Ryan Day, Brian Hartline Have “Huge Level of Confidence” Jaxon Smith-Njigba Will Return for Ohio State This Season

By Chase Brown on November 1, 2022 at 2:18 pm
Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Joseph Maiorana – USA TODAY Sports

Despite Jaxon Smith-Njigba's lingering hamstring injury, Ryan Day and Brian Hartline are hopeful the star receiver has plenty left to offer in his third season with the Buckeyes.

At his weekly press conference in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ryan Day said he believes Smith-Njigba will eventually return for Ohio State and help the team push for a national championship in 2022.

“Absolutely,” Day said when asked if he feels optimistic about Smith-Njigba's chances of wearing a scarlet and gray uniform again this season.

Still, even without Smith-Njigba in the lineup, Day thinks Ohio State can accomplish its goals of beating Michigan, winning a Big Ten Championship and hoisting a College Football Playoff trophy in 2022.

“I think we can,” Day said. “But at the same time, I'd love to have him back, as I'm sure you can imagine. But this team is working hard, and that's why we build depth. You don't know, and I'm sure more adversity is coming our way. We got to rely on leadership. We're in November now, so you never know what's coming.”

Brian Hartline echoed Day's sentiments of Smith-Njigba's eventual return, claiming he has a “huge level of confidence“ that the standout pass-catcher will be back in action in the regular season or the postseason for Ohio State.

“He's beating himself up a little bit. He's been better this week,” Hartline said. “He wants to play in the worst way, and he's frustrated.”

While neither Day nor Hartline specified exactly when they expect Smith-Njigba to return, Smith-Njigba’s father Maada told the Columbus Dispatch on Tuesday that his son is targeting a return for Ohio State’s Nov. 26 game against Michigan, though that depends on whether he is fully healthy.

“The next time Jaxon is in scarlet and gray, he’ll be 110%,” Maada Smith-Njigba said. “I don’t know if that will be against the team up north or the Fiesta Bowl (the most likely College Football Playoff semifinal site for Ohio State).

“I really feel like anytime between the team up north and the Fiesta Bowl, he’ll be ready.”

Smith-Njigba’s father told the Dispatch his son wants to return to the field as soon as possible but that his family has advised him to prioritize his health. Smith-Njigba’s father was adamant, though, that his son will remain with the team and continue to work toward a return as long as the Buckeyes remain in the hunt for a national title.

“We're not going to do the (Nick) Bosa thing,” Maada Smith-Njigba said. “I'm not saying
anything bad about them, but this is a championship season. He came in with these guys,
with C.J. (Stroud) and Julian (Fleming) and (Luke) Wypler and Paris (Johnson Jr.) and all
those guys. He's not going to leave them.”

Smith-Njigba has missed most of the year for Ohio State after suffering a hamstring injury in the first quarter of the season opener against Notre Dame. He missed the Arkansas State game before returning the following week against Toledo, only to suffer another setback that caused him to miss action against Wisconsin, Rutgers and Michigan State.

The Rockwall, Texas, native returned for the second time this season in Ohio State's matchup with Iowa but appeared to tweak his hamstring again on a downfield route in the second quarter of the contest. Day said Smith-Njigba's exit from the game was because of a “pitch count,” but he was unavailable for last weekend’s game at Penn State.

In Smith-Njigba's absence, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have paced the Ohio State receiver room with a combined 95 catches for 1,571 yards and 17 touchdowns. Julian Fleming has also added six scores while tight end Cade Stover has become a pass-catching threat, collecting 24 receptions for 309 yards and three scores.

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