Southern Swing 12

Southern Swing 2024: Travelog

Southern Swing 2024 is underway and the road only knows the path that we will take as we traverse through the Southern United States over the next two-plus weeks.

It is hard to believe that we have been doing this trip for more than a decade, only slowed by a worldwide pandemic one year.

It can be difficult to keep up with all of our travels over the course of this journey, so we are going to do something a little different this year and keep a travel log for you.

Where have we been? Who have we seen? How many miles have we gone? That will all be part of this list that should be updated daily once we get into the thick of the trip.

We probably won’t have weekend updates unless we actually see a player or two over the course of the weekend, but join us in this log of our journeys and ride shotgun as we check out many of Ohio State’s top targets throughout the region.

day 16 – friday may 17th

Miles Driven: 168 Miles (3,917 total)

Start/Stop: Mobile (Ala.) to Kenner (La.)

Schools Visited: It’s complicated

Summary: Well, this one is a little bit of a story. In short, we were at the right school, at the right time, on the right day. But in actuality, the school we were set to hit moved up their spring game by one day and didn’t pass the message on to us.

Yeah, it was not great and we would have loved a heads up, but we also know that a pair of reporters from Ohio are probably the bottom of the priority list when it comes to making a call like that.

We wouldn’t have made it even if we tried with our previous stop the day before of getting Zion Grady at his spring game, but it would have been close.

So, we made it to our next stop, the outskirts of New Orleans and will have a rare Saturday entry coming up as we are set to shoot another spring game before heading to our next location.

Not sure I have anything else that I can say here, just getting to the point where the trip has been a long one and is really starting to wear me out. All previous Southern Swings would be done by this point but look for a couple more days of action from us.

day 15 – thursday may 16th

Miles Driven: 312 Miles (3,749 total)

Start/Stop: Tallahassee (Fla.) to Enterprise (Ala.) to Mobile (Ala.)

Schools Visited: Enterprise HS

Summary: Another hot day and another day of driving (I will have to update miles driven as I left the notepad in the car). There is not a whole lot in the Florida Panhandle off of I-10, so the speeds got to be quite high as we made our way to Enterprise (Ala.).

It was not all interstate driving as we needed to head north and there was even less to see on this part of the trip. We stopped as a turtle was trying to cross the highway and I know in my heart of hearts, things didn’t end well there. I would have stopped the car and physically moved the turtle across the road, if there were a place to stop, but there was not.

We made it to Enterprise and while it may not have been quite as hot as our stop at American Heritage earlier in the trip, we were on the field for an entire spring game, and the heat was something.

Zion Grady is impressive, you just build football players like that. Ohio State is going to have a good shot here, but once again, you don’t just snap your fingers and land a top-50 national player, there will be a lot of work here. Larry Johnson was at the game, and while he couldn’t really talk with Grady, there was an awareness that Ohio State came all the way down to check things out.

As soon as the game was over, we went right to a gas station and I crushed two Gatorades, because that seemed like the right thing to do.

The drive out of Enterprise was even more desolate than the drive in. Went through a couple of towns that had a gas station and a Dollar Tree and not much else.

Got into Mobile a little bit before the storms got to town and went to Walkons for dinner. I thought it was really good, especially for a chain. Not sure it would do well in Columbus as there are too many Cajun items on the menu, but the chicken and sausage gumbo was quite good.

Stories: More to Come

day 14 – wednesday may 15th

Miles Driven: 391 Miles (3,437 total)

Start/Stop: Tampa to Bradenton (Fla.) to Tallahassee (Fla.)

Schools Visited: IMG Academy

Summary: Okay, this was just an off day for myself. Not the case of not having to work, but things just never really clicked for me and maybe by karma extension, for anyone.

Had terrible insomnia the previous night, fell asleep at 5AM and it all kind of went downhill from there.

Just a rather melancholy day for myself, no reason why, just couldn’t get out of my own head.

