Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Rewind: Katzenmoyer headlined Ohio State's No. 1 class in 1996

19 hours ago (April 8, 2020)

EDITOR’S NOTE – With college and professional sports on a hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we will spend time during the month of April looking back at past Ohio State football recruiting classes. We will look at classes over the last 30 years. We hope you enjoy these lookbacks at some great recruiting stories over the years.

As things stand, Ohio State has an early and commanding lead in the race to sign the No. 1-ranked football recruiting class for the 2020 cycle.

We continue our series looking at Ohio State recruiting classes over the last three decades. And in all of that time, Ohio State has signed roughly 20 classes judged among the top 10. Six of those classes have been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country.

But only one OSU class in the last 30 years came in as the nation’s No. 1-ranked class. That happened in 1996 as head coach John Cooper, recruiting coordinator Bill Conley and the rest of the coaching staff brought in a 26-man class filled with blue chippers at nearly every position.

As was noted in our 1995 class analysis, there was uncertainty a year earlier with no clear cut coordinator running the class. The Buckeyes lost out on a ton of top prospects, including future Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson who ended up at Michigan.

“Number one, John Cooper put a priority on recruiting from Day One after national signing day last year,” said Bill Kurelic, then the editor of The Ohio Football Recruiting News (and now with “The coaching staff was meeting for four hours a week to discuss and coordinate its recruiting efforts almost from signing day last year on.

“I also think having Bill Conley solely in charge took care of some of the confusion they had there last year. I think Bill Conley is an outstanding recruiting coordinator. He is very organized and very thorough.”

Cooper was beaming on national signing day 1996 as the rankings came in from one analyst after another.

“There are a lot of happy faces over here, including the head coach,” Cooper said. “I think our coaches, starting with Bill Conley, our recruiting coordinator, did a hell of a job this year. The best thing we did was get on these players early. This probably the smoothest class we’ve brought in here from the standpoint of identifying who we wanted early, offering scholarships and getting commitments.”

Ohio State landed eight of Ohio’s top 10 prospects for 1996, including the biggest fish of all with USA Today All-USA first team linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer from nearby Westerville South. That group was among 15 Ohio players in the class.

Below, we take a look at how Ohio State’s highest ranked recruiting class of the last 30 years came together in 1996.

* 1995 Season: 11-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (second), ranked sixth in AP poll
* Meeting Michigan: Playing as the nation’s No. 2-ranked team and playing for the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl berth, lost to No. 12 Michigan 31-23 in Ann Arbor.
* Bowl Game: Lost to Tennessee 20-14 in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. The teams were tied for the No. 4 ranking in the AP poll going into the game.

* Ranking: Ranked first nationally by Tom Lemming, Bobby Burton of The National Recruiting Advisor and Phil Grosz, ranked second by Max Emfinger, ranked sixth by SuperPrep.
* Number Of Signees: 26
* Top Signees: Players listed as All-Americans by Lemming (top 160) or BlueChip Illustrated (top 100) included LB Andy Katzenmoyer, OL Jefferson Kelley, DB Mike Burden, DB Gary Berry, LB Na’il Diggs, RB Nick Goings, DE Kevin Johnson, DE Marcus Perez, LB Jerry Westbrooks, RB Michael Wiley.
* Other Signees: WR David Boston, OL Joe Brown, QB Mark Garcia (JUCO transfer), OL Benji Gilbert, TE Mike Gurr, TE Kevin Houser, DE Brent Johnson, DL Paris Long, OL Kurt Murphy, WR Vanness Provitt, DB Garrett Shea, DB Rolland Steele, K Dan Stultz, OL Tyson Walter, WR Darik Warnke, DE Clinton Wayne.
* Key Misses: RB Durell Price (UCLA), OL Marc Kielmeyer (Penn State), TE Dan O’Leary (Notre Dame), QB Rashard Casey (Penn State), QB Tim Couch (Kentucky).

