Defensive end Tom Strobel, 17, already holds offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, and a host of others. (Courtesy of Tom Strobel)
In a year where the football talent in Ohio is even more exceptional than usual, the defensive end position stands out as the deepest of the deep. To date, ten Buckeye State defensive end prospects have been extended scholarships by BCS conference schools.
Among those being the most vigorously pursued is Mentor High standout Tom Strobel. This talented youngster already holds offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, and a host of others. It's a tally that comes as no surprise to Scout.com Ohio recruiting analyst Bill Greene.
"The first thing that sticks out about him is that he passes the eye test easily," said Greene. "He is a true 6-6, with long arms, and probably weighs 240 pounds. He could probably carry another 30-35 pounds easily on that frame. I think he has the chance to maybe be great someday. I think he's a guy who is kind of growing into his body right now. He is just 17 years old and has got another year of high school left. I think his best football is three to four years ahead of us."
In the meantime Strobel manages to distinguish himself on the football field thanks in large part to a relentlessness that isn't often matched.
"I've got a really good work ethic," Strobel stated. "I'm always hustling to the ball no matter what. Even if it seems the play is already made, I'm always going to be there right behind the tackle or I'll be making the tackle. I'm always hustling to the ball. I think that's the biggest thing you'll notice -- hustle."
It's that intangible quality combined with his physical upside that makes Strobel one of the top end prospects in the country. That his name is just now beginning to generate the same buzz that his contemporaries have for over a year is further proof of just how much talent dwells in Ohio's 2012 class.
"In any other year probably (Strobel) is probably the No. 1 defensive end in the state," Greene said. "It's just this year (the really talented defensive ends) are everywhere. I think right now (Strobel) is in the next group of defensive ends after (Toledo Whitmer's) Chris Wormley, (Akron Archbishop Hoban's) Greg McMullen, (Canton McKinley's) Se'Von Pittman, and (Cincinnati Taft's) Adolphus Washington. I think those guys all have a chance to be five-star recruits. Strobel is in the next group with (Akron Archbishop Hoban's) Latroy Lewis and (Lyndhurst Brush's) Pharoah Brown. But Strobel's long-term potential -- in four years, he could be the best one."
That may be why Ohio State -- despite low scholarship numbers this year and offers already out to five other in-state defensive end prospects -- extended Strobel an offer earlier this week. It was a move that certainly resonated with this lifelong Ohio State fan.
"If you live in Ohio, you're pretty much biased toward Ohio State," Strobel admitted. "Everybody grows up a Buckeye fan. Originally I was biased towards them, but once I started to visit other schools I realized that there are other schools out there. I can't just be focused on this one. That's why I've kind of just grown to have no favorites right now."
"Ohio State is special to me and it stands out to me, so I'm honored to have that offer," he later told Scout.com. "I'm not favoring Ohio State, and I'm not saying I'm going to go there, but it means a lot to me."
That approach gives out-of-state suitors like Michigan and Michigan State legitimate chances at landing him. Of course, the fact that the Buckeyes quite simply don't have the room to take all of the talent in their state plays a role also.
"I think (Michigan and Michigan State) are definitely in the game (for Strobel)," said Greene. "I don't think (all the defensive ends offered by the Buckeyes) are all coming (to Ohio State). I think Chris Wormley is going to head to Michigan. The rest of them are going to be recruiting battles.
"I would classify (Strobel) as wide open. I think he is there for the taking. I would think Ohio State and Notre Dame are probably schools that he looks at very favorably, but those schools are both loaded with young defensive ends. Notre Dame took a ton of them last year. Ohio State took a few last year and have got a few coming in this year. It just depends on how that depth chart stuff strikes him."
As it turns out, depth chart will likely play a major role in Strobel's decision. There's only one factor that will weigh heavier.
"No. 1 is education and I've said that to everyone," Strobel stated. "I'm always a student before an athlete and that's what I'll always be. I have to make sure that I am going to get a great education no matter where I go. Also, the football team in general. I just want to make sure that I'll play. I do not want to sit on the sideline my whole career."
U-M's academics impress
Strobel has yet to assess the respective depth charts in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. He is still at the "getting to know you" stage with both programs.
"I didn't know (Michigan) was such a high academic school," he said. "Originally, I thought they were just like the other version of Ohio State. I had no idea that their academics were that high and that really made me look higher upon them. As far as Michigan, I really don't know that much about them.
"I just recently started to look into Michigan State. I know they have a nice campus and I look forward to having a chance to visit. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi has stopped by our school. I have talked on the phone with him several times. He's a really good guy.
"They said they really like my motor and how I move for a big guy. After they offered I looked into them and remembered they won the Big Ten. I feel like I need to look at them some more as there are a lot of positives about them."
Increasing familiarity with the Wolverines, Spartans, and many of his other suitors will be among Strobel's prime objectives during the spring and summer months. He hopes to visit as many of those campuses as possible so he can thoroughly evaluate all of his options and stick to his tentative decision timeline.
"Ideally, I would like to have (a decision made) before the season," Strobel said. "That way if I do get hurt, if anything were to happen -- knock on wood -- I would be OK scholarship-wise. So if I could, I want to have a decision (by the fall) and be OK with it."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.