Making Sense of the Dontre Wilson Hype Train
By Brandon Castel
All that’s left to do is live up to the hype.
Photo by Dan Harker
Those will either be the famous last words for Dontre Wilson or the ones that propel Ohio State’s freshman running back to heights almost unimagined. At this point, that’s about where he would have to reach in order to live up to the buzz building out of Columbus this fall.
It makes sense, too.
Wilson was one of the most highly-recruited players in the country after the numbers he put up during his final two seasons at DeSoto High School, in a small town just outside the Dallas city limits. He may have been the top offensive weapon in the entire state of Texas, which is why Chip Kelly wanted Wilson for his offense at Oregon.
If there is one thing we know about Chip Kelly, it’s his undying love for speed. Not just any speed, top of the line, gone-before-you-know-it, no-need-to-look-over-your-shoulder speed. That’s how Kelly turned the town of Eugene into one of the premier destinations in America for top talent at the skill position.
Wilson, a 5-10, 175-pound blur who scored more than 50 touchdowns last season, was headed to Eugene to play for the Ducks before Kelly made his own players look slow with the haste at which he bolted for Philadelphia and a chance to coach in the National Football League.
Photo by Jim Davidson
In Kelly’s offense, Wilson was supposed to be the next LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner or D’Anthony Thomas. He has that kind of build and that kind of speed. At Ohio State, he’s already being compared to Percy Harvin and Ted Ginn Jr.
In fact, someone on The Ozone Forum went as far as to call Dontre Wilson a Ginn clone, only with better hands and more dangerous fakes. He offered up this video of what Wilson could become in Urban Meyer’s offense at Ohio State, but the real Dontre Wilson hype train has been building this fall courtesy of his own teammates.
“He's definitely fast. Laterally he's quick. If he's going one way and you try to tackle him, he's going to be gone in a second,” said Mike Mitchell, a freshman linebacker out of Plano, Texas.
“I knew he was fast just because I heard about his track season all the time in Texas. But definitely after seeing it on the field, he can really bring it. He can lower the pads. He's hard to tackle.”
Meyer has been noncommittal about Wilson’s ability to fill Ohio State’s void at the hybrid H-back position this fall. It’s a role that was going to be played by Jordan Hall, but the fifth-year senior is slated to step in as the team’s starting tailback during Carlos Hyde’s three-game suspension.
If Hall is lined up in the backfield, it might give Meyer an opportunity to maximize the amount of speed on the field by putting Wilson in the slot or H-back position.
“He’s running by a lot of dudes. I want ya’ll to see it,” Hall said during Sunday’s media day inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“You’ll see it when he gets out there. He’s a fast dude.”
So where does that leave Wilson? Well, according to the freshman, he could be the answer for Ohio State at a position the team simply did not have during Meyer’s first year as the head football coach in Columbus.
“When Urban Meyer was recruiting me he said that if I was to come here, that would be the role that I would play,” Wilson said of the Percy Harvin comparisons.
“And so far that's been the role. I have pretty great hands. I work on it a lot now that I know that I'll be playing a little bit of receiver.”
If the fact Wilson reportedly ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash during his first week on campus didn’t set fire to the hype campaign, the fact Ohio State’s starting quarterback publically campaigned to get him the starting lineup certainly did the job.
“He’s a special kid,” Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller said of Wilson.
“He goes all out. You can tell from that first day of camp, he was like a bolt of lightning. Now he’s kind of slowing down, he had to get used to that college life.”
Photo by Dan Harker
On Tuesday, during his appearance on ESPN’s Sportscenter, Urban Meyer said that Wilson and fellow freshman Ezekiel Elliott had brought a new electricity to the offense. Does that mean suddenly both of these rookies are going to be in the starting lineup for Meyer and the Buckeyes against Buffalo in the season opener?
Elliott is competing with a group of older guys at tailback that includes Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball. He may also be competing with Wilson, who has played both tailback and H-back during fall camp. As of now, Wilson may not even be on the field when the Buckeyes open the season; the chances of him being a better version of Ted Ginn Jr. – or even in the same conversation as Ginn, who was one of the most electrifying players in college football during his time at Ohio State – are still far-fetched.
No matter how good he turns out to be, Wilson is probably not going to live up the hype he has received this fall, at least not as a freshman. Remember, this is a kid who has been on campus for less than three months. He has practiced for all of two weeks, and yet there is something about his combination of speed and elusiveness that might just change the way Ohio State can deploy its offense at some point this season.
“He’s got something that we didn’t have, and that’s just electric speed,” Meyer said.
“He also has a unique skill set where he’s extremely dynamic and fast, which we all know what that means in the game of football.”
Especially in an offense that is predicated on creating space, but that space only becomes dangerous when there is someone fast enough to fill it … and then create more.
“I see myself when the offense needs a spark or a big play that I can come in and change the game,” Wilson said Sunday.
But is he fast enough to catch up to a hype train that has already left the station?
“I think I've done pretty good,” he said.
“I've got to live up to high expectations because of the way I was recruited, and all of the hype I have to live up to. I think I've done pretty good so far.”