Fay: On Signing Day, Fickell's persistence opens recruiting doors that were closed to Tuberville

CINCINNATI -- Luke Fickell has been through the recruiting wars enough to know you can’t judge a class on signing day.

However, he also likes the fact that folks who make a living rating recruiting classes on signing day think he did well in landing his first class at the University of Cincinnati.

"If they’re going to keep score, we want to win," he said.

scout.com rated UC’s class as No. 1 in the American Athletic Conference and 60th nationally. This is impressive, considering Fickell didn’t take over the program until three weeks ago and did not have a full staff of assistant coaches for most of the recruiting season.

Fickell, a former Ohio State assistant, kept his pledge to hit the local area hard. He signed four Cincinnati players: La Salle’s Jarell White, Colerain’s Kyle Bolden, Miamisburg’s Cody Lamb and Middletown’s Cole Smith. In all, he signed 10 Ohio players among the 23-player class. Last year, Tommy Tuberville signed one local player and two from Ohio.

Fickell made a point to reach out to local high school coaches, something Tuberville did not do. Fickell said he was able to at least get in the door with every local recruit he sought.

"It also had a lot to do with their high school coaches," he said. “The high school coaches, deep down inside -- whether I recruited their school or not -- know me from the last 16 years I’ve been in the state of Ohio.

"They’d say, 'At least talk to this guy. I’ve known him for 15 years. He’s a good person.'"

That’s what Fickell sells to recruits. In that way, recruiting at UC is no different than recruiting at Ohio State.

"You’re dealing 17-, 18-, 19-year-old kids," he said. "They have the same expectations. They want the same things. They have those dreams and hopes. Those are the kids we wanted.

"They have the same mentality. They want a relationship. They want to know they’ll be cared for, loved and given an opportunity to play on the highest level."

Where it’s different, Fickell said, is the Ohio State recruiters can get in any home they want.

"The easiest thing about being at Ohio State or Alabama, the door opens for you," he said. "The other schools you have to work harder for it."

Fickell isn’t going to be outworked, and he’s practically dripping with passion. Let's just say he can be persistent.

"Sure enough, we got a few of those kids who said, 'No, no, no,'" he said. “About the fourth time, they talked to us. You probably would not have had to do that (at Ohio State)."

White is the one of the prizes of the class, and his early commitment helped opened the doors Fickell talks about.

"Jarell is one of the catalysts of this class," Fickell said. "He started that momentum. These guys are all on social media. ... Those guys all know each other. To have Jarrell, a guy who’s very social, say ‘I believe in this. I believe in my city. I believe the university. I believe in the coaches.' It meant a lot."

Fickell needed that boost. He said three-quarters of signings weren’t contacted until after he got the job.

"We started cold on them," he said. “We had to build relationships really fast."

UC also got the No. 1 player in Indiana, linebacker RJ Potts, a four-star recruit. Quarterback Torrance Gibson, the No. 16 player nationally coming of his school, signed with UC after leaving Ohio State. Michael Warren II, Mr. Football in Ohio, signed.

"We really know in about a year in and half," he said. "It looks good on paper. The thing I’m most excited about is a lot of guys from really, really good football programs."

But it was a signing day win, if you’re keeping score.

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