It wasn’t easy for Jaelen Gill to make the decision to leave Ohio State.
A native of Westerville, Ohio, Gill grew up dreaming of playing for the Buckeyes. He told his late grandfather that he would play for Ohio State, eventually fulfilling that promise when he committed to the Buckeyes in 2017. In two seasons at Ohio State, however, Gill played only 78 snaps and caught only seven passes. And going into what would have been his third year with the Buckeyes, it looked like he still might face an uphill climb to a role in Ohio State’s offense.
So Gill, who had spent his entire life in Central Ohio, ultimately decided it was in his best interest to play elsewhere after conversations with Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline and his family this spring, and he opted to enter the transfer portal in April.
“It was definitely difficult, it was weighing on me because I did tell my grandfather that I was going to be playing for Ohio State and that I would make him proud playing and being a Buckeye,” Gill said during a teleconference on Wednesday, one day after the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility to play at Boston College, where he transferred in May. “But I felt that my grandfather would understand, he would want me to do what’s best for myself.”
While Ohio State only has two returning wide receivers from last year’s rotation, Gill was told by Hartline that he was still going to have to earn his way up the depth chart to see regular playing time this year. He lost his opportunity to do that this spring when practices were shut down after just one week due to COVID-19. If he had that opportunity, it’s possible Gill would have earned a spot in the rotation and he’d still be at Ohio State, but he didn’t want to risk spending another year on the bench.
“I had battled people to try and get on the field at my H position at Ohio State for awhile, and I had a couple lengthy conversations with Coach Hartline, and after those talks, I just felt like it was best to reach out with my family and discuss what the next step was, and that’s when we decided that I felt the best decision for me was to look elsewhere,” Gill said.
“Basically what I got out of the conversation was just that going into camp, I would be struggling to earn the starting spot. I’d be a little bit down on the depth chart. So after that conversation, I talked to my family … and we just felt it was the best opportunity to leave and come here where I’d have a better opportunity.
“If we had spring, I’m not really sure where I would be or what I would be doing. I probably would still be back at Ohio State. But everything happens for a reason.”
Why wasn’t Gill, the No. 30 overall prospect in the recruiting class of 2018, able to make his mark at Ohio State? He’s not quite sure. It probably didn’t help that the H-back position was recruited to play has become a more strictly receiving position – rather than a hybrid running and receiving position – since Ryan Day took over as head coach.
Gill says he doesn’t hold any ill will toward Ohio State, though. He views his two years with the Buckeyes as a learning experience and now wants to use what he learned from his time in Columbus to make an impact at Boston College.
“It’s a great program, I’ve got nothing but love and respect for them,” Gill said of Ohio State. “I learned a lot from the guys that were in front of me and that were around me. A lot of the veterans in the past like Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill, all those guys, they were people that were before me that were playing in front of me. So I just sat back, watched, worked as hard as I could and just learned from those guys.”
Once Gill put his name in the transfer portal, he quickly received interest from a multitude of Power 5 programs, including Florida, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, USC and Baylor. Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley was one of the first coaches to reach out to Gill, though, and the relationship Gill had with Hafley from when Hafley was an Ohio State assistant coach last year played a big part in Gill’s decision to become an Eagle.
“Hafley came up to me a lot during spring ball last year – I had a pretty good spring last year – and he would just tell me all the time how much he thought of me and that he thought I could be a really good player,” Gill said. “So I already knew that what he was saying to me was stand-up and it was honest, because he’s a straight-up honest guy, and I just felt comfortable. I just felt like I was going to be taken care of the most here.”
“If we had spring, I’m not really sure where I would be or what I would be doing. I probably would still be back at Ohio State. But everything happens for a reason.”– Jaelen Gill on leaving Ohio State
Given that he hasn’t yet gone through a practice at Boston College yet, Gill doesn’t know exactly what his role will be in the Eagles’ offense. But he says there have been talks about him potentially seeing some snaps at both running back – the position he played in high school – and wide receiver, and he’s excited about the potential to see much more playing time than he ever did as a Buckeye.
“I believe I can play anywhere, so wherever Coach Hafley, (offensive coordinator Frank) Cignetti believe that I’ll succeed the most, that’s what I’m going to do and that’s where they’ll put me,” Gill said. “Whether it’s taking reps in the backfield, whether it’s in the slot or split out wide, I believe I can do all of those at a really high level.”
Considering the expectations that came with his arrival at Ohio State as a near-five-star recruit, Gill’s time with the Buckeyes can certainly be viewed as a disappointment. But now that he’s at Boston College, where he has three remaining seasons of collegiate eligibility and feels like he has a clean slate, he wants to “change the whole narrative, whatever narrative was there about me.”
“It’s not really me trying to prove anybody wrong, it’s really me just trying to prove myself,” Gill said. “Because I have a lot of faith in myself. My immediate family and my friends all have a lot of faith in me, so I’ve always believed that I can make a big impact. Whatever role I have, whatever role the coaches give me, I feel like I can change the game any way.”