Having just discussed Lamaar Thomas a week earlier, I decide to focus the next two Better Know A Buckeye segments on the remaining two commits in 2008 that I term in a forthcoming piece as the “second wave of commitments”, that is, ones that committed during the course of the regular season of college football. These commitments — Lamaar Thomas, Travis Howard, Etienne Sabino and Willie Mobley — represent primetime out of state targets and significant recruiting coups. In this 11th part of my 20 part Better Know A Buckeye series, I turn to Willie Mobley, a defensive line prospect from Minnesota. In the following sections, I discuss his recruitment, commitment, attempts to pry him away from his commitment and finish with where I think he ends up in OSU’s plans.
His Recruitment: Willie Mobley was offered by the Buckeyes in early February, second only to Minnesota in terms of entry into the Willie Mobley sweepstakes. Other schools would extend offers to Mobley, including Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Arizona, Nebraska and Iowa among many others. However, the first two schools to offer him — Minnesota and Ohio State — became the two schools that emerged from the pack quickly in the quest to win Willie Mobley’s LOI.
Minnesota was easily the school to beat. Eden Prairie is about twenty minutes from the University of Minnesota’s campus and he grew up watching the “U” as it’s called in Minnesota1. He said that he was indifferent on scenery and location — his strong interest in UCLA is indicative of just that — but said his mom would probably move to wherever he attended college. Playing just twenty minutes away in the Twin Cities would have made things easier for his mom. Further, Tim Brewster — tight end specialist and head coach of the University of Minnesota — went knives out after Willie Mobley to keep him instate. Mobley responded in kind, always offering glowing remarks about the Gophers, Tim Brewster, and his staff. By early March, he was attending practices at the University of Minnesota. By late April, the Gophers were reported to be his leader, though Mobley would deny explicitly stating a leader. That said, even by June, Mobley had said Minnesota was his favourite school and that every school he should visit would be compared to Minnesota. If Mobley was reticent to say as much, everything pointed to him being a Gopher lean heading into the summer.
Then a curious thing happened: OSU verbals and OSU leans got in his ear. Willie Mobley always had kind words about The Ohio State University and staff, and had expressed strong intrest in taking an official there. However, most signs pointed towards Minnesota. But by early May, Willie Mobley admitted that he was talking to a few Buckeyes already. Chief among the list of people that were chatting him up were names like Michael Brewster, Mike Adams, Jake Stoneburner and Garrett Goebel. If one of those names sounds out of place, it should. Garrett Goebel wouldn’t commit until the end of July, but Goebel was chatting up Mobley regarding their lone mutual school of interest: Ohio State. Another familiar name appeared on the list of Buckeye leans chatting up Willie: Terrelle Pryor. Two caveats, of course. First, Pryor wouldn’t commit for another 9 months or so, but Mobley made special note of Pryor chatting him up about the Buckeyes and how neat that was. Second, it’s fair to note that Mobley met Brewster, Adams and Stoneburner at the Army All-American Combine for rising juniors, and that he definitely met other people there too and was talking to them as well. However, the Brew Crew’s track record makes the plausible suggestion that they got into his ear moreso than others. Willie Mobley was now really keen on the Buckeyes for a variety of reasons, citing the openness of the coaching staff2, their history and tradition of player development. The feeling was mutual, as the Buckeyes were recruiting him harder than any other school. He had vowed to take an official visit to Ohio State.
By time the regular season rolled around, Mobley made it clear that he was committed to his high school team first as well as his academics. As such, and with only two real schools of interest, Mobley’s inseason recruitment was rather slow. That said, he made good on his promise to visit Ohio State, scheduling an official visit the Wisconsin game on November 3. If that date sounds familiar, it should. It was also Terrelle Pryor’s official visit. JB Shugarts was in attendance as well. Nevertheless, continuing our focus on Mobley, Willie was excited about the visit, offering these words just days before his official.
“I love their history and I’ve developed a great relationship with them so I’m really excited to be taking my visit there … It’s gonna be cool to see Columbus and experience what it’s like there during a game day. I’ve never been there before, so I don’t really know what to expect.
“Ohio State has a great record, but for me it’s more about their history and tradition than it is their record. I picked them as my first official visit because they have the whole package and I think I’ll compare every other school I visit to them.”
“I wish I could say they are my number one choice, but I can’t … They are the whole package and I like them a lot, but I’m just taking it one school at a time before I have a favorite.”
The choice for the Wisconsin game turned to be a rather lucky one for the Buckeyes. Mobley was in attendance for a 10 sack effort against the Badgers and 13 TFLs. Gholston in particular had 4.0 sacks and Laurinaitis had 19 total tackles. If I were a front 7 player on defense, I would’ve walked away very impressed on that account alone. Mobley, however, was impressed with everything regarding Ohio State and gave the visit a 10. I don’t pretend to be a person in the know on recruiting, but those that were in the know on recruiting were very confident that Mobley’s recruitment was practically over. Ohio State had overtaken Minnesota as the focal point for comparison; he had yet to take his official to Minnesota and didn’t have a concrete plan for taking his official and he had developed a very good relationship with much of the Brew Crew. I remained a little bit skeptical. With Michael Floyd’s October 21 commitment to Notre Dame, Willie Mobley was the only instate prize left for Tim Brewster and the Gophers. With a rebuilding project underway in the Twin Cities, Brewster needed some primetime instate player to commit to pitch to future recruits to stay in Minnesota and help take Gopher Nation to Pasadena. Mobley would’ve gone a long way in the Gophers’ plans.
Indeed, Mobley announced he was going to take his official to Minnesota for their game against the Badgers. I interpreted this as a local player giving an earnest look to the local team. He had expressed earlier and elsewhere that he liked Minnesota, was a local, and that it would be easier for his family if he just played 20 minutes down the road. People with better info than I have interpreted this as a token visit. Mobley said he enjoyed the Minnesota visit, but indicated, if ever subtly, that Ohio State was probably still his leader. This was assuring, but I still had a little skepticism. But then Bucknuts dropped this tidbit straight from Willie Mobley’s mouth: When the other recruits on the visit went out and enjoyed the town after the game, Mobley opted to stay in his hotel and watch Ohio State beat Michigan instead. Upon reading that, I felt a lot better about our chances.
By November 24, Mobley was officially down to Ohio State and Minnesota, telling the Star Tribune about the forthcoming decision.
A four-star recruit who is considered the state’s second-best prospect, Mobley spent Saturday afternoon contacting coaches from more than 20 schools to inform them he is no longer interested.
“I’m having a bad day,” he said. “This is a hard thing to do, but I wanted to be professional about it and do the right thing.”
Mobley said he has not set a timetable for making his final decision but said he feels completely comfortable with both of his finalists. He has made official visits to both schools, spending last weekend on the Gophers campus.
“Minnesota is my home, and it would be great for my family and friends to be able to see me play,” Mobley said. “I have a great relationship with coach [Tim] Brewster and the players and the program has a bright future, especially with the new stadium coming.”
Mobley said his visit to Ohio State several weeks ago also reminded him of home.
“Ohio State’s program is first class and it felt a lot like Eden Prairie, the way everything is all business,” he said. “It’s a place I feel comfortable at, too. This is going to be hard. I guess it’s going to come down to a gut decision because I really can’t go wrong with either school.”
Six days later, a decision was announced.
His Commitment: On November 30, Willie Mobley officially committed to Ohio State. In the end, Ohio State felt just like family to him, and the atmosphere around the school altogether made him think of Ohio State as just a bigger Eden Prairie.
“The last couple of days have been hard, but this is my gut feeling,” Mobley said. “Ohio State felt like a big Eden Prairie when I visited, and it’s where I want to spend the next four or five years.”
Mobley said Minnesota’s 1-11 record this season was not a big factor in his decision and said he has a good relationship with Brewster and his staff.
“I cannot be fake to people,” Mobley said. “Like I said, I went with my gut feeling and I’m really happy with my decision. I’m just relieved to have this off my shoulders so I can enjoy my senior year. Now I can get some sleep at night.”
The commitment gave the Buckeyes its 14th commitment in the class and a significant out of state recruiting coup. Doc Tressel is known for his efforts in the state of Minnesota, identifying the state as something of a hidden gem for prep stars and Willie Mobley is Minnesota’s no. 2 overall prospect. In any other year — that is: a year without Michael Floyd — Willie Mobley would be the easy no. 1 instate prospect.
Shenanigans: Willie Mobley committed after a somewhat exhaustive, and certainly protracted search. As such, no one could accuse Mobley of rushing into a commitment. Indeed, every school respected Mobley’s decision, even the Gopher staff (more on this later, of course), except for one: Tennessee. Tennessee offered Mobley in September or thereabouts, but Mobley never gave them a serious look. Upon committing to the Buckeyes, Tennessee actually stepped up their efforts, urging him to take an official to Knoxville. Mobley seriously considered it, if only for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a college town. He maintained that he was not reopening his commitment, just considering taking a visit. He ultimately decided against it, knowing that though he was 100 percent confident in his decision to attend Ohio State, any visit to Knoxville could only be construed as disrespectful to Ohio State’s staff.
The other incident involved some forged letters. I noted on this blog, and it was picked up by Brian over at Fanhouse, that Minnesota newspapers started to note that someone, or some entity, sent phony letters to Willie Mobley, on Ohio State letterhead and with a forged Jim Tressel signature, encouraging him to take a look at the Gophers. Why, you ask?
“I know Minnesota has not had the greatest season, but in three years you would be eligible for the NFL. â€¦ If you come to Ohio State, you will be sitting behind upperclassmen for at least two years anyway, and then you never know.”
