Before his first season as a Buckeye even began, true freshman wide receiver Chris Olave was drawing praise from his Ohio State teammates and coaches for how he performed in summer workouts and fall camp leading up to the season.
“I think he was better than me, Parris (Campbell) and Terry (McLaurin) just coming in right away,” Johnnie Dixon said of Olave in August. “I haven’t seen a guy come in like that yet. Chris was a dude that turned everybody’s heads … From day one, he jumped in, you could tell that he could play.”
In a three-play stretch during the second quarter of Ohio State’s 26-6 win over Michigan State on Saturday, Olave started to show those same skills that have made a big impression on those who have had the opportunity to watch him practice.
With Ohio State facing a 2nd-and-14 at its own 28-yard line early in the second quarter, Olave broke open a deep slant route over the middle to catch a pass from Dwayne Haskins for a 25-yard gain to bring the Buckeyes into Michigan State territory.
Two plays later, Olave got open on a curl route for a 16-yard catch to bring Ohio State into the red zone.
Those were Olave’s only two catches of Saturday’s game, but that matched his total of previous catches for his season and Ohio State career – and both of those previous catches came with games already well in hand against Oregon State and Tulane.
In just his second game as the newest member of Ohio State’s six-man receiver rotation, having joined the rotation at the Z receiver position after Austin Mack underwent foot surgery that sidelined him for at least the rest of the regular season, Olave showed that he could be a playmaker for the Buckeyes – and gave a glimpse into why he, over some more experienced players and highly touted recruits, was called upon as the next man up at receiver.
One of the last additions to Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2018, Olave wasn’t as highly touted as most of the other prospects who signed with the Buckeyes in last year’s recruiting cycle. Yet in a year that most of Ohio State’s true freshmen have had to wait their turn on the bench, Olave has become one of the first members of the class to earn significant playing time for the Buckeyes – and his coaches and teammates believe his rise is only beginning.
“Boy, he’s going to be good,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said when asked about Olave on Wednesday. “He’s way ahead of schedule.”
Olave, who met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since his arrival on campus, acknowledged that he didn’t come to Ohio State thinking he’d be catching passes with the game on the line at Michigan State this year. Ohio State returned its entire six-man receiver rotation from 2017 – Campbell, McLaurin, Dixon, K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Mack – which didn’t leave much of an opening for a true freshman to come in and earn an immediate role in the offense.
“Coming into Ohio State, I knew all the receivers were coming back,” Olave said. “So I just wanted to come in, get better, compete, try to get on the field, special teams or something.”
After turning heads this summer, however, Olave was told that he would have the opportunity to make an impact this year. Mack’s injury opened that door of opportunity, and now, Olave’s trying to do the best he can to take advantage.
“It’s definitely a blessing,” Olave said.
Meyer expects his players to contribute on special teams in order to earn playing time on offense or defense, and Olave accomplished that first step. While his role in the offense is new, he’s seen playing time all year on special teams, working in on the kickoff, punt and punt return teams. While he didn’t make any catches in his first game in the receiver rotation against Nebraska, he did make a big play in punt coverage in that game, tackling a returner at the 11-yard line.
By performing well on special teams and in practice, Olave earned the trust of his coaches to see more playing time on offense, and Meyer likes what he’s seen from the first-year player.
“He’s tough, he’s smart and he’s very mature for his age,” Meyer said of Olave.
“Boy, he’s going to be good. He’s way ahead of schedule.”– Urban Meyer on Chris Olave
Of the nine offensive snaps he played against Michigan State, the two catches were certainly the plays that stood out. What also stood out to his veteran teammate Campbell, though, was how those catches came after Olave made a mistake on his first play in the game.
“His first rep of the day, honestly, he kind of slipped on a slant route,” Campbell said of Olave. “That grass was pretty rough. But he just showed resilience and made a huge (second)-down conversion for us. When his number was called, he just made a play.”
A native of San Marcos, California, Olave was primarily recruited to Ohio State by offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who went to Mission Hills High School to take a look at Jack Tuttle – a four-star quarterback recruit who ended up at Utah, though he has already left the Utes – and ended up recruiting Olave instead.
Olave said interim wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was a quality control coach for the Buckeyes at the time, was not involved in recruiting him to Ohio State. That said, Olave credits Hartline with playing a huge role in enabling him to be ready to play for the Buckeyes as a true freshman.
“Coach Hartline, he’s one of the best coaches I’ve had,” Olave said. “He’s teaching me things on the field and off the field, so he’s kind of a person to look up to, knowing the things he did earlier in his career and just coming back and giving back to us is an honor.”
Olave also credits his veteran teammates like Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon with helping him learn the ropes in his first season as a Buckeye.
“They gave me a lot of lessons, and they teach me a lot still to this day,” Olave said. “In practice, I still ask them a lot of questions, and just little things that try to get me better every day.”
Olave’s 79 offensive snaps played this season are tied for the third-most played among Ohio State true freshmen on offense or defense this season – defensive end Tyler Friday has played 79 snaps on defense, while only defensive end Tyreke Smith (151) and tight end Jeremy Ruckert (103) have played more – and he’s demonstrated now that he could be a playmaker for the Buckeyes’ offense down the stretch.
That said, Campbell believes Olave – a 6-1 wide receiver who arrived at Ohio State weighing only 160 pounds, and still only 175 pounds right now – is only scratching the surface of his potential.
“I knew since Day 1 when Chris stepped on the field that he was going to be a great player here. And he’s going to continue to develop,” Campbell said of Olave. “He’s a featherweight right now, he doesn’t have a whole ton of muscle mass on him. But he’s electric, he’s super fast. He’s efficient in his top-ends, has great hands. He’s everything you want in a receiver.”