Quick Hits: Brian Hartline Discusses Early Impressions of Young Wideouts and Ohio State Receivers Share Their Goals for 2023 Season

By Garrick Hodge, Dan Hope and Chase Brown on March 9, 2023 at 5:50 pm

It's no secret Ohio State's receiving corps has been its bread and butter for the past several seasons.

As another loaded roster of receivers competes for playing time this spring, seven of those wideouts – Marvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Johnson, Kaleb Brown, Kyion Grayes, Kojo Antwi, Jayden Ballard and Reis Stocksdale – met with the media along with newly promoted offensive coordinator Brian Hartline after Ohio State’s second practice of the spring Thursday.

(Note: Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming did not meet with the media on Thursday since they are both unavailable this spring.)

We’ve rounded up their most notable comments for you below, while you can also watch the video from all of their interview sessions to hear more of what they had to say.

Brian Hartline

  • Hartline said the growth of Ohio State's receivers will depend on their perspective and what they choose to make of each rep in spring practices and opportunities outside of those sessions. "Perspective changes outcomes, mindsets change habits and change actions." Hartline said he is looking for leaders beyond Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and Xavier Johnson to pave the road ahead for the receiver room.
  • Hartline said Ohio State's younger receivers "still have a lot to show" because they didn't have many opportunities to play on Saturdays last season. He said those players can prove a lot this spring by how they handle reps without Egbuka and Fleming available for the Buckeyes.
  • Hartline said he's seldom seen Ryan Day take the CEO approach this offseason, but he believes that's for a good reason. "We are elite because of what he brings to the table. We don't want to steer too far away from what he's gonna continue to do. I am sure he has goals he wants to accomplish this spring... but his energy and that he brings to the table offensively will never change."
  • Hartline said the media and fans "went on a tangent" about Marvin Harrison Jr. returning punts. "I don't know where that came from. He caught one punt and everyone was like, 'Oh, he's the starter!' I was like, 'Wow. It's really spring ball.'" Still, Hartline said Harrison could return punts if he wanted to. He wants to make sure Ohio State has depth at the return positions and said the Buckeyes will try multiple players at those spots.
  • Hartline said Marvin Harrison Jr. deserved the Biletnikoff Award last season. "Anybody that has two eyes could have saw that he should have got that."
  • Hartline said the freshmen (2023) class has impressed him since they arrived on campus in January. "They have a purpose about them. They know their plays. They find a way to put good things on film. They also have a high standard, so we need to find a way to not get down on ourselves."
  • Hartline said Noah Rogers has been a freshman that has stood out immediately among the rest. "He's a good football player. Noah is a great individual. I don't know if there is a person who asked me more about my family through recruiting than Noah Rogers. He is compassionate, he has high give a s— and he really has a ceiling that cannot be calculated."
  • Hartline said the competition between Kyle McCord and Devin Brown has been beneficial to the Ohio State program. "The longer we can have competition – the higher the demand, the more stress – the better the outcome (for our team)."

Marvin Harrison Jr.

  • Harrison does not expect to return any punts in games this year. “I just go back there more so just to enhance ball tracking skills and everything like that. There’s a good chance I won't be back there at any point during the season, but in a emergency situation, I need to go back to, I think I can.”
  • Harrison said he has plenty of places he can improve despite being one of the best wide receivers in college football last season. "There is always room to get better everywhere. Whether that's getting out of breaks faster or ball skills. I think one thing, in particular, is making plays after the catch, turning 5-yard catches into 20 and 20-yard catches into 60."
  • Harrison said the hit he took in the Georgia game that gave him a concussion was one where the Georgia player "made a play on the football." He said it was "the ref's decision to make that call whether he thinks that was targeting or not," so he doesn't feel like it's not his place to make that call as to what it should have been.
  • Harrison said he will always have "what ifs" about the Peach Bowl regarding his availability in the second half. "I would have loved to have been out there, especially for the whole fourth quarter."
  • Harrison said he thought the situation where a Georgia-based memorabilia company sold a photo of Javon Bullard's hit on him and called it "Night Night" was funny. "I kind of laughed at it. It was kind of funny to me given the play and the circumstance."
  • Harrison said Ohio State's freshmen receivers Carnell Tate, Noah Rogers and Bryson Rodgers have consistently worked with him on the Monarc machines before and after practice – something he says is a sign those players want to work hard. "They came into work. That's what I like about them."
  • Harrison said he was happy when he learned Hartline was promoted from wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator to become Ohio State's offensive coordinator. "I'm super excited for him, super excited for the team. ... He has an aggressive mindset coming into it, so I am excited to see where it goes."
  • Harrison said Devin Brown has an "athletic edge" over Kyle McCord but added that "when Kyle needs to run he can run." He is excited to see the quarterbacks continue to battle this offseason and has been impressed with how both players "can make any throw" on the field.

Xavier Johnson

  • Johnson said scoring a touchdown in the season-opening win against Notre Dame and later in the College Football Playoff against Georgia gives him more confidence heading into spring practice. “It allowed me to be confident and in a sense, some ways it allowed me to work. I’m a guy that builds confidence off the work I put in.”
  • On deciding to return to Ohio State, Johnson said he talked with Ryan Day and Hartline and they laid out the plan they had for him and he felt comfortable with it. “I just felt like there was some meat on the bone. I think there’s still a couple of things that I want to do at Ohio State.”
  • Johnson said he embraced lining up as both a running back and a wide receiver on separate occasions. “Coach Hart and coach Day, they’re the most ingenious offensive minds that we can have. I think we have a great infrastructure and they have a great understanding on how defenses work and how we could attack them. I’m going to continue doing what they ask me.”

Kaleb Brown

  • Brown said he’s much more comfortable with the college game, as “words can’t really explain how much I’ve developed mentally and physically.” He gave credit to Brian Hartline to making adjustments to his route running. 
  • On what separates him as a playmaker, Brown said his best attribute is “my ability to run after the catch and make big-time plays when it counts.”
  • Brown said he’d have no problem adopting an Xavier Johnson type role where he lines up at both wide receiver and running back. “Absolutely, wherever I’m needed, I’m definitely able to step up. So definitely.”
  • Brown said one of his first goals for himself is “getting in” on punt return and “making an impact there first.” He also predicted he’d return a punt for a touchdown for Ohio State.

Kyion Grayes

  • Grayes said this spring is different for him mentally and is “getting everything down a lot faster” in his second season at Ohio State and is connecting with the play calls and quarterbacks. