When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hired Kerry Coombs as an assistant last year, he gained more than just a football lifer with loads of experience in the sport.
Coombs also gave Meyer another much-needed link to Cincinnati.
OSU football is big throughout Ohio, but there are divided allegiances between several schools in the Queen City. The University of Cincinnati, which has played in two BCS games in the last five seasons, is working to build its fan base, while Notre Dame and Michigan already have strong followings.
Columbus may only be two hours away, but to many Cincinnatians, it seems as if it were located in another state.
“We’re pretty insular in Cincinnati. Some would say we’re kind of like a cult,” said Coombs, who had a successful 16-year run as head coach at Colerain High School and then spent five years on the UC staff before joining the Buckeyes.
“There does seem to be some sort of disconnect. Coach Meyer is working really hard to bridge whatever gap there might be.”
The Buckeyes hope to gain a stronger foothold in the town when they hold their annual spring game at Paul Brown Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The game needed to be moved because seats at Ohio Stadium are being replaced. OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith suggested taking it to Cincinnati, and Meyer, a UC graduate and a former walk-on for the football team, loved the idea.
“I’m a big Cincinnati guy, so we’re going to take our players to the Reds museum. We’re going to give them a little taste of Cincinnati afterward with Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter’s ice cream and some Skyline. We’re going to do it right,” Meyer said.
OSU expects a crowd of about 40,000 for the game, which is considerably below what it would draw at the Horseshoe. But the Buckeyes will get some coverage from the Cincinnati media, which doesn’t cover them on a regular basis.
“… I think that’s a good example of how Ohio State is not that big down here,” said Joe Kay, the Cincinnati-based sports writer for the Associated Press.
“High school football (in Cincinnati) is huge. They’ll draw almost 10,000 people for one of the big football games, for one with the GCL schools. High school football is just enormous. College football, not so much.”
Cincinnati is a recruiting hotbed in football, but only eight players in the last 10 years have signed with the Buckeyes. Dayton, which has far fewer state-championship-caliber programs, has produced 18 OSU recruits in that span.
All-Big Ten guard Andrew Norwell, who played at Cincinnati Anderson High School, said he could have as many as 50 family members and friends at the game. But he considers the city a hodgepodge of college loyalties.
“A lot of people are Cincinnati fans. There’s Notre Dame and Kentucky fans. It’s just a mix,” he said. “It’s not like Cleveland where everybody loves Ohio State.
“But there’s a big Ohio State presence, I would say. Everyone I knew in high school liked Ohio State. They all liked Cincinnati, too. It goes both ways.”
Meyer picked up a five-star recruit last year in Cincinnati Taft defensive end Adolphus Washington, a likely starter as a sophomore this season.
Moeller senior-to-be Sam Hubbard, a four-star prospect pegged to play either safety or linebacker, is one of seven verbal commitments so far in the 2014 class.
“I wasn’t here in years past, but I have heard a lot of, ‘We haven’t done well in Cincinnati,’ ” Meyer said. “But I think we’re doing great. I think we’re killing it.
“Adolphus Washington could potentially be a great player at Ohio State. Recently, we’ve done well down there. There’s really good players and really good high school coaches.”
The Buckeyes hope to give their recruiting efforts a boost at the game. Tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Hinton, who was on the UC staff from 2004-08, said a slew of prospects from the area are expected to attend.
“It’s an opportunity for some exposure with some kids who maybe couldn’t get to a spring game,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to probably get a little more media (attention) and get on talk radio and have people talk about you in that area. That part is all positive.
“The bottom line is we’re going to recruit the entire state. This is THE Ohio State University, and we want to make sure we take the best players out of Ohio every year. That’s not going to change.”
In the last 10 years, Ohio State has signed 213 football recruits, and 120 of them have come from Ohio. The Cleveland area has produced the most OSU scholarship players in that span with 34.
Top recruiting areas:
Greater Cleveland 34
Central Ohio 22
Dayton area 18