When Ryan Day flew out to Washington last winter, his arrival left an impression on both Emeka Egbuka and his head coach Colby Davies.
“I think Coach Day was the first head coach that stepped inside Steilacoom High School – that’s anyone. I remember telling him that too,” Davies told Eleven Warriors. “Even at the time, I don’t think Coach (Chris) Petersen at UW had been inside our school yet. I think they definitely made Emeka a priority.”
Brian Hartline had previously visited Egbuka once, but it was important for Day to show face. West coast programs had a leg up geographically on the Buckeyes, with Petersen having already met Egbuka on the Huskies campus and Oregon hot on the trail of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound five-star recruit.
Of course Day and his staff made Egbuka a priority, giving him a scholarship offer Jan. 4, at the beginning of the second semester of his sophomore year.
They wanted to make an early impression on America’s No. 9-ranked overall football player in the class of 2021 – the country’s No. 1-rated athlete and the No. 2-ranked junior in the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s no doubt about it. For me to see the first head coach come in, it leaves an impression on you, for sure,” Davies said. “But everyone that’s come out to see him and gets to interact with him and see what he’s about, they make him a priority.”
The Buckeyes needed to match its competition. So far, they have done just that.
On Wednesday evening, Egbuka included Ohio State in his list of top 10 final schools he’s seriously considering, but there’s a strong belief the Buckeyes are closer to the top of that list than the bottom.
Much of that can be attributed to the work of Day and Mike Yurcich, both of whom visited Steilacoom over the last year and who hosted Egbuka during a recruiting weekend March 22 in Columbus, during Egbuka’s spring break several months ago.
But the lion’s share of the credit remains with Hartline, who has been out to Steilacoom “two or three times,” says Davies, and makes sure to call or text Egbuka or Davies routinely to check up on how the program has been doing.
“Coach Hartline has definitely made it clear to Emeka how he was going to fit into their system and their offense.”
Hartline will be able to further establish his relationship with Egbuka and detail his plan for the junior going forward when Egbuka visits Columbus unofficially next weekend after his team plays Thursday night.
“(Hartline) loves being able to come out and recruit that kid,” Davies said. “I think the one thing that stood out was the first time he came visited him is, yeah he’s a great athlete, but I think he enjoyed the fact that he gets to recruit a really strong kid, too. He definitely got direction for what Emeka – for what he’d wanna do given that opportunity.
“Coach Hartline has definitely made it clear to Emeka how he was going to fit into their system and their offense. I know Emeka sees that and likes that there’s a plan in place and a vision for what he can do.”
That plan in place may be specific to Egbuka’s skillset, but it’s not a limited plan. That’s because of – well – that’s because of Egbuka’s skillset.
Egbuka has all the makings of a versatile star who will become the next great Buckeye, Tiger (take your pick which one) or Crimson Tide receiver.
He’s got the speed, running a blazing 4.42 official time in the 40 on the same day he received his Ohio State offer. He’s got the hops, showcasing a 35.10-inch vertical at The Opening in May. And he’s got the hands to play wherever college coaches will want to line him up in their offense.
He’s a Swiss Army Knife.
“When the coaches come over, I think the film jumps out and they know he’s got the physical ability,” Davies said. “And I know Coach Hartline has talked to Emeka about where he sees him as a fit in the receiving corps, and I think Coach Hartline has talked to him in the past about being able to be versatile and being inside and outside. Even playing more primarily slot stuff.”
Egbuka runs routes as good or better than anyone else at his position in the country. Unafraid of contact, he will fearlessly run across the middle of the field to haul in catches in traffic.
That’s one reason why he draws the comparison to JuJu Smith-Schuster from 247 Sports national scout Brandon Huffman as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick later down the road.
But maybe a more fair or better comparison at this stage of his career is former Texas five-star receiver Garrett Wilson, a budding Buckeyes freshman star who has a relationship with Egbuka dating back to at least early January when the two talked at the National Combine in San Antonio.
Wilson is heading down a path to stardom with an NFL future ahead, and much of that is his because of his strong hands, ability to catch in traffic and a high school vertical only slightly higher than Egbuka’s that allows him to snag jump balls over the heads of opposing cornerbacks in one-on-one battles.
“Emeka’s gonna be able to win one on one matchups wherever he’s lined up – whether it’s in the slot or outside, whether it’s X or Z, I don’t think it matters too much,” Davies said. “There’s not, to me and especially at our level, there’s not one thing he can’t do. … He’s someone that’s gonna get you (yards after the catch), and he can stretch the defense vertically. He’s gonna be someone that can do anything for you in your offense from the receiver position.
“The one thing that impresses me the most above all the other things – he’s a big, strong kid and he’s fast and he can run and catch the football – but his ability to time and judge deep balls are second to none. It’s amazing. Balls are up in the air and you think nobody has a shot to come down with it in double coverage with the ball up there. He does it time and time again. His ability to time it and go up there and compete for the football is crazy.”
Wilson will be a junior by the time Egbuka were to come to Columbus, and it would almost certainly be his final college season if his upward trajectory continues at the pace many expect.
But that would give Ohio State at least one season of being able to use Wilson and Egbuka next to each other in formations, and current five-star commit Julian Fleming on the other side in three-receiver sets (just to name a few, but we’ll get to that).
That would bring migraines for Big Ten defenses to have to scheme up ways to limit all of them. That’s a scary thought.
But that’s all it is right now – a thought.
There’s still such a long way to go for Egbuka over the next year, and multiple things to think about.
Location is one of them. Less than an hour’s drive to Washington’s campus in Seattle would allow Egbuka’s family to easily come watch him play, which is something he’s mentioned previously. But Egbuka wants to go to the best situation possible for him, and that’s why Davies – heavily involved in Egbuka’s recruiting process – says location is not a deterrent for his star leader.
First Throw in 1on1s Great Route by @emeka_egbuka. Thank you for the opportunity to compete in the All-American combine! @2Ddavis @RegJones20 @morisuesue @TheeCoachMac @whscatfootball pic.twitter.com/socL3Rwkmt— Eli Brickhandler (@EliBrickhandler) January 5, 2019
The Buckeyes’ stacked receivers room may not have quite as much of an impact as some believe, either.
“He’s aware. Emeka knows everything about what’s going on in that realm with recruits,” Davies said. “He’s pretty knowledgeable about the different guys that play his position. He’s aware of that with most every program. I think there are more important things that are gonna make more of an impact on his decision. I think the program itself and the coaching staff he’s gonna be coached by have a really, really huge impact on his decision making.
“He definitely knows who’s committed to each of these universities that he’s serious about. I don’t think that’s gonna sway his decision as much as some of the other bigger things like the program itself, education, coaching staff and his position coach will have on his decision.”
Hartline is bringing in the best receivers class in the country in 2020, one which some believe is the best the program has ever brought in, and he is working on bringing at least three but possibly four or five in 2021.
Imagine this Buckeye-fans-salivating type of scenario:
Fleming, Gee Scott Jr., Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Mookie Cooper in their second year.
If that sounds like too many mouths to feed, that’s because it probably is. It’s almost a certainty that all nine will not be signing their names to the Buckeyes by the time this whole thing is said and done.
But just for fun, let’s not rule out that possibility.
If that happens, Egbuka’s talent, versatility and leadership push him right to the top of that list in his potential to become an immediate starter. Or, worst case scenario, at least a key contributor right away.
“I think personnel at that position group will have a little bit of an impact, but I think he’s confident in his abilities,” Davies said. “And I think he’s ready to go compete wherever he goes and make an impact. That’s what he wants to do.”