COLUMBUS — For his opening act, Garrett Wilson lived up to the recruiting hype.
Wilson flashed during his first spring game, made defenders look small by going over them for improbable catches and torched Michigan in his first edition of The Game. He helped the Ohio State offense to a trip to the College Football Playoff and seemed to get better every time he stepped on the field.
So how can the former five-star follow that up? It won’t be easy, but if there’s one wide receiver who could do it, Garrett Wilson is likely the guy.
“We think he obviously has a tremendous ceiling, and he’s growing every week,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said late in the season last year. “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 how 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.”
Wilson was always going to be a freshman who was hard to keep off the field last season. He was too talented as a first-year player to sit the bench or redshirt. And now with three other top Ohio State wide receivers off to the NFL, Wilson should be one of the top two options for Justin Fields in the Ohio State offense.
Although Wilson had success last season in an outside role, his production as a sophomore may come from different areas on the field. K.J. Hill is gone, meaning the Buckeyes have a hole to fill at slot receiver. And while there are certainly options available to fill that role without moving Wilson inside, the idea of putting the former five-star recruit in the slot with other talented receivers on the outside is something that clearly excites the Buckeyes coaching staff.
Because Wilson can play anywhere. And in the little spring practice Ohio State was able to squeeze in, Wilson was working to make the transition to the inside.
It just makes too much sense.
“I think when you look at [Wilson’s] background, his basketball background, his spatial awareness is off the charts,” Day said. “His range is really good. He can operate in short areas. And the other thing for him is he can time up [routes] down the field. He’s got a unique skill set.
“But I think his ability to catch the ball, put it away, run after the catch so quickly is something you want out of a slot receiver. And running option routes, setting up defenders and understanding space and everything like that, it happens a lot faster in there. But I think his skill set fits that. The same with Jaxon [Smith-Njigba], I think they fit that way. So that’s why we made that move.”
With his first act, Wilson was able to lay the foundation for a brilliant Ohio State career. He showed he can track the ball and jump over defenders to catch it. He showed he can play in space and give defenses headaches. And he already proved he can create some magic against the Buckeyes biggest rival.
His second act will likely involve more magic. But it might just come from a different spot on the field.
“I was already having visions of that last year,” wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said.
Now the encore is poised to become a reality.