Ohio State’s 2020 wide receiver recruiting class might be one of the most impressive groups of players at a position in school history.
Julian Fleming was ranked as the top receiver in the class. Gee Scott, Jr. was the No. 10 and Mookie Cooper finished 16th.
But it was Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who finished No. 5 at the position, who had the most impressive senior season of all. Smith-Njigba caught 109 passes for, 2,132 yards and 34 touchdowns, all while playing in the top division of Texas high school football. He did it against top competition, and made spectacular plays look routine.
He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Texas.
Now, he’s taking the next step in his career. Smith-Njigba completed high school early and enrolled at OSU in January. He’s already got a month of winter workouts under his belt, and is starting to prepare for spring football.
“Right now, I’m learning the ‘H’ spot, which is the inside spot,” said Smith-Njigba. “I’m learning a little bit of the ‘Z.’ I feel like I’m good at those spots, so it should be good.”
The ‘H’ is the slot receiver position, which KJ Hill and Parris Campbell have played in recent seasons.
The ‘Z’ is the speedy deep-threat outside spot, which was manned by Austin Mack and Chris Olave last year.
As an inside guy, Hill makes a great role model. He just finished his career with the school record for most receptions.
“I’ll tell some of the coaches to cut some things up and let me see how KJ did some things. How he ran ran his route. His mindset,” said Smith-Njigba. “Hopefully I can talk to him some in the future and he can give me some advice. They love KJ here. He was a hard worker and great at what he did. Hopefully, when it’s my turn, I can do my job.”
But there’s a lot of work to do before the freshman is ready to be a regular contributor. Wide receiver is a tough spot to get on the field right away. Coaches want to know that a player is a solid blocker before they start getting regular reps, and there’s a lot to learn about the finer points of route-running and technique.
There’s also an adjustment coming for a guy who caught an average of about 8 passes every week as a high school senior. With the Buckeye offense loaded with talent and only so many touches available, there simply aren’t going to be that many passes coming his way this fall. Smith-Njigba has already talked to another Texas high school superstar, OSU sophomore Garrett Wilson, about what to expect.
“He had an incredible freshman season. He took advantage of every ball,” Smith-Njigba said. “That’s what he told me: ‘You’re not going to see 10 balls, but the balls you do, it’s yours, you’ve got to get it.'”
The process of going to get it this fall has already started.
“Coming in here in the winter, it was good for me, so I could come in here and compete,” said Smith-Njigba. “However many reps I get, just take full advantage of that and compete and try to get the job.”