Austin Mack is the forgotten man in the Ohio State receiving corps.
Or at least that’s what it seems like.
Any story written about Mack has to start with his true freshman year and the way he burst onto the scene in early spring. He became the first true freshman to have his black stripe removed in spring ball. However, before the end of spring camp ended, he would hit a wall that he never really climbed over.
He played in every game last season, mostly on special teams. He caught two passes for 15 yards.
That story needs to be told in order to tell the rest of the story. It’s a story that was looking like a slow burn, but now might be readying to pick up the pace.
When the Ohio State receivers are written or talked about, Parris Campbell’s name will come up as the new H-back. Johnnie Dixon’s name will come up because of his comeback story. Terry McLaurin’s name will come up because of the need for a deep threat. Binjimen Victor’s name will come up because he is 6-foot-4 with a 7-foot wingspan. K.J. Hill’s name will come up just because it hasn’t come up yet.
And then Austin Mack’s name will come up, usually followed by a question about what happened to him last season.
“It’s an eye-opening thing,” Mack said of his freshman struggles. “Every freshman when you come in, especially to fall camp, it’s a new reality — Ohio State football. You get humbled, and for me it’s doing whatever I can to become the expectation, which you know is Mike Thomas. Whatever I can to keep getting better and better, that was my fall. Keep getting better and learning from Noah Brown and the guys above me, and trying to motivate the team, especially our unit. Every weekend, every week, coming out and doing what we can.”
What happened to Mack as a freshman has happened to almost every freshman before him — including “the expectation” known as Mike Thomas. Thomas caught three passes for 22 yards as a true freshman in 2012 and then redshirted in 2013.
Mack won’t be redshirting this year, and despite his slow start, the expectations for him haven’t changed in the least.
“Austin is exactly what I always thought he was,” said receivers coach Zach Smith. “In recruiting, I thought he could be a great player. Not a good player, but a great player. I knew it was going to take some development. And so he came in, he showed flashes of what I saw in evaluation and recruiting. What everybody saw. And then it was just a matter of grinding him through it. Getting him through the process. Making him understand how to become a great player. How to train, how to work. How to be a pro.
“And so he’s done that now. Last year he was inconsistent, and so you’d have good days and bad days. And we had to get consistency out of him, and right now he’s very consistent. You’ve just got to keep it up and keep going.”
When it comes to executing something as precise as the passing game, consistency is key. As a freshman, Mack was just trying to make sure he did everything properly, which caused inconsistency because of the amount of thinking that was required.
Now, Mack knows what he’s doing, which means he can do it correctly much more consistently.
“I struggled with consistency and as a receiver you got to be able to do everything you can to be consistent,” Mack said. “For me, that’s my main focus this fall camp. I feel a lot more comfortable. I know the playbook a lot better so now I’m able to go out there and run and do everything I can at a high tempo.”
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Mack is one piece of a six-man rotation at receiver for the Buckeyes. It’s a rotation loaded with potential. And while four or five other names may come up first, don’t expect Austin Mack to be so patient when it comes to making his own presence known.
“Sometimes people say it’s a process and you gotta wait for your time, but nah, let’s push, be great now,” he said. “That’s my expectation, just to keep pushing myself to be who I can be, be that expectation. If I can be that sooner, that would be even better.”