Ryan Day doesn’t think he’s ever coached a better wide receiver than Chris Olave.
Day spent two years coaching in the NFL before he came to Ohio State. Since he’s arrived at Ohio State, he’s already coached numerous receivers who have gone on to play in the NFL, including Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill. He’s spent his entire 19-year coaching career in either professional or Division I college football, also including stints at Florida, Boston College, Temple and his alma mater New Hampshire. But among all the receivers he’s coached in nearly two decades, he isn’t sure any of them quite compare to Olave.
“He’s probably the best I’ve been around,” Day said during an appearance on the Buckeye Roundtable radio show last week. “In terms of his skill set downfield tracking balls … but Chris is tough. Chris plays on special teams, he blocks, he can catch balls over the middle. So when you combine those kind of attributes, he’s special.
“He’s stepped up in big moments. So he’s also clutch. So when you combine all that, yeah, he’s probably the best I’ve been around.”
When Olave heard that Day had given him such high praise, he was almost at a loss for words.
“That means a lot,” Olave said last week. “Especially coming from Coach Day. He’s been around a lot of good receivers … He’s been in the NFL a couple years. It’s definitely a blessing to hear that, coming from one of the best coaches in the country. I don’t think I’ve got words for that.”
But Day is far from the only one describing Olave as a uniquely great receiver. Justin Fields said this week that Olave is the “best receiver I’ve seen track a ball in the air, especially downfield.” He said he’s been able to tell Olave was a special player since the day he arrived at Ohio State. Sophomore wide receiver Garrett Wilson feels the same way, saying he has never seen Olave have a bad practice.
“He’s always consistent. He never drops anything,” Wilson said this week. “That’s the biggest thing with Chris is he’s just always the same, always consistent with the way he plays.”
Olave began making an immediate impression in practice when he arrived at Ohio State in the summer of 2018. He found his way into the Buckeyes’ regular receiver rotation in the ninth game of his freshman year, just one week after their stunning loss to Purdue. In his first rivalry game against Michigan, he caught two touchdown passes and blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown. One week later, he caught five passes for 79 yards and another touchdown to help lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten Championship Game win over Northwestern.
Those performances down the stretch of that season led to expectations that Olave could emerge as Ohio State’s top receiver in 2019, and he lived up to the hype. Over the course of the season, Olave caught 49 passes for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns, the second-most in the Big Ten. He had a trio of two-touchdown games against Miami (Ohio), Northwestern and Wisconsin, went for 139 yards on four catches against Rutgers and stepped up once again in some of the Buckeyes’ biggest games of the year, including deep-ball touchdown catches against Penn State and Michigan.
In what could be his final season as a Buckeye this year – he’s a potential first-round NFL draft pick – Olave has been even better. In just three games this season, Olave has already caught 18 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, including back-to-back 100-yard games against Nebraska and Penn State and back-to-back two-touchdown games against Penn State and Rutgers.
FINGERTIP CATCH FOR THE TOUCHDOWN pic.twitter.com/tscsusQ6Zm— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 1, 2020
With those scoring catches, Olave is now tied for seventh in Ohio State history with 19 career touchdown receptions, while he’s just 15 yards away from breaking into the Buckeyes’ top-25 all-time in receiving yards.
The shortened 2020 season might prevent Olave from putting up the kind of numbers he would have been capable of in a full season this year, but he’s already done enough to establish himself as one of Ohio State’s best receivers in history receivers, with a chance to really etch his name in Buckeye lore if he can make big plays down the stretch of the season once again.
While Olave has one notable black mark on his Ohio State career, as it was his route-running mistake that led to Clemson’s game-sealing interception in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State hasn’t lost any of its 22 other games since Olave became a regular contributor, and his consistent play – not only as a big-play pass-catcher, but also as a blocker on the perimeter and a key player on special teams – has played a significant part in making that happen.
Few would have expected such a big impact from Olave when he arrived in Columbus as a three-star recruit, ranked 399th in the nation, who was initially discovered by Ohio State on a recruiting trip to see his high school quarterback (Jack Tuttle, who’s now a backup at Indiana) and a late addition to the Buckeyes’ class of 2018. He acknowledged last week that he didn’t think he’d even get an offer from Ohio State when he was in high school, and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline acknowledged before the season that Olave wasn’t a player who expected to have an NFL decision to make after just three years as a Buckeye.
That said, Olave has put in the work to be the best player he can be since the day he arrived at Ohio State, and it’s paid off in a big way.
“I just kept my head down and kept working,” Olave said. “From my freshman year to now, I feel like I’ve developed a lot. I’ve learned from guys like Terry and Parris and Johnnie (Dixon) that winning doesn’t come on Saturdays, it comes throughout the week, and I feel like I go out there and practice hard every day. I don’t give it my all just on Saturdays, I give it my all throughout the week. Just trying to set that example and set that standard for the younger guys on the team, and hopefully they can bring it up and show some other people.”