Garrett Wilson has only been at Ohio State for less than three months, and he’d still be a senior in high school if he hadn’t enrolled early.
You wouldn’t know that from the way he’s practiced so far, according to Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.
“My best compliment to him, I told him, I was like ‘You don't act like a freshman,’” Hartline said. “The kid should still be in high school. And he's just doing a phenomenal job.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has been impressed with what he has seen from the start of Wilson’s time in Columbus, too. Asked about which young players have caught his eye following the Buckeyes’ fifth practice of the spring last Saturday, Wilson was the first player he named.
“Garrett Wilson’s flashed on the outside,” Day said.
If you pay attention to Ohio State recruiting, you won’t be surprised to hear that Wilson is already making an impression. A five-star prospect out of Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, Wilson comes to Ohio State with as much hype as any member of the Buckeyes’ 2019 recruiting class – with the possible exception of fellow early enrollee Zach Harrison – and he’s expected to compete for immediate playing time in the Buckeyes’ wide receiver rotation.
He still has a long way to go to make that happen. As is customary for a true freshman, Wilson started the spring near the bottom of the Buckeyes’ depth chart. If he’s going to earn a spot on Ohio State’s two-deep, he’s going to have to outperform veterans to surpass them.
“Probably six, seven, eight guys in there that’ll vie for playing time,” Day said of the competition at wide receiver. “So that’s an ongoing battle. He doesn’t have much experience, so he’s going to have to get that over the next few practices.”
While the most likely opening for Wilson in the rotation is at the Z receiver position, where the Buckeyes are replacing both Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon from last season, Austin Mack – who has played X receiver in his first three seasons at Ohio State – has been spending time practicing at Z this spring, along with Chris Olave. Mack could eventually move back to X, but Binjimen Victor is also set to be in the rotation there while Jaylen Harris is also pushing for playing time.
As talented as Wilson is, he has the potential to push for playing time at either spot.
“Whether I'm throwing him at Z, at X, his mental retention's really good,” Hartline said. “He really wants to learn from the guys. He's buying into the culture. So everything he's doing right now is on the right track, and I'm excited for him to continue to take small steps.”
“The kid should still be in high school. And he's just doing a phenomenal job.”– Brian Hartline on Garrett Wilson
Going against college cornerbacks has been an adjustment for Wilson, as he’s had to get used to playing against bigger, more physical opponents, though he has already put on 15 pounds since he arrived at Ohio State.
“He’s still learning,” Day said. “The first day, he’s kind of getting knocked off the ball a little bit on the line of scrimmage, trying to figure that out. First day going against real big-time college corners, and then he’s working his way through it.”
What Wilson has already impressed Day with, though, is the same thing that stood out throughout his high school career: “Tremendous ball skills downfield.”
It probably doesn’t hurt that some of the throws coming Wilson’s way in practice are being thrown by Matthew Baldwin, who previously teamed up with Wilson at Lake Travis and is now competing with Justin Fields for Ohio State’s starting quarterback job this spring.
“He’s making a name for himself already,” Baldwin said of Wilson. “Last year, we had only one early enrollee get their (black) stripe off – it was Tommy (Togiai). I'm trying to Garrett to be the one guy this year who gets it off in the spring. That's really hard to do. But he’s started off on a really good foot.”
Wilson knew when he arrived at Ohio State that he would need to perform well this spring in order to earn his way onto the field this fall. He couldn’t speak to how much he thought he would play as a freshman, knowing that decision will ultimately be made by Day and Hartline, but he was confident that he would be able to make a case for himself.
“I can't say I expect to play, that's not up to me, but I'm going to do everything that I can to put myself in position to play,” Wilson said on National Signing Day. “Be coachable, absorb the playbook, learn it and just build a relationship with the coaches, that they can trust me. I feel like if I do that, I'll give myself a chance to play.”
So far, that seems to be exactly what Wilson is doing, and if he can continue to do that through the rest of the spring and summer, there’s a good chance he’ll be playing regularly and making an immediate impact in his first season as a Buckeye.