media days in Chicago in July. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game."

Who are the top prospects Meyer is hoping James will have a positive impact on this weekend? Let's take a look.

 

247Sports.com
Josh Sweat will take an official visit to Ohio State on Saturday.

Josh Sweat

The top-ranked player at any position in the 2015 class, defensive end Josh Sweat will make his way to Columbus this weekend by way of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Sweat possesses 4.5 40 speed and is capable of making an instant impact at the college level.

Unsurprisingly, the 5-star prospect is being chased by the nation's top schools and only raised his profile after a junior season in which he tallied 94 tackles and 22 sacks. Ohio State will get the first crack at Sweat when it comes to official visits, before he heads to Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, Georgia on Oct. 4, Florida State on Oct. 18 and Oregon on Oct. 31.

At this point, many believe the Buckeyes trail the Seminoles and Hokies in the race for Sweat's services, but this weekend will provide Meyer and his staff with an opportunity to gain ground on the front-runners. The addition of defensive line coach Larry Johnson has only added credibility to Ohio State's efforts in the the Old Dominion State, which has given the Buckeyes Curtis Grant and Jalyn Holmes in recent years.

Ohio State may have little more than a long shot at landing Sweat, but that won't stop the Buckeyes from pulling out all the stops for his arrival on campus this weekend. All it could take is one good visit to sway fortune in Ohio State's favor, as Meyer looks to make an impression on the headliner of this weekend's visitor list.

Josh Sweat's Crystal Ball Predictions
Team Percentage
Florida State 42%
Virginia Tech 36%
Ohio State 9%
Georgia 9%
Tennessee 3%

247Sports.com

 

Damien Harris

247Sports.com

The top running back in the 2015 class, Damien Harris is a onetime Michigan commit who decided to reconsider his options when he backed away from his verbal pledge to Brady Hoke in January. The Wolverines' loss could be the Buckeyes' gain, as Ohio State now finds itself heavily favored to land the Berea (Kentucky) Madison Southern product.

At 5'11" and 205 pounds, Harris is a 5-star prospect who fits the mold of the bigger type of running back that Meyer has preferred since Carlos Hyde found success in his spread offense. Kentucky hasn't traditionally been known as a power-rich state when it comes to producing college football talent, although the Buckeyes will have to fend off the home state Wildcats to secure a commitment from Harris.

Michigan also remains in the picture for Harris, as do Alabama and Florida. But as of right now, Ohio State is the only school that is scheduled to receive an official visit from the Bluegrass State product, which will come this weekend alongside some of the country's other top prospects.

Damien Harris' Crystal Ball Predictions
Team Percentage
Ohio State 71%
Kentucky 20%
Michigan 9%

247Sports.com

 

Matthew Burrell

Sweat won't be the only prospect from Virginia in attendance in Columbus on Saturday, as Matthew Burrell will make his way to Ohio State from Woodbridge C.D. Hylton High School.

A 4-star prospect, Burrell ranks as the nation's fifth-ranked guard and No. 96 overall prospect in the 2015 class. Since arriving at Ohio State, Meyer has made it clear that he can never recruit too many talented offensive linemen, signing five players at the position in his 2014 class.

While Alabama and Florida State remain in the hunt for the 6'5", 302-pounder, 98 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have Burrell winding up at Ohio State. This weekend's visit could go a long way toward solidifying the Buckeyes' status with the highly touted lineman who has already taken two unofficial visits to Columbus in the past year.

Matthew Burrell's Crystal Ball Predictions
Team Percentage
Ohio State 98%
Florida State 2%

247Sports.com

 

Jordan Whitehead

Another likely Ohio State commit, Whitehead will make his way to Columbus a little more than a month after attending the Buckeyes' Friday Night Lights camp. 247Sports currently favors the Monaca (Pennsylvania) Central Valley product to eventually wind up at Ohio State, although Penn State and West Virginia remain in the race for his services.

The 6'0", 180-pounder ranks as a 4-star prospect and the No. 20 cornerback in the 2015 class. He visited Pittsburgh a week ago but has no other official visits planned after his trip to Columbus.