We were supposed to hit two schools on this day but due to some signals getting crossed (and I am always going to back Marc in this) we made it to our first school, we sat there for almost 90 minutes. But we came away with no interview because of the athlete needing to take a test and messages just were not conveyed.

Not going to mention the school or the player, that is not important, I would rather skip the name and just say that it didn’t happen.

Just prior to that, we tried to find a taco truck (we raved about it last year) by the school, only not to find it. We ended up eating at Wawa, which is not a bad thing, but the giant spill on my shirt was a big thing. Fortunately, when you are traveling with your luggage, you have options.

Down (some more than others) but not defeated, we made our way to Bradenton and hit the standard Tampa/St. Pete traffic. People were especially stupid on the road on this trip, but we made it.

We got to the IMG Spring Game a little on the late side, but still saw several targets along with commit London Merritt go through the paces.

Now, I want to say to not read anything into where we are staying. There is not a target in Tallahassee, we just are trying to get closer to position for our next stop.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day (I am writing this at 12:45am, so it technically is tomorrow… but obviously I am not sleeping right now either. Big problem.

Stories: London Merritt comfortable as an Ohio State commit

More to come

day 13 – tuesday may 14th

Miles Driven: 280 Miles (3,046 total)

Start/Stop: Dania Beach (Fla.) to Hollywood (Fla.) to Plantation (Fla.) to Tampa

Schools Visited: Chaminade Madonna, American Heritage

Summary: It was hot today. Like really hot.

Suck the life out of you hot.

Thankfully, neither Marc nor myself were asked to run gassers or do bear crawls out on the field.

I was unaware that Einstein Bros. was still open but we found one and I think we are still waiting for our bagel sandwiches. The people there were nice, but it was so slow and I guess it closed at 2, with us rolling in there around 1:40pm.

We made it to Chaminade Madonna, the school that produced Jeremiah Smith to catch up with the next big thing in 2026 (apologies to Chris Henry Jr.). If you have never been to this school (and why would you?) there is a lot closer to the field that is gated, well, we got there and it was closed and we were set to find somewhere else (and further away) to park when I see a head poke out of the security shack, laughing at us, and then hitting the button to allow us in. A good lighthearted moment.

We were at the school for maybe 20 minutes, tops before being back on the road. We had time to kill, so we went to a Starbucks.

Did you know that there is a nationwide shortage of their little boba pearls for two of their drinks? I do now, after sitting near the register and hearing the baristas have to mention that no less than 20 times in the time that we sat there.

We got to American Heritage and I think it was hotter. This is South Florida but we are not near the water, there is no real breeze. It was just hot for the sake of being stupid.

American Heritage is always stacked and while we were there to see two players, there are more dudes on this team and while there were not a lot of coaches there, we saw a couple, including Northwestern.

We made our annual trip across Alligator Alley and up the gulf coast to Tampa. We stopped at a Buffalo Wild Wings, which of course breaks my policy of not eating at chain places that we can get at home, but it was late, we knew the hockey game would be on and it was close to the hotel.

We will do better with our meal choices.

Stories: Relationships key with Louis and Ohio State

More to come

day 12 – monday may 13th

Miles Driven: 311 Miles (2,766 total)

Start/Stop: Orlando to Vero Beach (Fla.) to Dania Beach (Fla.)

Schools Visited: Jones HS, Vero Beach HS

Summary: It is always a good day when we get a late start (by design) with no morning stops, and that was the case here. Coming out of the weekend, I should be about as well-rested as I can get and it is time to start the new week with a renewed energy.

The drive to Jones high school to see Vernell Brown was uneventful, which is only brought up for later in this entry. We got to the school rather early and sat around and waited for practice to start as we were set to get Brown prior to the start of practice.

As we were talking to Brown, who other than Brian Hartline shows up and starts waving and laughing in the background. This was our first chance to bump into any of the Ohio State coaches on the road, Brown knew that Hartline was coming to check out practice.

