Garrett Wilson confirmed what many had already been thinking during his introductory press conference with the New York Jets.
With two Ohio State wide receivers selected in the first 11 overall picks of the 2022 NFL draft, and a third going right after – albeit an Alabama transfer in Jameson Williams – the label of “WRU” has been thrown around rather liberally in reference to the Buckeye program. Wilson, the first Ohio State player selected in this year’s draft, couldn’t help but echo that sentiment when given the chance last week.
"I ain't gonna fake it. We are Wide Receiver U,” Wilson said just a day after hearing his name called on stage in Las Vegas.
But for Brian Hartline, the position coach largely responsible for the development of the recent draftees – not to mention Ohio State’s continued recruiting dominance at the wide receiver position – that moniker is not a focus.
Make no mistake, Hartline – who received a $350,000 raise for his efforts this offseason – won’t prevent anyone from using that name to describe what he has helped build in Columbus, but you won’t hear the phrase used in his meetings at Ohio State.
“I think that tag is weird, and I don’t know why people always talk about it like that,” Hartline said at an interview session Friday. “You guys can talk about it like that, but that’s not something we talk about.”
Another thing Hartline isn’t too fond of is the notion that he’s a master recruiter, despite a track record that would seem to all but confirm such a title. Since the 2019 recruiting class, Ohio State has signed 10 wideouts that ranked in the top 15 at the position, four that were five-star recruits and three that were either the No. 1 or No. 2 wide receiver in the nation.
His former pupils’ recent performance at the draft is sure to keep the cogs of that machine turning just as fast as ever, but Hartline doesn’t want to be confused with some kind of silver-tongued salesman, either.
“What is an excellent recruiter? I think that it’s more important to be able to identify talent than it is to communicate the information of why we’re different than others,” Hartline said. “I think that recruiting has a bad connotation to it. I don’t do anything different than just explain why Ohio State’s a great university and how Ohio State can help maximize and reach their goals. Clearly a message is pretty important, but I think we pride ourselves more on not necessarily finding the best guys, but finding the right guys.”
Hartline said he doesn’t have an exact formula when it comes to identifying prospects that he hopes can check all the boxes he’s looking for, and said the process requires plenty of help from other members of the Ohio State staff.
“Mark Pantoni and his staff do a phenomenal job of watching a lot of film, and I think honest evals and not necessarily listening to third parties outside the building,” Hartline said. “But I would say that, again, the type of kid is really, really important. You know, I think that we spend a lot of time on that. As you can tell, I can't really hit on one certain thing, I think it's kind of an imperfect science.”
As important as they may be, wins on the recruiting trail aren’t the most gratifying part of the job for Hartline. Much more so is seeing the players his wideouts become after years of development in his room, and as evidenced by last weekend, the success they can have at the next level because of it.
Hartline was present in Las Vegas to support Wilson and Chris Olave during draft night, and suffice to say it was a special moment for all parties involved.
“It was incredible,” Hartline said. “I mean, to be around right there, and then to have my wife there with us too. She invests so much time with the guys and she really brings them in like family. We already feel a certain type of way as a coach and the emotional conversations we've had and there's just so much that comes back, but to see guys accomplish their dream in that fashion was definitely something I'll take with me for the rest of my life. It was pretty cool.”
Producing high-profile NFL draft picks will only help Hartline and the Buckeyes to continue bringing in top talent at the wide receiver position. It is something Hartline will readily lean into when discussing what he can bring to the table for an up-and-coming prospect.
“It's always a part of the conversation. And I'm definitely not one to shy away from that conversation. I mean, these guys have a small window to try to accomplish a goal that not many guys can accomplish,” Hartline said. “If you go through every year, and it's always fun, I kind of did it with the 2018 class and the 2019 class, and obviously I focus on receivers. But there's the first five to 10 to 15, 20 receivers, all those guys probably thought going into college like, 'Hey, I'm going to be a first-round pick.' Two or three of those guys actually were. So a lot of people can talk about it and say what we can do with a player like you. Actually, we just do it. So if that's something you're looking for, you can be the next man up. But if you want to be the first one somewhere, I mean, that's OK, too.
“But we just really pride ourselves on, we know the path, we know the recipe, we know what it takes. And if we tell you you can be one of those guys, you can be one of those guys. … it's just a proven course. It's not like we don't know what it takes. It's a common goal, and it's a common path that many guys have taken with us.”
Hartline said it was “always my goal” to make the wide receiver room at Ohio State an NFL-caliber ensemble, and given the groups he has produced over the past few years – including three first-round picks and another (Jaxon-Smith Njigba) expected to soon follow – that goal seems to have been accomplished.
Now Hartline will look to do the same with his next group, which just might feature a number of future first-round talents or NFL standouts if recent seasons are any indication.
“There's an extended list of guys that I feel very comfortable being on the field,” Hartline said. “And obviously we'll have offseason training and we'll have fall camp and whatnot, but we got a great solid group of guys. And I know we lost two great ones, but I think that we have a lot of guys in our room that can can fill that void, plus some.”