They may still be freshmen in name, but Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka graduated past the beginners’ courses in Brian Hartline’s wide receivers room a while ago.
Boasting 205-pound frames at 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-1, respectively, Harrison and Egbuka already looked advanced beyond their years physically when they set foot on Ohio State campus back in January. The other half of the equation is what goes on between the ears, and Hartline might be even more impressed with that element of the pair’s game than he is their physical stature.
“The best thing they do is taking meetings to the field and implementing things. They have a great mental approach to it and playing the mental game,” Hartline said on Wednesday. “I think that the conversations are not day one conversations. We’ve moved quickly through those conversations to, ‘Think about this, think about that,’ and I don’t feel like they’re overloaded.”
Harrison and Egbuka have made the same impression on star wide receiver Chris Olave, who said the pair might not have the loudest voices in the room, but are diligent about their work and committed to the development process.
“They're not playing like freshmen and they're not acting like freshmen.”– Senior wide receiver Chris Olave
“They catch on real quick,” Olave said. “They caught onto the plays real quick. They’re not playing like freshmen and they’re not acting like freshmen, so I can’t wait to see them get on the field and show the world.”
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said Monday that the two freshmen will be in the Buckeyes' six-man wide receiver rotation against Minnesota in Thursday's season opener "for sure," joining Olave, junior Garrett Wilson and sophomores Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming.
The duo’s propensity for understanding the Buckeyes’ playbook, the finer points of route-running technique and the general X’s and O’s they must grasp ahead of their first collegiate game this week has turned heads. However, both players have taken that approach to the classroom as well during their brief time at Ohio State.
“That’s how they live, they both have 4.0s,” Hartline said. “Well, actually Marvin had an A-. But they’re excellent in all facets.”
But despite how put together the former four and five-star prospects have appeared since entering the Ohio State program, Hartline said it was not that way from the beginning. Even after combining to haul in 14 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown in April’s spring game, Harrison and Egbuka had plenty of learning to do over the past several months.
“No one shows up ready to go, I promise you that,” Hartline said. “Secondly, I would say that they’ve all continued to grow. We just talked about recruits last year missing out on spring ball and that precious development, and again, all three of them – Jayden (Ballard), Emeka and Marvin – are glaring examples of how much time you can make up through spring and through the summer.”
Hartline said Ballard, another talented freshman wideout, is still learning more from Harrison and Egbuka than the other way around. But Ballard, who was also a four-star recruit and a top-100 overall prospect, is “at a much higher level too” than when he came in, Hartline said.
It’s no secret that with the aforementioned young talents and established stars in Olave and Wilson, not to mention five-star second-year Buckeyes in Smith Njigba and Fleming, Hartline has one of the nation’s top wide receiver rooms in the country.
“It’s just been a fun room, and the conversations aren’t 101,” Hartline said.
As far as the potential Harrison and Egbuka have shown prior to the season though, Fleming – the No. 1 wideout in the class of 2020 – can tell his younger counterparts all about how sky-high expectations don’t always lead to an explosive first season. In fact, Fleming caught just seven passes in 2020 as he was limited by a nagging shoulder injury.
“It’s not a cookie-cutter process,” Hartline said. “Everyone has their own paths, but obviously time on task is always very valuable, and I would say everyone in the room has absolutely maximized that. So from a growth perspective, I would say everyone has grown exponentially over the last six months.”
Improvement across the board for Ohio State’s receiving corps is a scary proposition for opposing secondaries entering 2021. The Buckeyes threw five more touchdowns than any other team in the Big Ten last season, and accrued more passing yards than all but one team in the league.
Ohio State lost one starting wideout from last season to the transfer portal in Jameson Williams this offseason, but it returns two preseason AP All-Americans in Olave and Wilson, and a who’s who of the top high school recruits in the country at the position over the past couple cycles.
“It’s probably not like this nowhere else,” Wilson said. “It’s honestly ridiculous when you see Emeka and Marvin and JB, what they can do.”
While most position coaches across the country are likely hoping for more time to prepare ahead of the rapidly approaching start to the 2021 season, Hartline said he’s eager to see his players – both new to the fold and experienced alike – get on the field for a real game.
“We’re pretty darn close to being game ready if you ask me,” Hartline said.