Now the day starts to get a little dicey, because we made the decision to get out of downtown Orlando (the high school is in the shadow of Camping World Stadium) and start working our way to the coast before getting gas.

That was not a great decision.

For those of you who have not been to Orlando in the last 20 years, it is a mess of toll roads and just because there is a highway doesn’t mean there is any sort of infrastructure around that highway to support you.

I don’t know if turning the A/C off does anything to save gas, but we tried it as I feathered the accelerator to try and make it to an offramp that had fuel.

We never found one, and decided to just chance it on one.

We drove seven miles and finally made it to a station, limping up to the pump. Only to find out that the pump was barely operational. After 10 minutes and getting two gallons into the tank, we knew that we had enough to get to I-95 and a station that was in the business of selling gas and not of breaking hearts.

The trip took us to Vero Beach where we ran into Jim Knowles, James Laurinaitis and Justin Frye, who were there to check out several players, including Ohio State commit TJ Alford.

The night ended with about a 90-minute drive to our next stop to get into position for Tuesday afternoon interviews. The drivers did not disappoint once we truly crossed into South Florida as we nearly saw half a dozen wrecks with people weaving in and out of traffic.

Stories: Ohio State checks the boxes for Vernell Brown

Buckeyes will be tough to beat for Champ Smith

Buckeyes send three to Alford spring game as he remains solid

day 10/11- Saturday/sunday may 11th/12th

Summary: I know that I will not do this entry the justice that it deserves, I fall a day or two behind and then it is difficult to remember all of the details, especially when it comes to non-interview days.

Firstly, I don’t ever need to stay on International Drive in Orlando ever again. Look, I love theme parks maybe more than the next guy, but the absolute chaos of it all… it looked like a bad night in Myrtle Beach out there, at all times.

The highlight of the time off was getting to go and hang out with a couple of board members, a father and son, and their families. We had brisket that was out of this world and sat out back and had a couple of cold pops watching nature and talking of all things, Ohio State football.

The lowlight may have been a visit to Cici’s Pizza. We don’t have steak dinners along the way on this trip, and it was about 9pm and neither of us wanted to really do anything in terms of a sit-down place. We nearly saw a family fight while we ate our ‘pizza’ and it was something. The funniest part to me is that everyone looked up to see what was going on and then went back to their meals.

Oh, and people around Orlando can’t drive. But I chalk that up to Orlando (in that area of town) is overrun by people from all four corners of the globe. This is different than my upcoming complaints about people in South Florida not being able to drive.

day nine – Friday may 10th

Miles Driven: 564 Miles (2,455 total)

Start/Stop: Macon (Ga.) to Jacksonville (Fla.) to Orlando (Fla.)

Schools Visited: Warner Robins HS, Mandarin HS, The Bolles School

Summary: We go into this day knowing that we will have a lot of driving to do, but sometimes that is just part of the Southern Swing. We make the short(ish) drive to Warner Robins to catch up with a very impressive defensive lineman (more on that later in the stories) before making our first long driving leg.

Major storms blew through the area overnight and we are chasing the back end of the storm system but fortunately (at the time) instead of being sent down through Savannah, we drive straight down Interstate 75 into Florida.

Once we get to Florida, it is pretty obvious that a major system has moved through as there are trees down (more than one or two) and debris all over the highway. We did not see any damage to roadside structures, but it must have been a hell of a (bad) ride through these parts.

We made our turn on to Interstate 10 towards Jacksonville and were running dangerously low on gas. We knew there were two more offramps before we hit the national forest and zero options. The first offramp had a Burger King, and little else, so you know we drove right past that.

The next offramp was chosen for us and there was a Wendy’s, set to open sometime in 2025. We stopped anyways and I just had to buy a bag of skittles to try and sugar shock myself into finishing up the drive.

Had an uneventful stop at each of the high schools and will have some great stories coming out of those two stops over the course of the weekend.

