Before either began their college football careers in Columbus, C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were All-American Bowl teammates in 2020.
Both played for the West team at the all-star game and spent a week practicing with each other leading up to the game. In their first two years at Ohio State, Stroud and Smith-Njigba have said that All-American Bowl was where they started to develop their chemistry, one that would pay dividends in their record-breaking sophomore seasons with the Buckeyes, which culminated with a Rose Bowl in which Stroud threw for a school-record 573 yards and six touchdowns and Smith-Njigba caught 15 passes for a school-record 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
Ohio State 2022 quarterback signee Devin Brown and wide receiver signee Kyion Grayes, who played for the West team at last week’s All-American Bowl, are hoping that experience leads to similar results for them in the future.
“Jaxon and C.J. came here and built that chemistry and you see what they’re doing now,” Grayes said at Friday’s All-American Bowl Practice. “We can’t wait to see what the future holds for both of us.”
It was evident from last week’s All-American Bowl practices that Brown and Grayes have started to develop a strong bond, as the pair of Arizona natives already knew each other before arriving in San Antonio. When Brown was a USC commit, he tried to convince Grayes to flip from Ohio State to the Trojans. In December, Grayes texted Brown asking if he’d be willing to meet up for a workout and run routes on air. Brown obliged. Running the first couple of routes, Grayes made an observation.
“Man, he throws some rockets,” Grayes said. “I enjoy it. I gotta get used to it and that’s really it. He has a great release and gets the ball to where you want it to be.”
Brown and Grayes flew into San Antonio together from Arizona. They were supposed to be roommates for the week, but were separated out of caution after a slew of All-American Bowl participants tested positive for COVID-19. That didn’t stop the two from meshing on the field.
Devin Brown connects with fellow Ohio State signee Kyion Grayes. pic.twitter.com/Z5QWUHFKre— Garrick Hodge (@Garrick_Hodge) January 5, 2022
“It’s been fun getting to know Kyion,” Brown said. “I’ve known him for a while, I tried to recruit him back when I was committed to USC. I have a good relationship with him and it’s going to be fun.”
While the pair didn’t hook up during the game on Saturday, Grayes made a big play that showed why Ohio State was so high on him.
Lining up to the outside on the left side of the field on a 2nd-and-8, Grayes burned Indiana cornerback signee Trevell Mullen with a sharp double move to turn in a long gain on a pass from Clemson signee Cade Klubnik.
“They wanted to get us to the left hash,” Grayes told Eleven Warriors of the play after the game. “They called home pump, which is basically an out-and-up (play). I watched him bite on the out, cut inside of him, stacked him and was gone.”
Kyion Grayes (Ohio State commit) pic.twitter.com/KS5waYCX2T— (@FTB_Vids_YT) January 8, 2022
Brown’s All-American Bowl performance didn’t turn out as he’d hoped, with the offense mustering little in his three series at the helm. In his defense, he didn’t get much help from his offensive line, as he was running for his life on seemingly every play. But he showed various times throughout the week why he’s capable of being Ohio State’s quarterback of the future, specifically with one throw he made in joint practice seven-on-seven drills, dropping a deep throw in over the hand of the defensive back.
Devin Brown hits a long touchdown pass on a perfect throw on 7-on-7 drills. pic.twitter.com/9XgUHfRV3k— Garrick Hodge (@Garrick_Hodge) January 5, 2022
“It was a simple post dig concept,” Brown said. “We had cover zero so we had a wide open post over the top.”
With the All-American Bowl behind them, both Brown and Grayes have arrived in Columbus and have enrolled at Ohio State to get a jumpstart on their academic and athletic careers and participate in spring football.
“I think just the scheduling and time management, I think it’s going to be much more efficient and time-consuming,” Brown said of his expectations of enrolling early as opposed to high school. “Obviously there’s not going to be as much free time and laying around. It’s going to be right to work and everything.”
Brown enters spring football with a desire to compete against every quarterback in Ohio State’s quarterback room, and was actually disappointed when Quinn Ewers transferred to Texas because he had hoped to have an opportunity to beat him out.
“I just want to compete against the best,” Brown said. “I think you really can’t say you’re one of the best if you haven’t been against the best. I wanted to go in and beat people out and prove myself more than anything. That’s the main goal.”
The 6-foot-3, 196-pound quarterback is also looking forward to learning from Stroud and seeing his command of the Buckeyes’ offense.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to learn from him and understand the playbook and kind of how he runs things,” Brown said. “Also how he leads and really gets this team together. I’m really excited about it.”
As for Grayes, he’s already set a goal for himself for the spring.
“I made that decision (to enroll early) because I wanted to extend the possibility of playing my freshman year,” Grayes said. “That’s the goal, but maybe if that doesn’t happen, I ain’t going anywhere, I’m there for the long run. I’m just excited to get there with all the guys. I know they’re going to treat me as part of the brotherhood. I’m hoping to be one of the first ones to lose my black stripe.”