The dash for high school football talent reaches its peak Feb. 14, although Ohio State Buckeyes Coach John Cooper already has grabbed the most wanted prize in the country.
A consensus of lists compiled by recruiting services from around the country suggests that Robert Smith, a big, fast running back from Euclid, Ohio, who plans a career in medicine after his football days are over, was the best high school player in the nation last season.
And Smith already has announced he will sign a scholarship agreement with the Buckeyes, who have concentrated on quickness and speed at the skill positions in this year's recruiting class and who could wind up with the best group of recruits in the country.
Although the bulk of the nation's better players already have announced their commitments to various schools, nothing becomes official until the first day a student can sign a scholarship agreement -- which is Feb. 14.
Smith tops UPI's list of the best 100 high school recruits in the country, having rushed for 2,322 yards and scored 31 touchdowns last season. During his three varsity years in high school, Smith averaged 9.4 yards per carry. He won the 100-meter dash at last year's Ohio high school track and field championships and finished second in both the 200 and 400 meters.
'He has done it on a consistent basis throughout his career,' said Smith's high school coach, Tom Banc. 'He is without a doubt the most electrifying football player I have coached in 25 years. He is a good worker who knows only one way to play. That is all out. He is a wonderful student and his work ethic is great. There is no kid who works any harder on the field or in the classroom.'
In addition to Smith, Ohio State has gained commitments from both cornerback Larry Kennedy of Sarasota, Fla., and quarterback Joe Pickens of Cleveland -- both ranked among the country's best at their positions. Pickens threw for 1,564 yards last season.
'Third andlong meant nothing to our team because we had Joe Pickens,' said his coach at St. Ignatius high, Chuck Kyle.
With a rash of coaching changes in the south perhaps hurting traditional powers such as Alabama, Clemson and Florida, with Oklahoma still on probation and with a coaching change at Arkansas leaving the two-time defending Southwest Conference champions as a question mark, much of the nation's high school talent appears to be gravitating toward the midwest.
In addition to Ohio State, good recruiting years appear to be in the works for Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Heading the Notre Dame crop will be running back Jeff Burris of Rock Hill, S.C., who has committed to the Irish.
Defending national champion Miami loses only three starters on offense this year and will likely concentrate heavily on defense. Among the Hurricanes commitments is defensive tackle Anthony Lewis, a 6-5, 278-pounder from Brockton, Mass.
Smith, a potential all-purpose player who will likely return kicks and punts and who could be used in the Ohio State passing attack as well, said a visit with former Buckeyes' tight end John Frank was the key to his decision.
Frank, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, went on to medical school. He gave Smith a tour of the school's medical facilities during Smith's official visit to Ohio State.
'John Frank convinced me it was worth it,' said Smith, who also visited USC, UCLA and Miami. 'That was the deciding factor right there.'
Smith also said the decision by Ohio State to rip up its artificial turf and put natural grass back in its stadium was a major factor.
'If Ohio State had (artificial) turf, I would not be playing at Ohio State,' he said. 'My aspirations are not athletic. I want to be able to walk after I'm finished.'
adv weekend, feb. 10-11