Met with a board member and had a fantastic dinner in Jacksonville before heading off to Orlando. My Buc-ees count is now up to six locations as we passed two along the way. Have not stopped at one yet, but it is coming.

We had take a surface route through Deland because of an accident on Interstate 4 shutting down all westbound lanes, so we saw some of the sites of the fringes of Daytona.

Our hotel shares a parking lot with a mini golf course, so that could be in our future. We have a lot of writing left to do this weekend to get caught up, but we have made it to weekend number two and hopefully a little rest.

Stories: Where do things really stand with Jaime Ffrench?

Ohio State will get its chance with top-50 star Isaiah Gibson

Relationships are key for Buckeyes and top-2026 Tight End

Caldwell has surprising ties to Ohio State

day eight – thursday may 9th

Miles Driven: 163 Miles (1,891 total)

Start/Stop: Duluth (Ga.) to Suwanee (Ga.) to Loganville (Ga.) to Buford (Ga.) to Macon (Ga.)

Schools Visited: Collins Hill HS, Grayson HS, Buford HS

Summary: This was not the most eventful day in terms of things happening on the trip, but it will end up being a strong content day as we hit three schools and talked to five players.

We were able to get a late start with the way the schedule worked out and caught up on much needed sleep, especially after watching late hockey playoff games.

All three of the schools were close to one another, at least as the crow flies but Atlanta traffic and all made it a little bit longer of a trek.

Deuce Geralds absolutely loves Ohio State. I am not ready to declare a destination for him but it is obvious that he is all about Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes. As you can see in his video, he wore Ohio State gear just for us. But he also really enjoys doing interviews (in person) and his bigger than life personality may not even come across as well on tape as it does in person.

We made it to go see Tyler Atkinson, who made news going into high school with an Ohio State offer and doing the camp circuit, He continues to develop into one of the top players in the state.

Before getting to Buford for their spring game, we found a little New York pizza place. It was pretty solid, the slices were huge, but the size of the slices hurt the structural integrity of the pizza. In retrospect, it would have been better to order a pie than do slices, which had toppings put on pre-reheat. But I would eat there again and talked to a few locals that said we stumbled into a good place.

Dylan Raiola, one-time Ohio State commit, was at the Buford game to watch his brother, Dayton. He was rewarded as Dayton threw a second half touchdown as Buford won its spring game against Norcross.

We then drove to Macon to get in position for the first stop of Friday morning. The hotel was a really good deal but its proximity to the train tracks was not known in advance. That didn’t matter as the storms that rolled into town were much louder than the train.

Stories: Atkinson building strong relationship with Buckeyes

Buckeyes a top contender for Deuce Geralds

Top 2026 Defensive Lineman sees opportunties at Ohio State

Ohio State standing out for Anthony Davis

A dream offer for Nassir McCoy

day seven – Wednesday May 8th

Miles Driven: 306 Miles (1,728 total)

Start/Stop: Duluth (Ga.) to Carrollton (Ga.) to White (Ga.) to Douglasville (Ga.) to Duluth (Ga.)

Schools Visited: Carrollton HS, Cass HS, Douglas County HS

Summary: This was an interesting day because it had a little bit of everything and I may have to come in here and change notes up as I remember more details.

I have to write these a day after things happened just because of travel times and keeping focus on the real reason that I am here, the actual interview content. So there is always a chance that I can forget an item or two.

Or, it could also be the fact that I had to be up at 5:40 am on this day because the order of our stops had us having to fight Atlanta rush hour traffic to head back close to Alabama to get to Carrollton high school.

I think that Juju Lewis was thrilled that we had no interest in interviewing him and instead were focused on a pair of his younger teammates.

Let me tell you, Carrollton high school has amazing facilities, and we are not talking about a near Atlanta suburb, this school has to be less than 20 miles from the Alabama state line. But everything is ultra modern at the school and the vast majority of Ohio high schools would trade facilities with Carrollton in a second.

