It’s been nine months since Ohio State lost to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, but Chris Olave still hasn’t gotten over it.
The unusual offseason hasn’t made it any easier to get over the mistake he made on Dec. 28, when he broke off his route thinking Justin Fields was scrambling, leading to a game-sealing interception that punched Clemson’s ticket to the national championship game while ending Ohio State’s season. He and the rest of his teammates have had to wait longer to play another game and start to wash that bad taste out of their mouths, and it was especially difficult for Olave to block that play out of his mind during the months the Buckeyes were away from campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olave persevered through the pain the best way he knew how: Continuing to work toward the future, while also leaning on his family back in California.
“I was going through it for like 4-5 months, especially during quarantine,” Olave said Tuesday in his first interview session since the night of the Fiesta Bowl. “With all that free time, I kind of, when I found myself getting bored and I was going through it, I just went to go work out. So I found myself working out 2-3 times a day, and just trying to take my mind off things and trying to play video games, hang around our brothers, hang around my family. But it was tough. And when we got back, I just wanted to try and get better every day and try to spread that energy throughout the receiver room.”
Even now, Olave’s still bothered by how last season ended. He still thinks about what he could have done differently, and what the team could have done differently, to beat Clemson and advance in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s just a bunch of what-ifs,” Olave said. “What if I didn’t do that? Or what if we didn’t call that play?”
But that’s in the past now, Olave said, and he’s learned from his mistake. It’s given him more motivation to do everything he can to help the Buckeyes get another shot at a national championship this year.
“I care so much about this team, this university,” Olave said. “So I don’t think I’ve gotten over it still, and I still got that chip on my shoulder and I want to show the world.”
While that game-ending mistake still haunts Olave personally, he says he doesn’t talk about it with his teammates or coaches much. He and Fields, Olave said, “never really talked about it.”
“I think we talked about it once, but since then, we moved forward and we’re just trying to get better every day,” Olave said. “Justin’s been one of the hardest workers in the building since we’ve been back, and I’m out there with him. So we’re just trying to take a step forward and just show the nation what we can do this year.”
As he enters his third season at Ohio State, Olave has big goals. Way back in January, Olave made it clear in a tweet that he expects to be one of college football’s best wide receivers this year:
Not good enough. Back to work. https://t.co/8lKhC0oS0M— Chris Olave (@chrisolave_) January 15, 2020
Olave already emerged as the star of Ohio State’s receiving corps last season, leading the Buckeyes with 849 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns on 49 receptions, but Olave and his coaches, including offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, still believe he can take his game to another level.
“He’s a third-year player. He’s young. So you’ve seen flashes of what is a great player, but what has a chance to be a great career and a great future,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said last week on The Ryan Day Show. “So I think Brian’s doing a great job coaching that kid. That kid’s coming in every day wanting to learn. He wants to have a great Ohio State career and play past Ohio State, and I think he’s embraced the work habits. He always was a pretty good practice player, but I think he’s just embraced that more, and that’s exciting when you see your best players become your best practice players.”
Wilson says Olave has gotten physically stronger, and Hartline said he is pleased with how Olave – now the most experienced receiver on the Buckeyes’ roster – has matured and developed as a leader.
“I think there was definitely a lot of challenges for him, just learning to become more of a leader and grow,” Hartline said. “And I think he’s really embodied that and has done a great job.”
“I don’t think I’ve gotten over it still, and I still got that chip on my shoulder and I want to show the world.”– Chris Olave on moving forward from last year's Fiesta Bowl
While Olave says he is “not really a big talker,” he is trying to lead the Buckeyes’ receivers by example. And he believes that working hard every day and doing what he’s supposed to do for the team will ultimately enable him to achieve his individual aspirations.
“I feel like I gotta just keep getting better every day and just try to help my team the best way I can,” Olave said. “I feel like, when I put the team first, the individual things will come. So I try to go out there and work my hardest on special teams and try to contribute as a receiver. I feel like it’s gonna pay off when I put the team first.”
Because Olave has already emerged as a top playmaker for the Buckeyes, his third year at Ohio State could potentially be his last, as he’s projected to be an early-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Olave was adamant on Tuesday, however, that he would not have opted out if the Buckeyes didn’t get to play this fall. With the choice to play at least one more season in scarlet and gray, Olave was not going to let the Fiesta Bowl be the final game of his Ohio State career.
“I would have came back,” Olave said. “That’s a guarantee. I couldn’t leave with that as the last play. So I would have came back. But we got the season reinstated, and we’re ready to go.”