Calling shenanigans? Yeah, we did too. But it’s hard to imagine that Minnesota or Brewster’s staff was behind the letters. DeVier Posey and Terelle Pryor, among others, received similar letters on Ohio State letterhead, none of those pertaining to Minnesota. Though Mobley and his mom made the letters public on signing day, it’s hard to imagine Minnesota was behind it.
That said, the Minnesota question dogged Mobley for months after his commitment. Friends and family of friends were somewhat upset that Mobley turned down the Gophers, though were excited for the opportunity for him. One of his teammates, a Gopher commit Ryan Grant, even brought an extra Minnesota LOI for Mobley to the signing day press conference at the Eden Prairie HS, encouraging Mobley to the final minute to switch. Mobley, to his credit, never wavered even as reports suggested he was doing just that. While rumors swirled about a decommitment, Mobley was more interested in talking about who he wanted to room with as a freshman. Mobley would eventually sign his LOI and that would be that.
Where He Excels: I really like Willie’s first step on the snap, and I think it gives him an edge in the trenches. Good intensity, pretty good getting off blocks, and great speed on the inside (he runs about a 4.85). Strength is a plus too. He’s not a freakish athlete (not bad of course), but Willie definitely puts in all of his effort on every play. It shows too. I like any recruit where a coach doesn’t have to whip him to get him to work.
Must Work On: I think Willie needs a position and needs to specialize in it. He will definitely start as a defensive end given his current size (he’s drawing comparisons to Cam Heyward, though I don’t think he will have that kind of immediate impact), but will probably fill out into a tackle spot. Making the move inside more likely is the fact that he doesn’t have exceptional height for a rush end, nor does he compensate for it with a longer wingspan. I’ve felt for the past two years that the interior for the Buckeyes was rather soft, and the Buckeyes have addressed that with Goebel, Mobley and Simon. In Mobley’s case, I don’t see where he can excel as a tweener. The sooner he matriculates to the tackle spot, the better.
Redshirt? Not sure. He’s expressed elsewhere that he could see himself at a university for “4 or 5 years”, indicative that he’s open to a redshirt. I really think he should, but I think he ends up turning down the redshirt to take a stab at the two-deep at strongside defensive end.
Miscellany, relating to Mom: Willie Mobley’s mom has an interesting story and Willie admit he’s something of a momma’s boy. He noted early in the process that any school he goes to has to pass the mom test. Willie’s mom goes by Roxanne, though her given name is Roshanak. She’s originally from Iran, but left at the age of 16 due to the ongoing Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s. She ended up graduating from a local high school in Minnesota. Willie’s Iranian heritage is of some value to him, and he still has relatives in Iran that he chats with. He hopes to eventually visit Iran.
There’s more to the story here, and I recommend reading it. Roxanne has a twin brother who left with her. Long story short, both Roxanne and her twin brother left Iran in 1984. Their parents would join them 7 years later. Presently, they have five uncles, an aunt and a grandmother all living in Tehran. Mobley’s father is African-American, though not much is said about him. I won’t infer anything about the situation.
That said, general suggestion to recruiting services, principally Bucknuts: write more about Buckeye moms. I know Bucknuts penned one on Lamaar Thomas’ mom, but these stories present some of the most interesting — and at times rewarding — stories to recruits. More can be done.
Oh, and though not relating to mom, it’s worth mentioning that Willie Mobley’s Eden Praire team annihilated Cretin-Durham to win the state title in football. He was also nominated for the Army All-American Bowl but didn’t make the final cut.
Highlights: Observe how he’s getting a head start on a certain uniform…
Quotable Willie Mobley Fluff Piece, Michigan flavored: I’m confident in the articles I linked to that you will find some neat quotes from Willie Mobley about mom, about heritage, and about the recruiting process. But we never want you to forget who the real enemy is. Willie Mobley hasn’t forgot either.
One of those things that will endear him to Buckeye Nation is that heâ€™s not too fond of Ohio Stateâ€™s arch rival, Michigan.
Mobley said, â€œI really donâ€™t hate a lot of things, but I hate Michigan. I already have that gross taste in my mouth when I hear about them. When I see people in Michigan sweatshirts at school, I give them a hard time. (Ohio State commitment Michael) Brewster and all those guys, we all have it on our Facebook with the countdown to the Michigan game and the Gold Pants and everything.â€
What Bucknuts had to edit out was the part where he talks about hitting those people at the high school — the ones who wear Michigan gear — with tire irons. Yeah, he’s hardcore, but Bucknuts decided to replace “I hit them with tire irons until their faces are no longer recognizable” with the more family friendly “I give them a hard time”.
Not cool Bucknuts… not cool.
So, to truly one of the least known big time recruits in the 2008 class, and, again, absent a real convincing way to close these things off, Willie Mobley, consider yourself better known… I guess.