Ohio State pulled out all of the stops to bring in the nation’s best class in 1996. The linchpin was home grown linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, a prep All-American from Westerville South. His name had been on everybody’s mind since he was identified as one of the nation’s top 1996 prospects during his junior year at South in 1994. There were comparisons with Chris Spielman, an Ohio-bred All-American linebacker from a decade prior.
There was concern he might follow in the footsteps of former Westerville South star Ki-Jana Carter, who became an All-American running back at Penn State. Katzenmoyer did consider Penn State as well as Nebraska, Michigan and Boston College. But he convened a press conference at his school on Oct. 26, 1995, to let the world know he would stay home and play for the Buckeyes.
Katzenmoyer rarely disappointed, too, as he came in started every game in his three-year career. He was a three-time All-Big Ten pick and won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker in 1997. He played on a pair of teams that won the Big Ten championship and finished ranked No. 2 nationally.
How important was Andy Katzenmoyer? Cooper went to Archie Griffin to get his permission to let the latest Buckeye prodigy wear his uniform No. 45. Nobody had worn that number in the 20 years since Griffin had won his second Heisman Trophy … and nobody has worn it since.
OSU also signed Ohio’s No. 2 prospect in Cincinnati Colerain OL Jefferson Kelley, although Kelley never quite lived up to his billing and left the program after two seasons. Likewise, Dublin Coffman RB Nick Goings also lasted for a couple of seasons before transferring to Pittsburgh. Illinois DB Mike Burden, a USA Today All-USA pick, had off-the-field issues and was gone after one season at OSU.
There were plenty of hits, however. Texas WR David Boston, like Katzenmoyer, came in and started from day one. He set various OSU receiving records and, also like Katzenmoyer, was off to the NFL after three great seasons in the Scarlet and Gray. California RB Michael Wiley was a key backup and returner for two years before starting at tailback his last two seasons.
This was a very good offensive line class with Kurt Murphy, Ben Gilbert and Tyson Walter all starting multiple years for the Buckeyes.
One of the biggest recruiting visit weekends came in early December. The OSU staff convened recruits in one area where they could see Eddie George claim the 1995 Heisman Trophy on a big screen – as his coaches and teammates roared their approval. That weekend netted several key commitments. He was joined as a national award winner by OL Orlando Pace (1995 Lombardi Award) and WR Terry Glenn (1995 Biletnikoff Award).
There were a couple good late signees as well. Columbus DeSales DB Gary Berry spurned Notre Dame and picked Ohio State about a week after signing day. He ended up as a three-year starter at safety.
And California LB Na’il Diggs had actually signed with USC. But after a dispute, a family member retrieved the signed letter and he instead enrolled at Ohio State. He would become a two-year starter and an All-American as well for the Buckeyes.
Members of this class combined to fill 10 of the 22 starting spots on the 1998 team, which was No. 1 most of the season before finishing 11-1 overall and ending up No. 2 in the final polls. Despite the lack of a national championship, that is still considered one of the best teams in the history of Ohio State football.
As you can see, this was one heck of a recruiting class – perhaps the best in modern Ohio State annals.


Cooper on basing the class on Ohio prospects: “The thing that is most satisfying to me is that we got most of the players in the state of Ohio this year. We got out early. The high school coaches in the state really helped us. Eleven of these guys were in our football camp, so we probably know more about these guys than any group we’ve ever had.”
Cooper on whether Ohio State is “back” as a national power: “We’ve won 30 games the last three years. I hope we’re back. I think most people around the country think we’re back, think we’ve been back. Obviously, we’ve got to finish a little stronger than we did this year, but a lot of people would love to be 11-2.
“It’s hard to say how much (the awards) helped, but obviously they helped. All of the exposure, everything, helps. The morale, the way the players jumped in and helped with recruiting, the great academics, the tradition, the excitement that was generated here, the exposure on television … all of that helps.”
Cooper on Katzenmoyer having a chance to play right away: “There isn’t a player we signed who we have promised anything like, ‘You’re going to start.’ Our attitude is pretty simple – the best players play. We think some of them are talented enough to come in and play.
“We won’t treat Andy any differently than we treat anybody else. If he’s better than the other linebackers we have, then he plays. That’s the way we operate, and that’s why we have such good morale on this football team. If Andy is good enough to play, he’ll play, and we feel like he probably is good enough to play.”


Here is how the class fared over its four-year run at Ohio State:
* 1996: 11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (tied for first), ranked second in AP poll
* 1997: 10-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (second), ranked 12th in AP poll
* 1998: 11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (tied for first), ranked second in AP poll
* 1999: 6-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten (tied for sixth), unranked
* Four-Year Record: 38-11 overall (.776), two Big Ten championships, three top 25 finishes, two top five finishes.

* Starter Seasons: 28 total: LB Andy Katzenmoyer (3, 1996, ’97, ’98), WR David Boston (3, 1996, ’97, ’98), OT Tyson Walter (4, 1997, ’98, ’99, 2001), OL Kurt Murphy (3, 1997, ’98, ’99), OL Ben Gilbert (3, 1997, ’98, ’99), DB Gary Berry (3, 1997, ’98, ’99), DE Brent Johnson (3, 1998, ’99, 2000), DT Joe Brown (1, 1998), LB Na’il Diggs (2, 1998, ’99), RB Michael Wiley (2, 1998, ’99), OL Mike Gurr (1, 2000). … Note: The Ohio State media guide lists these players as starters for the majority of games in the seasons listed.
* All-Big Ten Picks: 7 total: LB Andy Katzenmoyer (3, 1996, ’97, ’98), WR David Boston (2, 1997, ’98), LB Na’il Diggs (1, 1998), RB Michael Wiley (1, 1998).
* All-American Picks: 3 total: LB Andy Katzenmoyer (1, 1997), WR David Boston (1, 1998), LB Na’il Diggs (1, 1999).
* NFL Draft Picks: 6 total, 2 first round picks.
1999 Draft: WR David Boston (first round, eighth overall, Arizona Cardinals), LB Andy Katzenmoyer (first round, 28th overall, New England Patriots).
2000 Draft: LB Na’il Diggs (fourth round, Green Bay Packers), DB Gary Berry (fourth round, Green Bay Packers), RB Michael Wiley (fifth round, Dallas Cowboys).
2001 Draft: LS Kevin Houser (seventh round, New Orleans Saints).

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