COLUMBUS — Take the word of a future first-round pick who guards Garrett Wilson regularly in practice at Ohio State.
The word special has been used to describe the 5-star receiver from Austin, Texas, since Wilson was first recruited. It’s been tossed around by recruiting experts, coaches and players.
But when it comes from a cornerback who can shut down any wide receiver he faces and will certainly hear his name called early on Night One of the NFL Draft next spring? Well, it might just mean Wilson truly is what he has been hyped up to be so far.
“I think what stands out about Garrett are his ball skills,” Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah said. “Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen anyone that possesses those ball skills and how naturally he’s able to locate the ball and high-point the ball. I think if you look at it with another offseason with [strength coach] Mick [Marotti] and [wide receivers coach Brian] Hartline and as he starts to mature as a player, he can only get so much better.
“[Co-defensive coordinator Jeff] Hafley and me are always talking like: This guy’s going to be special.”
Hafley spent time in the NFL, so he certainly knows what a special receiver looks like as well.
Wilson has been on Ohio State’s campus for 10 months and is already getting that high praise. But he isn’t letting that have an impact on how he views his first season under Hartline and coach Ryan Day.
Wilson seems to be taking everything in stride as he navigates through his freshman campaign.
“I’m just worried about getting better week-to-week,” Wilson said after his four-catch game against Maryland, when he led the Buckeyes with 82 receiving yards and a touchdown grab. “That’s all I can do. And then whenever I’m out there and I get called on, I’ve got to make plays. So, that’s all I’m really worried about right now.”
What Wilson can do is help the Buckeyes push for a national title, and his role appears to be on the rise.
Wilson has played in all nine games this season. He has 18 catches for 216 yards and four touchdowns. He has slowly worked his way into a crowded receiver rotation that features veteran guys who have been around the program for years.
And then there’s Wilson.
It’s not easy to crack that rotation as a freshman. It took Chris Olave nearly an entire season and an injury to Austin Mack to find a spot there for Ohio State. But when he did, the bubble seemed to pop and Olave torched Michigan, then caught a touchdown in the Big Ten Championship Game. Olave laid the blueprint out for Wilson to play early and often. Wilson seems to be following that.
“We think he obviously has a tremendous ceiling, and he’s growing every week,” Day said. “He’s understanding how to practice. He’s understanding how to play within the offense. But I feel like his maturity level, it’s kind of like Chris Olave came on late in the season last year as a freshman.
“I think the biggest thing for him is: ‘How well do you practice? How well do you take care of the ball? What kind of discipline do you have during the week?’ Because if he does that, then he could be as good as he wants to be.”
Those practice habits and discipline are part of the maturation of a freshman in college who isn’t even done being a teenager yet. And he is already producing results for the No. 2 team in the country.
But that was always the plan. Wilson knew he had the skillset to find a way on the field at a young age for the Buckeyes. He knew if he came in and listened to Hartline, he could grow quickly and find a role for Ohio State, even possibly now as the starting punt returner. That was all in front of him.
So far, Wilson is handling it all well.
“I didn’t really expect anything [right away],” Wilson said. “I kind of just came in, you know, big program, we’ve got a great team. Where I fit in, that’s where I’m going to be. When I get called on, I just want to make my play.”
When he does, they’re often special, head-turning plays, such as the Randy Moss-like catch he made in the Buckeyes win over Miami (Ohio) back in September. Or the Moss-like catch in the Spring Game. Or the over-the-shoulder toe-tap catch for a touchdown at Nebraska.
Or even the numerous plays he has made in practice, when nobody can see him other than the coaching staff and his teammates.
There’s a future first-round pick at cornerback who has to guard him. And even he can admit that true freshman Garrett Wilson can be special at Ohio State.