The Ohio State football team's 48-3 victory over Michigan State on Nov. 11 not only marked its first home win over the resurgent Spartans in a decade, but it put the Buckeyes in the driver's seat to clinch the Big Ten Conference-East Division championship.
No Big Ten team has consistently given the Buckeyes more fits recently than Michigan State, and not just on the field.
Coached by former Ohio State defensive coordinator and Zanesville native Mark Dantonio, the Spartans continue to poach top-level talent out of central Ohio. While some of the players also are recruited by OSU coach Urban Meyer, others do not get so much as a sniff from the Buckeyes despite their rankings and on-field performance.
"Ever since I've watched football, Ohio State was my team, but if I ever wanted to watch a really good defense, I'd definitely tune in to a Michigan State game," said Dublin Coffman linebacker Jeslord Boateng, one of six area players in the 2018 recruiting class currently committed to Michigan State and a three-star recruit, according to Rivals.com. "They've always been fun to watch and when they got interested in me, I was interested right back."
Other local MSU commits are Pickerington Central tight end and linebacker Trenton Gillison, Central defensive back Xavier Henderson, Olentangy defensive linemen and twin brothers Jacob and Zach Slade and Olentangy Liberty linebacker Edward Warinner.
Gillison and Henderson -- who recently was named Division I district Defensive Player of the Year for the second season in a row and plans to graduate from Central early -- are four-star recruits, according to Rivals. The Slade brothers and Warinner are three-star recruits.
Six area natives are on Michigan State's roster this season, although only three are playing in redshirt freshman offensive lineman Luke Campbell (Olentangy), senior linebacker Chris Frey (Upper Arlington) and freshman safety Dominique Long (Westerville South). Safety Austin Andrews (DeSales), offensive lineman A.J. Arcuri (Liberty) and defensive lineman Robert Bowers (Walnut Ridge) are redshirt freshmen.
Campbell originally had committed to Purdue.
Past area recruits include running back Le'Veon Bell, a Groveport graduate who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and wide receiver B.J. Cunningham from Westerville South.
"Our background's in Ohio. We understand the football that's played there, and they play a high level of football," Dantonio said during the Big Ten spring football teleconference in April. "It's a very important recruiting area for us."
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team with more than one win over the Buckeyes since Meyer became coach after the 2011 season. The Spartans defeated OSU in the conference championship game in 2013, and also won 17-14 in Columbus two years ago.
Meyer's teams are 3-0 in East Lansing, and the Buckeyes are 31-15 all-time against Michigan State.
"It seems like they go back and forth every year lately. We (players) notice that," Gillison said.
The Spartans' ties to Ohio and some of their current recruits have run deep for years.
Warinner's father, former Ohio State offensive coordinator and current Minnesota offensive line coach Ed Warinner, was a roommate of Dantonio's in the early 1980s when they coached at Akron.
Spartans strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie coached Gillison's father, Russell, at Steubenville Catholic Central in the 1980s, and Michigan State co-offensive coordinator/tight end coach Jim Bollman, who recruited Gillison, is a former OSU offensive coordinator.
"Relationships that have been in place for 10 to 15 years or more play a huge role and open a lot of doors," said Olentangy coach Mark Solis, who echoed the consensus among local Michigan State commits that many area players are overlooked in part because of the Buckeyes' increasingly national scope when it comes to recruiting. "They're one of the upper-echelon Big Ten teams. Most young men that play football in this state have a dream of playing at Ohio State, which is understandable, but (the Buckeyes') focus has gone more national and that opens things up for everybody else."
Jacob and Zach Slade said OSU paid no attention to them until Michigan State offered. They received invitations to the Buckeyes' annual Friday Night Lights camp in late July, a month after they committed to the Spartans.
"Within a week of our offer, we got our family together to talk and it was a pretty easy decision," Zach Slade said. "I can't speak for (the other commits), but when we went there, the thing that stood out to us was they have such a great coaching staff. They treated me and my brother really well. It's a blue-collar environment, and we like that. We didn't know where we were going before we went to their camp last summer, but they got back in contact and everything came together."
Frey, who excelled as both a running back and linebacker at Upper Arlington, recently said he was more interested in OSU than the other way around.
"When you live in Columbus, that's all you know," Frey said on the Big Ten Network's "The Journey" in October. "I went there on a few visits and I was told by Ohio State that I was the fourth-best linebacker they were looking at, and if the other three guys decided to commit somewhere else, then they would decide to offer me."
Gillison said the area commits stay in touch via group text messages, in which they discuss everything from the Spartans to their own teams, video games and anything else that comes up.
"It's just random stuff," Gillison said. "But it's a nice little connection."