When Ohio State entered the 2017 season, it was tough to determine who might emerge as the Buckeyes' go-to wide receiver.
A year after the Scarlet and Gray lost both Curtis Samuel and Noah Brown to the NFL, there were plenty of receptions to go around, but not many proven names in Zach Smith's receiver room. After the dust settled, it was K.J. Hill who finished the 2017 campaign with the most receptions for the Buckeyes.
Hill finished his redshirt sophomore season with 55 receptions for 546 yards and three scores and was the only true wide receiver to catch a pass in every game Ohio State played this season (Marcus Baugh also caught at least one pass in each game).
The fact that he led the Buckeyes in receptions was surprising to even Hill himself, who said Friday evening that he didn't expect to play such a prominent role because he split reps with Parris Campbell at H-back for most of the season.
"I always took it as, if the ball comes my way, I have to catch it. I always had that mindset, but I didn’t think I would have the most receptions on the team coming into my redshirt sophomore year," Hill said. "Especially when I’m in a position at receiver where we are sharing with two people at the same position."
Campbell led the Buckeyes in receiving yards this year (587), thanks in part to three long touchdowns against Indiana, UNLV and Wisconsin respectively, but it was Hill who remained Ohio State's leading target.
Hill's best game of the season and of his career came on perhaps the biggest stage, when he hauled in 12 passes for 102 yards against No. 2 Penn State. He also made two critical third-down receptions in the fourth quarter against Michigan, extending drives with freshman quarterback Dwayne Haskins running the offense.
Hill said he feels confident in the season he had, but added he has more to improve on in his game moving forward.
"I feel like I had a pretty good year. I have some things to work on overall," he said. "I think I did a good job. I just have to keep working."
One area Hill said he could improve on has nothing to do with on-field skills.
"I’ve been working for one in the weight room, getting stronger and faster. I can always get stronger and faster," Hill said. "On the field, just route-running. Stop rounding stuff. The little things in my game."
Heading into the upcoming Cotton Bowl matchup against USC, Hill could have more opportunities to add to his big year. The Trojans ranked tied for ninth in the Pac-12 in pass defense, allowing 246.5 yards per game through the air in 2017.
But Hill said that while USC's stats don't flatter the Trojans, he still expects a tough challenge come Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.
"I feel like they got talented players at each position," Hill said. "I don’t know why they are ranked like that, but I feel like they are a good defense and they have good players that can play on the defensive side of the ball. It is going to be a good matchup."