Incoming Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba had an incredible career at Rockwall High School in Rockwall, Texas.
As a sophomore in 2017, he caught 83 passes for 1,328 yards and nine touchdowns. He improved each of those numbers as a junior, posting 97 receptions for 1,828 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Smith-Njigba then improved upon those numbers with a senior season that saw him catch 104 passes for 2,094 yards and 35 touchdowns.
With all kinds of awards in the state of Texas for his production, Smith-Njigba has also seen his recruiting stock rise to the point where he is currently the No. 5 receiver in the 2020 class and the No. 33 player overall.
That production, of course, is going to take a dip in college, but Buckeye head coach Ryan Day expects Smith-Njigba’s game to carry over with the Buckeyes just fine.
“I hope so, yeah,” Day said. “It’s exciting when you see stuff like that, when you just see the numbers, over 200 yards receiving a game, one-handed catches, releases where guys fall down on the ground. Yeah, that gets exciting. We can’t wait to get him here.”
It seemed like every Friday night through the high school football season new highlights would appear on social media. Statistics more ridiculous than the next. Two-hundred yards receiving in the first half of one game, five touchdowns in the first half of another.
And what was OSU receivers coach Brian Hartline’s response to seeing such things?
“First, I laugh. Secondly, you know, it goes through my mind that, man, he’s pretty good,” Hartline said. “Then I always make sure that they won. But it’s pretty profound. I mean, the career he’s had in Texas, and that’s a great football state, call a spade a spade. And for him to be among the best of all time is just astounding.”
But it’s not just the production from Jaxon Smith-Njigba that has impressed Hartline.
“Another thing that jumps out too on his Twitter, you see how good of a teammate he is,” he said. “He does always talk about his O-line and the people around him. And that’s really who he is. He radiates that, which is phenomenal. I think that’s awesome.”
In recruiting Smith-Njigba early on, Ohio State liked what they saw on film from him as a sophomore, but it was the interactions with him personally that convinced Hartline and then-head coach Urban Meyer that he was worthy of an offer. His junior and senior seasons have proven their ability to spot talent early on, but it was always more than just what he could do on the field.
“He’s a really good, very productive player,” Hartline said. “In the end, it’s just great to see these guys have success. You know, when you’re a young athlete, and you start getting talked about a lot, the pressures these guys deal with that most guys didn’t have to deal with 10 years ago, with the access these adults and other kids have to these athletes before they’re probably ready. Frankly, these young men are probably more versed with Twitter and Social Media than their parents. Their parents can’t even comprehend what’s going on and how to handle it and how to tweet the right way. So to see him carry himself the right way, that’s the most impressive thing.”
Putting up over 200 receptions, nearly 4,000 yards receiving, and 55 touchdown catches over the past two seasons is incredibly impressive and is certainly an indicator of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s potential. But for Hartline, it is how Smith-Njigba has handled the pressure the last few years that speaks even louder.
“I would say that in the end, the stats are what they are,” he said. “When he has opportunity, he makes plays. But really as a person, that’s really what astounds me. How he’s able to go through the hoops there with that and handle it the right way. So I can’t say enough about him and his family and how he was raised.”