Jaelen Gill came to Ohio State in 2018 as one of the most dynamic high school recruits in the nation. From Westerville, Ohio, Gill played high school football just 20 minutes from the OSU campus.
He didn’t have to travel far to get to Ohio State, but he will tell you that he has come a long way to be where he is today.
As a true freshman this past season, Gill redshirted, playing in just two games and catching one pass for 11 yards.
Gill joined the loaded position group of H-backs when he arrived, putting him behind the likes of Parris Campbell and KJ Hill. Playing time was hard to come by, but the learning opportunities were plenty.
“I’ve definitely grown a lot,” Gill said recently. “Before, there were a lot of things that I struggled with at first, but learning from the older guys like Parris, Johnnie [Dixon], KJ, and Terry [McLaurin] definitely helped me a lot in becoming a better player. Even just the basics. Their approach to meetings and practices was a professional approach, so just learning things like that helped me.”
For most of his football life, Gill was always one of the more talented players on any field he in which he played. And while that talent is still there, he learned that it takes much more than talent to see the field.
“Coming in I really didn’t think redshirting was going to happen,” he said. “I thought I was going to be cool, but I definitely needed this year to learn things and learn from the older guys and the coaches and just get some more experience with college ball. I think it’s definitely necessary and a lot of guys need that.”
One advantage Gill had in high school was the fact that he essentially played the same position that he plays now. He was a running back in high school who also lined up in the slot and out wide and ran routes. Since Urban Meyer brought the position to Ohio State in 2012, however, only Dontre Wilson has contributed at H-back as a true freshman.
There is always a lot to learn, and even though Gill had done a good amount of route running in high school, it was a different world when he got to Ohio State and receivers coach Brian Hartline.
“I was comfortable coming in because of stuff I did in high school, but as far as breaking down routes and stuff, that’s the part that got me,” he said. “I’m used to running back steps and all of that, so that was a struggle, but I’m getting a lot better on that. I’ll work with Coach Hartline on that stuff in the offseason.”
Even though he was still learning the nuances, he did get into games late against Rutgers and Tulane. One of the reasons why Urban Meyer would implore fans to show up to the spring game every year was so that young guys could get their first full Ohio Stadium experience out of the way. Since Gill didn’t enroll early, he got his first experiences during the season.
“It was a learning experience,” he said of playing. “When I first went out there and saw how big the stadium was, I was like, ‘Wow. This is crazy.’ I wasn’t used to that, so I tried to take it all in. It was definitely cool and it was a great experience.”
Gill got his feet wet in 2018, but is expecting to be fully immersed in 2019. He will be preparing during the offseason to become a larger part of the offense in any way possible.
And if the team needs him in the return game, he’s willing to do that as well.
“I think I can add a whole lot of speed, explosiveness, big plays, and energy for this team,” he said. “Punts, kicks, I’ll return ‘em. If that’s what they need, I’ll do it. Whatever they need me to do, I can do. I just want to win games here.”
There is no interest in setting statistical goals and when asked about his expectations for the 2019 season, his first answer was about the team’s expectations for a national title.
Individually, however, Gill understands the position he is stepping into. The H-back at Ohio State is a premier position. Curtis Samuel played it as well as it could be played. Parris Campbell set a school record for catches in a season, and KJ Hill is on pace to be OSU’s all-time leader in receptions by the end of the 2019 season.
The process of keeping that lineage going is already underway.
“This is a big spring for me,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep showcasing what I can do and hopefully I’ll be able to get on the field with my brothers next season. They want me to be able to step up in that position. Those are big shoes to fill, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that.”