On a fast and loud hype train, Dontre Wilson came to Columbus as the crown jewel of a mighty recruiting class. He swelled with the potential of being Ohio State’s next big thing.
Remember this time last year?
Remember the way coach Urban Meyer salivated over the DeSoto, Texas, speedster?
Remember the glowing first impressions his teammates offered when asked to describe the then-freshman running back?
Remember the inevitable comparisons to former Florida and NFL star Percy Harvin?
It’s because Wilson is the poster child of the kind of players Meyer — whose penchant for blazing fast, explosive and twitchy athletes is well documented — wants at Ohio State.
“He’s got something that we didn’t have and that’s just electric speed,” Meyer said last August. “He’s got jets.”
In a national championship or bust kind of season, Wilson was supposed to be the X factor, the secret weapon.
But by last October, Meyer’s affinity for a player born to play in his style of offense had ebbed. In its absence came blunt and brutal criticism for one of the nation’s finest recruits.
Just months after gushing about Wilson, Meyer — a man calculated and stingy with compliments — called Wilson a “hood ornament.”
“He's got to become a football player,” he said after the team’s primetime win against Northwestern, a game where Wilson saw limited playing time. “Right now he's a novelty.”
In the shadows of Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Corey “Philly” Brown, Wilson still touched the ball, but less than before. He did less. He meant less.
“My head wasn’t getting big over the hype, I just wanted to come in and play,” Wilson said. “The year didn’t turn out how I wanted it to.”
Or as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman put it in March: “He didn’t know what the hell he was doing and didn’t know how to do it.”
While Wilson finished the season with 465 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns, he fell short of massive, and probably unrealistic, expectations heaped on him during the preseason.
No, Dontre Wilson didn’t live up to the hype last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s unworthy of it.
“I think Dontre Wilson could be the most dynamic offensive player on the team along with Braxton Miller this year.”– Phil Steele
“I think Dontre Wilson could be the most dynamic offensive player on the team along with Braxton Miller this year,” Phil Steele, college football guru and author of the famed/annual Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, told Eleven Warriors.
“Keep in mind, he was a running back, they switched him to a slot. He was still sort of learning the position last year but now he knows the position inside and out. He was probably the best playmaker in the spring, understands the position.
“I think he’s going to be Braxton Miller’s security blanket. If you want to keep Braxton Miller healthy, he’s going to get that ball out of there quickly. Well, what better way to get the ball out of there quickly than hitting your slot receiver.
“I think Wilson is going to have a fantastic year for Ohio State and be one of the marquee players in the country at the end of the year statistically out of that position.”
It’s high praise, but it makes sense. Wilson has world-class speed. Put those wheels in open space and you have the Urban Meyer offensive machine operating at a high level of efficiency. Simple, right?
It only works if Wilson can do more.
“I think the biggest thing is he's got to be able to go in the game and play different positions and it not be a red flag that 'Hey, this guy's either getting the ball or getting faked the ball,’” Herman said. “He's got to be able to be trustworthy enough to put on the field and say, ‘He's just a guy running a route’ he's not 'Hey, red flag, bells and whistles, look here.'"
That’s the difference between a novelty and a football player.
“I just didn’t feel like I was that involved,” Wilson said. “I pretty much felt like a decoy.
“But now, things have changed.”
But the expectations? The hype?
Those stay the same.