Expected to announce his college decision on Oct. 3, this weekend's visit from Whitehead could go a long way toward sealing the deal for Ohio State in his recruitment. The Buckeyes already have four cornerbacks committed to their 2015 class, but Meyer wouldn't mind adding another—especially with the talent of Whitehead.

Jordan Whitehead's Crystal Ball Predictions
Team Percentage
Ohio State 52%
Penn State 43%
West Virginia 4%

247Sports.com

 

247Sports.com
Jacques Patrick is a near lock to land at Florida State.

Jacques Patrick

Of the long-shot variety, 4-star running back Jacques Patrick is expected to take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend, although most expect the product of Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida, to wind up at Florida State.

At 6'1.5" and 230 pounds, Patrick is a true power back who also possesses 4.51 40-yard speed. Patrick ranks as the nation's No. 2 running back and 44th overall player, making him a big get for whichever team lands his services.

And while that team is expected to be the Seminoles, getting him to Columbus and onto the Ohio State campus can't hurt the Buckeyes' chances, no matter how small they are. It's no secret that Meyer would like to land two running backs in his 2015 class, and finding a way to bring both Harris and Patrick to Ohio State would be quite the haul for the two-time national champion head coach.

Jacques Patrick's Crystal Ball Predictions
Team Percentage
Florida State 100%

247Sports.com

 

Kevin Toliver II

Also a long shot, but taking a visit to Columbus this weekend nevertheless is 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II, who has been committed to LSU since Nov. 4, 2012. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, Toliver measures in as the nation's second-ranked cornerback and the No. 7 overall player in the 2015 class.

And although the Jacksonville Trinity Christian product has maintained what is nearly a two-year commitment to the Tigers, he has insisted on taking all five of his official visits this fall, the first of which came last weekend when he checked out Auburn. After taking in his Ohio State visit this weekend, Toliver will head to Virginia Tech on Sept. 19, LSU on Nov. 7 and UCLA on Nov. 21.

Those trips reek of a player trying to make the most out of his recruiting experience, but who's going to argue with one of the top players in the country wanting to check out your campus? As mentioned with Sweat and Patrick, it never hurts to have a player take a visit, even if—as will likely be the case with Toliver—that's all it's for.

 

247Sports.com
The brother of Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, 5-star prospect Nick Bosa will visit Columbus on Saturday.

2016 Prospects

In addition to some of the top high school seniors in the country, a number of highly touted 2016 prospects will make their way to Ohio Stadium for this Saturday's game. Those juniors expected to be in attendance include but aren't limited to:

Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa

Columbus (Ohio) Gahanna Lincoln 4-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper

Saint Clairsville (Ohio) 4-star linebacker Brendan Ferns

Nashville (Tennessee) Father Ryan 4-star safety Joejuan Williams

Indianapolis (Indiana) Ben Davis 4-star running back Chris Evans

Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 4-star offensive guard Michael Onwenu

Eden Prairie (Minnesota) 3-star outside linebacker Carter Coughlin

 

Ohio State Commits

247Sports.com
5-star linebacker and Ohio State Justin Hilliard will be in attendance for the Buckeyes' big recruiting weekend.

In addition to help from LeBron, the Ohio State coaching staff is hopeful that its recruiting efforts will be aided by the presence of several prospects who have already issued verbal commitments to the Buckeyes. Ohio State's next three recruiting classes will each be represented on campus on Saturday, with the following commits expected to take visits to Columbus:

2015 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier 5-star outside linebacker Justin Hilliard

2015 Saint Paul (Minnesota) Cretin Derham Hall 4-star defensive end Jashon Cornell

2015 Dublin (Ohio) Scioto 4-star inside linebacker Nick Conner

2015 Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha Catholic 3-star safety Tyler Green

2015 Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 3-star defensive end Joshua Alabi

2015 Columbus (Ohio) Worthington Kilbourne long snapper Liam McCullough

2016 Hubbard (Ohio) 4-star running back George Hill

2016 Portsmouth (Ohio) Sciotoville 4-star offensive guard Tyler Gerald

2017 Massillon (Ohio) Washington 4-star quarterback Danny Clark

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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