Even though Chris Olave won’t play in Saturday’s Rose Bowl, he’s continued to participate in team activities all week.
Despite joining three of his teammates in choosing not to play against Utah, Olave has even been practicing with the Buckeyes as they prepare to play their final game of the 2021 season.
Naturally, that’s led to plenty of questions about why Olave is still practicing with the team, given that he’ll never play another game for Ohio State. There’s been some hand-wringing from fans about Olave taking practice reps away from other players who actually will be playing on Saturday.
That isn’t really what’s been happening, though, as Olave has only been doing individual work and taking a “very, very minimal” number of reps, Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. And fellow Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba said it means “everything” to him to have the opportunity to continue practicing with Olave for one final week.
“Just that support really. Still out there being a leader also. Telling us what he sees,” Smith-Njigba said when asked about the value of Olave continuing to practice with the team. “So it’s great to have him in my ear, telling me what I’m gonna see and stuff, so big advantage, for sure.”
Jaxon Smith-Njigba explains why its valuable to have Chris Olave still practicing with the team this week even though he isnt playing.— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) December 29, 2021
(For those of you who are concerned about Olave taking reps from other players, Kevin Wilson said Olave has been getting minimal reps.) pic.twitter.com/Ss6iaQ2WBv
Should Olave have a last-minute change of heart and decide he wants to play in Saturday’s Rose Bowl, Ryan Day said Friday the door would be open for Olave to play. But Day doesn’t expect that to happen.
“I don’t think so, but certainly we would be excited if he did,” Day said. “I don’t expect that to happen, but you never know.”
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley would prepare for the possibility of Olave playing just in case.
“I don't get shocked,” Scalley said. “Prepare for everything. He's a very talented athlete. We recruited Chris out of high school. Unbelievable talent. And the fact that he's out there just again is a testament to he's a football player, right? He's out there. He's still trying to get better.”
More likely, Olave will watch the entire game from the sidelines. But Day is glad just to have Olave’s presence around the team for one more game, and Olave’s decision not to play against Utah hasn’t lessened Day’s appreciation for everything Olave has given to the Buckeyes during his four years at Ohio State, especially this year after he delayed his opportunity to be an early-round NFL draft pick.
“I just have so much respect for what Chris did coming back this year,” Day said. “He certainly had an opportunity to be an end of the first day, early second day pick coming out of last year. He decided to come back and really did a great job in leading. And then didn’t want to leave the team. He wanted to stick with it through the bowl and practice and be around our players and our guys and that meant a lot to him, certainly being from Southern California.”
Wilson also appreciates that Olave, the only one of the four players who opted out that traveled with the team to Los Angeles, has continued to work with the Buckeyes this week even though he’s decided not to play to preserve his health for the 2022 NFL draft, in which he’s projected to be a first-round pick.
“I think he likes being around his brothers. I think he likes being around his teammates,” Wilson said of Olave. “I think he likes practicing, and they're making a decision they think is best for his future. I think he’s trying to still be a great team leader, great teammate and be here. Some of Chris' best things in leadership is by example. He's a verbal guy, but he's not overly outgoing on the verbal page deal. So I think him being out there and doing light things in practice and making some bullets to receivers is one of his best ways of leading and how he's trying to lead and finish off his role as one of our team leaders.”
As he has for the last two years, Smith-Njigba is soaking up everything he can learn from Olave this week, knowing it will be their final week together as Buckeyes before Olave begins his NFL preparation.
“Just the way that he’s worked continuously and just been a great leader for our room,” Smith-Njigba said when asked what he’s learned from Olave. “I definitely was watching that throughout the year and I appreciate him.”