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Decision Debate: Which School Will Ohio Linebacker Justin Hillard Pick?

Five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard decides on his school tomorrow and the OFD staff weighs in with their picks.

Hilliard at the NFTC in Ohio.
Hilliard at the NFTC in Ohio.
Student Sports

Tomorrow, five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard will be making a verbal commitment to a college during a ceremony at his high school. A few of our One Foot Down writers weigh in with their thoughts on the matter and throw down a pick for which school they think he'll be choosing.


Justin Hilliard

  • St. Xavier High School
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Outside Linebacker
  • 6-2, 230 pounds
  • Composite Score- 0.9888 (5-star)
  • No. 20 National, No. 2 OLB, No. 1 Ohio

SB Nation Scouting Report

Hilliard has a great combination of size, speed and athleticism. He seems somewhat close to his eventual college size, and I would not project him as someone who will pack on 30 pounds of muscle in a college strength program. He already looks like a college linebacker. His closing speed is excellent, because his first and second steps are elite for a prospect of his size. I think his overall speed is good, but perhaps not quite that of some others in the class.

Uyeyama Scouting Report

Hilliard is an instinctual player, an essential trait for a linebacker in my opinion. He can work through the muck to find a ball carrier. In terms of blitzing, I'm of the opinion that it has to be a natural thing for most linebackers to be good at. Nothing bothers me more than seeing a blitzer attack hard at the snap of the ball and let themselves be picked up and stay blocked. Hilliard is not one of those blitzers. He adjusts to the gap that is presented to him and if he is picked up, he fights to not stay blocked. It's a huge strength that will help him a ton at the college level.

The Competition

Ohio State: The in-state favorite with all the momentum.

Notre Dame: The darkhorse team with a chance at an upset.

Alabama: The powerhouse always lurking in the background ready to surprise.

Iowa: The emotional choice with older brother currently a freshman in summer session.

Michigan: Once in the race appears to have faded down the stretch.

The Staff Picks

Jamie Uyeyama: This is one that is really going to sting for Notre Dame. No one can say Brian Kelly and his staff whiffed on this one. They laid out what makes Notre Dame different than Ohio State, but it sounds like it's the differences in the two places that has Hilliard likely headed to Ohio State. And if that is what Hilliard feels is the best decision for him in the next four years, then he'll probably be much happier in Columbus than South Bend.

It does sound like there is some hope still in the race because no one has stated definitively that it's a done deal, but it sure seems like the writing is on the wall.

Pick: Osu_small_2_medium

Jim Miesle: There has been a lot of movement in Ohio State's direction over the past month or two, but I think it might be a little too late.  It is likely the Buckeyes are trying to capitalize on having former LB Ryan Shazier drafted in the first round.  Hilliard has been to ND as many times (if not more) during his recruitment as Columbus and appears to be the type to make the 40 year decision while pursing a NFL dream.  The Irish have been there all along, and will continue to capitalize on the Cincinnati area Catholic school pipeline.

Pick: Nd_small_medium

alstein: This one hurts. It really does. I could really try and convince myself why he is going to surprise everyone and pick Notre Dame, but sometimes things in recruiting are really straightforward. I think this is one of those things.

Pick: Osu_small_2_medium

manor98: If I were setting a line would call this one a pick 'em (for entertainment purposes only), but being the eternal optimist I'll go with the Irish. You can go anywhere and get a great education if you want to, so while Notre Dame's #1-ranked business school certainly doesn't hurt I don't think it's enough in itself. I do think he just fits at ND, though, and I think his parents do too; the rumor is both parents favor ND, especially his father. I like that Kelly brought Justin to the Grotto on his last visit - that's a great way to reinforce the special character of the university.

Pick: Nd_small_medium

Paul Rigney: Rationale: Like Mouth, I regularly hear voices in my head. No, they don't tell me to do crazy things. This isn't The Shining or The Crazies. No, this is more like Chubbs appearing to Happy Gilmore in his vision near the end of the critically-acclaimed film, "Happy Gilmore." The voices tell me reasonable things, like, "Yo Paul, you really shouldn't eat that room temperature shrimp cocktail." or "Hey Paul, maybe this one should be a two-flusher for the sake of your family." Pretty honest assessments, and I have no issues with them, though the bizarre thing is that the voices sound like the smooth monotones of Professor Joe Butcher from License To Kill, as played spectacularly by Wayne Newton.

The voices tell me this guy is going to Ohio State. I'm scared to disagree with the voices in my head.

I sort of echo what Miles on LGHL wrote about it. I think it's neck and neck but the last visit didn't do much to sway Hilliard from going to the Buckeyes. You might call it "Urban Being Urban," but I think its simply about the type of school we're talking about. Face it, we're not Ohio State in many ways. Different conference structure, different campus, different dynamics. Perhaps that is what swayed Hilliard, because if we're comparing program security, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better option than Notre Dame. It'll sting, and maybe ND can try to poach him down the road if the season goes well, but as of right now, I think Hilliard is Columbus-bound.

Pick: Osu_small_2_medium

Eric Murtaugh: As recent as 5 or 6 weeks ago Notre Dame was the perceived leader here. He's also from Cincinnati, an Irish friendly town. He's also coming from a Catholic school and a specific program that has long been Irish friendly. Notre Dame was also in on Hilliard very early and process and got this far in the process where it's a perceived coin flip with Ohio State. It just won't be a huge surprise if he comes to South Bend and there are a lot of factors that would normally point to the Irish winning this battle.

However, those factors are being surpassed by a few things at Ohio State. First, the Buckeyes almost always sign the top player in Ohio and they've done so over the last three cycles. Two, even though Hilliard's visited Notre Dame a bunch he's also been to Columbus nearly 10 times and they've quietly always been in the mix. Three, they turned up the heat at the right moment in classic Urban Meyer fashion. Four, I also think Notre Dame's change in a defensive coordinator versus the stability at Ohio State probably doesn't help in such a close race.

Notre Dame gets its fair share of talent in Ohio and Brian Kelly was done reasonably well against the Buckeyes over the past few years but I just can't see Urban Meyer losing out on a 5-star prospect in his own state. That beats out a Cincinnati Catholic school kid who is a great fit at Notre Dame. I also don't think both parents favor Notre Dame. There's been enough rumor that suggest Justin's mom is firmly in Ohio State's corner (Meyer working his magic, of course) and so often in these cases a recruit is going to go where momma bear likes best.

Pick: Osu_small_2_medium

4pointshooter: With Hilliard it's a complete coin flip but the fact that ND has faded a bit with Cornell in the past few weeks may be enough to tip the scale to Columbus. Hilliard is a guy who seemed to have understood the very different strengths that ND and Ohio State offer and had it been another season in his life we may have the upper hand but I think the St. X standout is about to be Urban's biggest recruit of the class.

Pick: Osu_small_2_medium