Ohio State NIL, Roster-Building Key to Returning Stars, Including TreVeyon Henderson and JT Tuimoloau

    The Ohio State Buckeyes are embracing the modern era of college football, building their 2024 roster through NIL-led player retention and the portal.

    It could have been a disastrous start to 2024 for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Bitter rival Michigan won its first National Championship in over 25 years, transfer quarterback target Cameron Ward went elsewhere, and the 2024 NFL Draft deadline could have spelled doom for the Buckeyes’ roster.

    Instead, a host of Buckeyes — including potential first-rounders JT Tuimoloau and Denzel Burke, plus running back TreVeyon Henderson — returned to Columbus, a direct result of the meticulous planning of Ryan Day and THE Foundation, Ohio State’s NIL collective.

    Ohio State’s NIL and Roster-Building Approach

    There’s something different about this offseason for Ohio State. Similar to how Michigan’s run truly started three years ago on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Buckeyes seem to be turning a corner in terms of attitude.

    Michigan bullied the Buckeyes in 2021 and 2022, while the Buckeyes fell just short this season despite one of their least effective passing offenses in years.

    Day immediately set to work improving his team. In the aftermath of the season, Kyle McCord entered the transfer portal, landing at Syracuse while the Buckeyes looked to upgrade.

    Ohio State was linked with Washington State quarterback Ward but eventually landed former Kansas State signal-caller Will Howard instead. Most within the industry would agree Howard is a major upgrade over what the Buckeyes had.

    Then, after Nick Saban retired, Day and company swooped in to land highly-coveted freshman Julian Sayin, immediately signing him to an NIL deal through THE Foundation. Transfer corner Caleb Downs and top overall prospect Jeremiah Smith also signed deals with the collective.

    Day also announced coordinator changes, signaling that he was unhappy with his team’s performance in 2023.

    But rather than start a complete rebuild through the portal, the Buckeyes opted for a different approach, namely focusing on their own roster. The Buckeyes — like usual — had a litany of potential early entrants for the NFL Draft.

    However, potential first-rounders Tuimoloau and Burke opted to return to Columbus. They’re joined by the likes of Henderson and other draft-eligible players like defensive end Jack Sawyer, defensive tackle Tyleik Williams, linebacker Cody Simon, safety Latham Ransom, corner Jordan Hancock, receiver Emeka Egbuka, and offensive linemen Donovan Jackson and Josh Fryar.

    Most, if not all, of that group have NFL futures. Yet, they chose to return to Columbus. “Unfinished business,” as Tuimoloau said in his social media announcement.

    Unfinished business is certainly a part of it, but the impact of THE Foundation cannot be under sold. The amount of money a collective can bring in is important (And the Ohio State fanbase has deep pockets), but how money is organized may be the most important aspect of NIL.

    We’ve seen schools across the country struggle to organize effectively and, as a result, struggle in the NIL realm. Even several blue bloods like Alabama and Notre Dame have had issues utilizing fan donations to improve the roster.

    Other schools like Florida and Texas A&M have overpromised and underdelivered, leaving athletes frustrated.

    I’ve even heard of a well-respected head coach promising high school recruits certain amounts of NIL money without consulting his school’s collective, a recipe for disaster in today’s roster-building and transfer portal era.

    Ohio State set to work using NIL as a tool to reload its roster. THE Foundation worked with the team’s draft-eligible underclassmen to help incentivize the team’s best players to return.

    It didn’t always work. And that was expected. The rumor of a potential eight-figure NIL payout to entice Marvin Harrison Jr. to return is completely inaccurate, but Day and the collective did at least touch base. Harrison declared early, to no one’s surprise.

    MORE: 2025 Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings 

    Collectives will never have the means or the desire to make it more financially sensible for a potential top-four pick to return to school than to enter the draft. Harrison will make around $30 million in guaranteed money on his first contract.

    However, through Day and THE Foundation’s efforts, the Buckeyes will return four starting linemen on each side of the ball, multiple players at the skill positions, and in the secondary and key depth pieces across the board.

    The Next Steps for Ohio State

    With fewer roster holes, the Buckeyes have had an easier time identifying needs and filling them through the transfer portal. Priority No. 1? A quarterback. The Buckeyes moved quickly and landed one of the top passers in the country.

    With only one starting role to fill on the offensive line, Ohio State targeted and quickly signed Alabama’s Seth McLaughlin.

    The Buckeyes needed a tight end and found Ohio transfer Will Kaczmarek. Lastly, part of the pitch to Henderson was that the Buckeye staff would commit to finding a suitable back to give him rest, signing Quinshon Judkins, the SEC’s leading rusher in 2021.

    It’s not a huge class, but all four will play crucial roles on offense, and each has multiple years of eligibility. The Buckeyes haven’t lit things up in the portal simply because they haven’t needed to.

    Every team will lose an impact player to the portal every now and then, and I’m sure the Buckeyes would have preferred to keep wide receiver Julian Fleming. Even the best portal teams lose a player here and there. But by minimizing the amount of holes they needed to fill, the Buckeyes were able to maximize their resources and put their focus on their greatest needs.

    Ohio State likely isn’t done in the portal, with 30-day coach departure and spring windows still open, but it won’t be a huge haul in terms of volume. Had any one of the dozen or so impact returners chosen to pursue other opportunities, the Buckeyes would have likely relied more heavily on the portal.

    But, by prioritizing their own stars, the Buckeyes reduced their need for the portal and successfully turned what should have been a time of rebuilding into an offseason of reloading.

    MORE: 2024 Big Ten Transfer Portal Rankings

    It’s early, but because of their strategy in December and January, the Buckeyes are the Big Ten’s team to beat in 2024.

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

    College Football Transfer Portal Tracker

    Never miss a beat with the CFN-exclusive College Football Transfer Portal Tracker, listing the student-athletes entering and exiting the transfer portal.

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