After a little bit of rest back at the hotel, we made our way to White (Ga.) and for those who don’t know where that is, it is okay, we were not sure either. It neighbors Cartersville (Ga.) and is more of a known name.

But the school was off of an exit that had two choices for a “fast” meal… either Subway or Burger King.

I don’t like Burger King. I am okay with Subway. But we had to get to our next stop and the idea of trying to eat a sub sandwich while driving was not appealing.

So we get this.

Marc needs to hold the camera higher, doesn’t he know anything about taking TikTok videos?

On our way to Douglas County high school, the nav system takes us mostly on smaller roads to avoid the glut of Atlanta traffic, yet we still manage to see a fender-bender as a car and pick-up rear end one another.

We did not stop, no harm and no foul and we couldn’t get slowed down over 13 cents of damage.

At our final stop, we watched a young news photographer shooting video off of a tripod ‘way too close’ to the action and she ended up getting trucked. She was sent flying, the camera went to the ground, obviously damaged and an audible gasp (and some Oh S***s! were heard as well). We later found out that she suffered a concussion, so thoughts and prayers go out to her.

Aaron Gregory is going to be special. Aaron Gregory IS special. That’s all I have to say on that.

We ended the evening going out and meeting up with a current board member and a future board member (I am going to kick his butt if he doesn’t sign up soon) and had a great time.

Our waitress, well… smile, it’s not all that bad. She was just having a bad night.

Stories: Ryan Mosley speechless after picking up Ohio State offer

2026 Georgia QB grew up focused on Ohio State

Zelus Hicks is next great Georgia safety

Aaron Gregory a priority for Brian Hartline & Buckeyes

day six – Tuesday may 7th

Miles Driven: 367 Miles (1,422 total)

Start/Stop: Columbus (Ga.) to Opelika (Ala.) to Birmingham (Ala.) to Duluth (Ga.)

Schools Visited: Opelika HS, Parker HS

Summary: Why start in Columbus (Ga.)? Well, we had hopes of getting a player out that way but even with the best of Southern Swings, sometimes plans fall through, but we were in position to check out two players from the state of Alabama with Malik Autry and Na’eem Offord.

Almost as important, we saw a pair of Buc-ees along the way but did not stop, there will be time for that later, but we had a schedule to keep.

This is the first day where driving with “bad drivers” around me started to catch up as I was pretty free with the middle finger and the F-bombs, but that also is another tradition of the Southern Swing.

The facilities at Opelika high school were amazing, they had a small indoor field house with about 20 yards of field turf that was brand new (installed just that week according to the head coach, along with new turf at the stadium.

I really like where Ohio State stands with Autry right now as they are still early in this process. That doesn’t mean I am calling for the flip to happen, but I think there is a real chance it happens.

We then made our way to Birmingham but stopped in Hoover (Ala.) for dinner and we will talk about that at a later point.

Na’eem Offord is in the Christen Miller camp of all-time great interviews, you will have a chance shortly to see that one. He was working with younger players, coaching them up and looked good in drill work as his team went through practice. The offense did not test him often, so we don’t have as many clips as we would like, but that sign of respect is more than enough for us.

Stories: Eye opening visit for top-100 defensive tackle

Na’eem Offord focused on the big picture

day five – monday may 6th

Miles Driven: 385 Miles (1,055 total)

Start/Stop: Matthews (NC) to Columbus (Ga.)

Schools Visited: Myers Park HS, Providence Day School

Summary: This is the day where the trip felt real, even if a couple of day head start. We were fortunate in a lot of ways not to have an early morning shoot, so we got off to a nice start getting over to Myers Park and catching Brody Keefe before his workout.

Keefe has a quiet confidence about him and feels like someone who would fit well in Ohio State’s crowded wide receiver room. Remember that he is a class of 2026, so this one should take some time, but I like Ohio State’s chances.

