By David Fong
Regional Sports Editor
TROY — Lenea Browder never considered herself born to be a Buckeye.
“Honestly, my family were all big Ohio State fans, but I always thought I wanted to go out-of-state to go to college,” said Browder, a state champion thrower on the Troy High School girls track and field team. “I really wasn’t that into it until I started going over there to visit and saw all that the school had to offer.”
Seeing the campus with her own two eyes — along with Ohio State’s all-in recruiting approach — was more than enough to convince Browder that her destiny was in Columbus. Browder, who won’t start her junior outdoor season for more than a month — recently gave her verbal commitment to attend Ohio State beginning in the fall of 2020.
“I was most impressed by how much dedicated they were to helping me improve as an athlete and how much they cared about my academic future,” Browder said. “I feel like they can help me get to where I want to go. They made me feel like I was going to be a part of the family.”
Ohio State wasted no time in making Browder its top recruiting priority. By NCAA rules, track and field programs are not allowed to reach out and arrange official visits for recruits until Sept. 1 of their junior year. At 6:43 a.m. on Sept. 1 of last year, Ohio State throws coach Ashley Kovacs texted Browder to set up an official visit. That put the Buckeyes out in front in the recruiting race for Browder, a lead they would maintain until she announced her commitment on Twitter last week.
“That meant a lot to me, that they were texting me at 6 a.m.,” Browder said. “That showed how much they wanted me.”
That’s no surprise, considering the numbers Browder put up last year as a sophomore.
Last spring, she qualified for the state meet at OSU’s Jesse Owens Stadium — allowing Ohio State coaches to get an up-close look at her abilities — in both the discus and shot put, winning a state title in the discus and placing second in the shot put. Her best career throw in the shot put is 48-6.5, while her best throw in the discus is 156-3, both of which are school records. According to milesplit.com, she was the top sophomore shot putter in the nation last year and the No. 3 sophomore discus thrower in the country.
So good is Browder at such a young age that Troy throws coach Aaron Gibbons said the toughest competition she’ll likely face her final two years in high school is herself.
“What she’s done so far is pretty unheard of,” Gibbons said. “Certainly no one around here has ever done it before, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like it again. How much better can she be? I think that’s going to be up to her. As a sophomore, she’s already a state champ — that means she’s already better than everyone else. There may be meets this spring where she’s beating second place by 10 feet. Her goal can’t simply be to beat the competition at meets. She’s going to have to keep trying to be a better version of herself. That’s not always easy to do when you don’t have competition pushing you.
”She’s go to have to keep her focus. The first thing that always comes up with college coaches when they talk about Lenea is that she’s unique from the standpoint that she has a lot of athletic ability, but she also puts in a lot of work. She’s not as big as a lot of the other throwers she competes against. She’s athletic, but she’s not this physical specimen that can overpower an implement and force it to go as far as she wants it to go. It’s her work ethic that impresses college coaches. The reason she’s been able to accomplish what she has at her size and her age is because of her work.”
Troy coach Kurt Snyder said she may be one of the most versatile athletes ever to come through Troy.
“Honestly, if she hadn’t suffered a knee injury playing basketball her freshman year, we probably would have had her doing the long jump and running sprints, too,” he said. “She’s a pretty special athlete. It takes someone special to be able to earn the opportunity to go to her dream school.”
Although she won’t be able to officially sign a binding letter of intent to the Buckeyes until her senior year, Browder said she’s essentially signed, sealed and delivered — and she will be completely shutting down the recruiting process to focus on her final two years at Troy before she heads off to college.
“I’m glad it’s over,” she said. “I was getting so many phone calls and emails from college coaches. It got to the point where I had to ignore the phone calls just so I could get my homework done. I love it at Ohio State. I love the coaches and the campus. They are going to make me better as an athlete and student. Plus, I love the fact it’s close enough for my family to come see me.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong