Who's Next: Jaelen Gill, Ohio State Buckeyes running back

Chris Gaitten
Jaelen Gill

Central Ohioans are ravenous football fans—scarlet and gray to the marrow—yet we can't claim many homegrown superstars who flourished with the Ohio State Buckeyes. True native-born phenoms include Terry Glenn (Brookhaven), Luke Fickell (DeSales) and the superlative Archie Griffin (Eastmoor). Chic Harley is considered the first of OSU's resident elites, but he wasn't born in Columbus. Andy Katzenmoyer also moved to the area as a youngster, before becoming a terror on the field. On March 1, 2017, in the same Westerville South High School that Katzenmoyer once prowled, Jaelen Gill entered the conversation, announcing his intention to play football for the Buckeyes in 2018.

The best comparison for Gill may be another of the few local greats, Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, a star running back from Central High School who won the Heisman Trophy in 1955. In addition to his rushing prowess, Cassady was a skilled defensive back, kick returner and passer. Gill is one of the most prized running back prospects in the country, but he possesses those other skills as well, a multifaceted talent. Hopalong also starred for OSU's baseball team, and pending the all-important approval from Urban Meyer, Gill hopes to spend springtime on the diamond, where last season he excelled for Westerville South as an all-league outfielder and led the team with a .400 batting average.

Gill says coach Meyer plans to have him return kicks and play H-back, the hybrid position between running back and wide receiver, recently held by gifted athletes like Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall. He'll join a crowded, talented backfield—experience and speed at H-back in Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill alongside exceptional running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber. But the 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound Gill is a special talent too, the only Central Ohio player chosen for the upcoming U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He has the rare ability to cut upfield so fluidly, so effortlessly, that defenders are often left swaying in empty space, like Earth's gravity shifted mid-play.

He was first recruited in eighth grade and eventually turned down three dozen scholarship offers from other schools to play here. OSU boasted the whole package for him—history, tradition, academics, the 'Shoe's electric atmosphere. There was also a personal reason for remaining close to home: His grandfather Eddie Bennett, who passed away in April 2016, was a huge fan, and Gill promised him he'd wear the scarlet and gray. “He kept up with all the recruiting, all the games and all that stuff, and he would have loved nothing more than for me to be a Buckeye,” Gill says. “And so yeah, I kept my promise.”