We then made the short drive to Providence Day to see David Sanders. We got out of Myers Park so quickly, we had a lot of time to sit and wait and wait and wait. It is just part of the job, no complaints, but in retrospect, it may have been better to take our time and detour on the way there.

Had a chance to meet the Sanders family and you can tell that David Jr. comes from a strong family unit and it just is all part of the package that you are going to land with Sanders, whatever that lucky school is.

We made the decision to get aggressive and bypass Atlanta, only with plans to come back later in the week and head south, into Columbus (Ga.) to get into position for the 7th.

There was a torrential downpour on the way, people were acting stupid on the road, going way too slow. We were not trying to rush the system, but there were a lot of unsafe drivers along the way. We also encountered a couple of minor fender benders as well and got stuck in traffic in the middle of nowhere.

We made it to the hotel after 1am (ET) but made it nonetheless.

Stories: Is Ohio State trending up for David Sanders Jr.?

Brody Keefe continues to build relationship with Brian Hartline

day three/four – Saturday/sunday may 4th/5th

Summary: Not much happened in terms of the Swing on these two days as we enjoyed the opportunity to not have to change hotels on a nightly basis.

We spent the two days writing stories and planning later stops for the trip as well as watching both the NBA and NHL playoffs.

If we manage to get even 80-percent of the players that we are trying to set up to talk to, this is going to go down as the most ambitious Southern Swing of the entire series. Stay tuned.

Day Two – Friday May 3rd

Miles Driven: 232 Miles (670 total)

Start/Stop: Matthews (N.C.) to Greensboro (N.C.) to Matthews

Schools Visited: Weddington HS, Grimsley HS

Summary: This marked the first full day of the swing and we hit a pair of schools. We started off locally at Weddington which is a school that turns out a lot of talent and wins a lot of games. Among its famous alums is Will Shipley.

It was a family affair as the Harris twins and Thomas Davis Jr. are cousins and of course the question comes up about a package deal with the three and there are varying opinions among the three about the likelihood of that, but you have to figure that the twins (Aiden and Andrew) will go to the same school.

We then hopped into the car and headed to Greensboro to check out Faizon Brandon, one of the nation’s top players in the class of 2026. The school is very close to UNC-Greensboro and it is another school that wins a ton of games. There is also a tight end at this school that Ohio State is keeping an eye on but has not moved on, at least not yet.

We then made our way through Lexington (N.C.) for a little Carolina BBQ on our way back to Matthews.

The night wrapped up with a member of the Huddle community reaching out and offering us tickets to go to the Carolina Knights game, an offer that we gladly said yes to. After several beers there and some bourbon afterwards, we called it a night and prepared for the weekend, a last chance to rest for at least the next seven days.

Stories: Top-100 linebacker talks Ohio State interest

Buckeyes make big impression on Aiden Harris

Top 2026 QB has definite interest in what Buckeyes offer

Andrew Harris talks what a Buckeyes offer meant

Day One – Thursday May 2nd

Miles Driven: 438 Miles

Start/Stop: Columbus (Ohio) to Matthews (N.C.)

Schools Visited: Hurricane HS

Summary: We finally hit the road and the conditions were nice and sunny for travel. While we have certainly driven through West Virginia in the past, this is the first player (Da’Ron Parks) in the history of the series that we have stopped to see, even with Ohio State throwing offers out in the state from time-to-time.

Da'Ron Parks and Marc Givler speaking with microphones in their hands overlooking the football stadium at Hurricane high school in West Virginia.

Rolled into Hurricane a little early, but I have been told that I drive with a lead foot and need to watch my speed. They have a great facility at this school and should as one of the most dominant programs in the state.

After finishing up at the school, we headed south towards Charlotte and made it with no incidents and when in North Carolina, you have to grab some Cookout. So much food for a reasonable amount of money.

It is the welcome to North Carolina sign on Interstate 77 South entering Surry County.

Tomorrow will be a big day as we hit a pair of schools and really get things rolling.

Stories: Parks sees a lot to like about Ohio State

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