The first change came by switching numbers. Dontre Wilson returned to his roots in Texas and exchanged No. 1 for No. 2, his high school digit.
“I just felt like I needed to get back to me,” Wilson said. “It feels like me again. I had to get back to No. 2.”
The second – and most significant change – is his placement in practice, meeting rooms and game days. Wilson is no longer a running back.
An entire summer was spent obsessing over him. Wilson generated a hoopla that only appears sporadically through generations. Braxton Miller stoked it at Big Ten media days when he raved about the then-true freshman’s speed and elusiveness.
The first pumping of the brakes came from head coach Urban Meyer. Surprise, surprise.
“Cool it with the Dontre,” he said last July.
Once the season started, Meyer didn’t have to worry about the media hyping Wilson. There were a handful of runs that built excitement. But Wilson’s year only yielded 460 yards of offense and three touchdowns. Underwhelming numbers for someone who was touted as the next Percy Harvin, though he did average almost nine yards per touch.
Still, fans grew impatient after hearing months of chatter regarding the game breaker. Meyer spoke to his lack of pass blocking, a need for added muscle and a better understanding of the playbook.
“My head wasn’t getting big with the hype,” Wilson said. “I just wanted to come in and play. The year didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.”
Wilson begins anew in 2014. He’s bigger, faster, stronger and smarter. He’s also a wide receiver. Gone are the days of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Wilson’s services are best used when he’s in space. But the hybrid role was an impossibility last season.
“He couldn’t play receiver,” Herman said. “He didn’t know what the hell he was doing. He didn't know how to do it. He was 175 pounds or whatever the heck he was. So him and his ability limited us, and the ability doesn’t just include running fast and making guys miss. There’s a lot that goes into ability and usability in the offense.”
In the weeks since the Orange Bowl, Wilson’s made the Woody Hayes Athletic Center his second home. The window to learn last season shrunk by not enrolling in the spring, so he was forced to process information at a much quicker pace. The end result wasn’t always desired.
Wilson’s already ridded that aspect of his game. The dividends have been seen in practice with long runs and decisive action replacing unsure movements. Wilson is once again a bundle of kinetic energy always on the move.
“I feel way better. It’s more tiring, but it feels ways better,” he said, laughing. “Now I’m starting at the H, which is the most prolific position in our offense besides running back and quarterback. I’m getting a lot more touches and more involved in the game.”
Said Herman: “He’s had a great offseason and really took to the position. He’s still learning and still makes mistakes that you wish he wouldn’t at this stage in his career. But at the end of the day, he’s played tailback his entire life and to move him into this “hybrid” role, he hasn’t been doing it very long. He’s progressing, and he’s gotten stronger and bigger and learned technique, so the ability and his usability continues to rise with every step he takes.”
Wilson’s standing in the offense jumped tenfold. Last October, Meyer referred to him as a “novelty” and “hood ornament.” The slights were meant to send a message to Wilson and reinforce the planned path for his career. And it didn’t involve him spending three or four years as just a track star in football pads.
There were frustrating moments with Wilson admitting he felt like a decoy. Fake handoffs and fly sweeps qualified for the vast extent of his activity. But that’s all changing with his move to receiver, expertise of the playbook and 14 games of experience.
“Now that I’ve been in here for a year, I understand it a lot,” Wilson said. “We ‘re learning a lot of next level stuff. Just becoming an all-out receiver is helping me with the position change. I consider myself a slot receiver, but once I get the ball, I consider myself a running back.”
The fascination with replicating Percy Harvin’s success began the day Meyer was hired by the Buckeyes. Ohio State fans were familiar with Harvin’s exploits from the BCS National Championship Game. What they saw was a unique playmaker who could change the direction of a game in mere seconds.
The Buckeyes didn’t possess a player with that range of skills in Meyer’s first two seasons. But after two years, the searching is nearing its end point. On an offense that lost Carlos Hyde and Philly Brown, the potential production from Wilson is a welcome development.
“I don’t use that term ‘Percy Harvin’ very loosely because there’s only probably one of him, but we like Dontre,” Meyer said. “That hybrid position is really a key guy.”