What Malik Hartford’s Commitment Means for Ohio State’s Class of 2023

Ohio State landed another prime target in the state on Wednesday when four-star safety Malik Hartford gave his verbal commitment to the Buckeyes.

Landing Ohio’s best players has always been a priority for Ryan Day and Ohio State, and Hartford’s commitment is another cap in that feather for the Buckeyes. Even more specifically, Hartford is another recruiting win for Ohio State thanks to a strong high school football program at Lakota West. Hartford becomes the third Lakota West player to sign with the Buckeyes in two years, as 2022 signers Jyaire Brown and Tegra Tshabola were Hartford’s high school teammates at Lakota West last season.

With Brown being a defensive back, Hartford said he learned a lot about football from his former teammate.

“Jyaire is a great player,” Hartford said. “He has quick feet and above all, he is an excellent mentor. He is someone I admire and someone who teaches me a lot of what I know.

Hartford has stayed in touch with Brown and Tshabola even now that Brown has enrolled at Ohio State and Tshabola is preparing to enroll at Ohio State this summer, but the conversation hasn’t necessarily always driven him to join them at Ohio State.

“A little,” Hartford said when asked if Brown and Tshabola recruited him from Ohio State. “But that’s not really the main focus, I like them both as people. That’s how our relationship is.

Nonetheless, Hartford will join his former high school teammates in Columbus after one more season with the Firebirds.

In the field

The first thing that stands out about Malik Hartford’s on-pitch attributes is obvious: the guy is tough as nails, pure and simple.

hartford said Eleven Warriors last month that he played through a torn labrum during his junior season at Lakota West. He had shoulder surgery after the season and is still focused on his recovery at the moment, but chose to play through the pain during the season because he didn’t want to let his team down.

“It was tough,” Hartford said of the injury. “But to win the state, you have to make certain sacrifices. That’s what I tried to do.

From now until Lakota West begins preseason camp, Hartford will focus on being healthy.

“I’m just working on my shoulder strength,” Hartford said when asked what he was working on before the start of his senior season. “In order for me to hit as hard as I want to, I need to increase the strength in my shoulders and upper body.”

When Hartford is fully healthy, he’s capable of being a game-changer in the secondary. Despite the injury, Hartford recorded 58 tackles, two interceptions and a sack for Lakota West last season. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound prospect was also a dynamic special teams player, blocking six kicks in 2021 and excelling in kickoff coverage.

OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles often likes to deploy a three-safety look, which won’t be a difficult transition for Hartford, who also plays in a three-safety defense at Lakota West. Hartford mostly lines up in midfield at Lakota West, but also occasionally rushes from the edge or lines up in the box.

He has the potential to be a next-level ballhawking safety, and his experience on special teams should help him enter the field early in his college career.

In the classroom

According to 247Sports composite rankings, Hartford is the 146th-highest ranked player and 11th-ranked safe in the 2023 class. He is also Ohio’s fourth-highest-rated player.

Hartford becomes the Buckeyes’ sixth commitment in the 2023 cycle. He is Ohio’s fourth committed in 2023, joining offensive linemen Luke Montgomery and Joshua Padilla and defensive tackle Will Smith Jr.

He becomes the fifth four-star recruit in Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class, which is now ranked sixth nationally. At this point, Hartford is OSU’s fourth-highest rated Class of 2023 commitment.

Ohio State would like to take three safeties in the 2023 class, and now has two with Hartford and Cedrick Hawkins in the fold. The Buckeyes’ likely top preference for the other available safety point is five-star Georgia product Caleb Downs, though OSU is also strongly looking for four-star safeties Joenel Aguero and Daemon Fagan.

After his commitment ceremony on Wednesday, Hartford said he planned to help Ohio State recruit Downs and Aguero.