2024 LB Payton Pierce's commitment is big for Jim Knowles, Ohio State. Here's why

Colin Gay
The Columbus Dispatch

With Jim Knowles came hope for Ohio State football’s defense.

Heading into his first season as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, Ohio State commits in the 2023 class spoke glowingly about Knowles’ scheme , one centered around versatility and multiplicity.

“They liked versatile dudes, dudes that can do a lot of things,” cornerback Jermaine Mathews told The Dispatch in August.

Knowles' defense is about disguise, putting fast and physical athletes in as many different situations as possible to confuse and intimidate opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the football longer than they normally would.

No position seems to emphasize that mindset more than linebacker, where a player could be serving as a prominent edge rusher on one play before he plays man coverage against a tight end or slot receiver on the next.

While Knowles' pitch seemed attractive to linebacker recruits, Ohio State did lose on recruiting battles for targets including Tackett Curtis (USC), Troy Bowles (Georgia) and Raul Aguirre (Miami). Four-star Arvell Reese out of Glenville High School was Ohio State's only linebacker commit in 2023, reopening the pipeline that brought Marshon Lattimore and Ted Ginn Jr. to Columbus.

The 2022 season brought progress for Ohio State’s linebackers, including a breakout season for Tommy Eichenberg who led the Buckeyes in tackles (120) and tackles-for-loss (12). Knowles just needed more recruits outside of state lines to buy into what he was building.

Lucas, Texas linebacker Payton Pierce and what he means to Ohio State

Enter Payton Pierce .

The four-star linebacker out of Lucas, Texas, has the attention of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Tennessee, finishing his junior season at Lovejoy High School with 131 tackles, 21 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, six pass deflections and five forced fumbles.

Pierce, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound athlete rated as the No. 15 linebacker in the country per 247Sports composite rankings, bought into what Knowles sold him, becoming Ohio State’s first out-of-state linebacker commit since Cody Simon , who joined the Buckeyes’ 2020 class in June 2019.

Ohio State had help in securing Pierce too, adding James Laurinaitis , Notre Dame’s assistant linebackers coach and one of Pierce’s top recruiters with the Fighting Irish, joining the Buckeyes’ recruiting efforts as an All-American success story from his four seasons with the program in 2005-08.

And after an offensive-heavy recruiting run, securing commitments from five-star wide receiver Mylan Graham , four-star running back James Peoples and four-star quarterback Air Noland , Pierce’s commitment turns the Buckeyes’ attention back to defense, joining four-star Sunbury native Garrett Stover , who roams around at linebacker and safety for Big Walnut High School.

Ohio State still looking for defense in 2024 class

“We’ll see when that comes,” Stover said of his potential role in Knowles’ defense at Ohio State in November. “Whatever they want me to play on the defensive side of the ball, I’ll do it. I just would give anything to be on that field.”

Ohio State is still looking for help on the defensive side of the ball in 2024, focusing in on the top two prospects in the state — defensive backs Bryce West and Aaron Scott — while remaining in the running for top prospects across the country, including safeties KJ Bolden and Zaquan Patterson, and linebackers Sammy Brown and Edwin Spillman, among others.

And with more work to be done on defense in 2024, Knowles has another example in Pierce of a player who sees potential in what is being built.


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