Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming Hint At What's Coming In First Career Ohio State Game

By Colin Hass-Hill on October 28, 2020 at 10:57 am
Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Quite clearly, Ryan Day didn’t want to go overboard with praise for Jaxon Smith-Njigba. After all, Saturday’s win against Nebraska represented his first as an Ohio State wide receiver after an illustrious four years at Texas’ Rockwall High School. 

The head coach expects plenty more from his freshman over the coming years and won’t rush to crown him, yet. Instead, to Day, Smith-Njigba’s acrobatic touchdown catch in the second half of the 35-point win represented a culmination of sorts.

“It's exciting, especially when you go through the recruiting process and you spend so much time with he and his family and communication and talking to him about the possibilities of what could happen playing in the Horseshoe, playing in big games, playing in conference play,” Day said on Tuesday. “Then, all of a sudden, you see something like that in his first game. It was pretty neat.”

What Smith-Njigba did on Saturday was offer a hint at what’s coming down the pike over the next three years. Julian Fleming, a fellow freshman wide receiver once rated as a five-star recruit, also flashed when hauling in his first career reception from Justin Fields.

Fleming’s catch came in the second half of the 52-17 victory on a play where, if you didn’t see the jersey number, you might as well have assumed it was Chris Olave coming down with the ball. Fields delivered a strike to Fleming who’d gotten open on a 2nd-and-long out route toward the sideline, which is a throw he typically makes to Olave. Standing in the veteran’s place, the freshman made it look easy.

In the eyes of Garrett Wilson, another one-time five-star prospect, the fourth-quarter catch was only the beginning for Fleming.

“I didn't know how fast he actually was,” Wilson said. “For someone to be that big and strong and then move the way he does, I was just like, ‘Wow.’ He's fast. Y'all haven't fully got to see it yet. But if he gets to open it up, y'all are going to probably say the same thing. He's really fast.”

Smith-Njigba doesn’t possess that kind of eye-popping speed. Instead, he’s a well-rounded, polished wide receiver with an ability to come down with seemingly everything tossed his way. 

Most people on slow-motion cameras look clumsy. Smith-Njigba appears to both move and think in slow motion. His movements are calculated and purposeful, helping him get a foot in bounds for his score versus Nebraska.

“I know for him, that was huge,” Wilson said. “Because going into this game, we had talked about making plays and stuff like that. When you play receiver, that's kind of just something that comes up in conversation. For him to make that play in that game at that point, that was super awesome. I know we were all super excited for him. We got to dance and everything like that. It was just a big play, and we were excited to see him do that, but we all knew he could do it.”

And, seemingly, he knows Smith-Njigba will do it again.

“I don't want to take credit for that. The state of Texas can do that,” Wilson said. “Jaxon, he's someone that has amazing abilities, one of the best I've ever seen. He's going to be a baller for years to come. Jaxon has all that.”

Credit of Jaxon Smith-Njigba photo: Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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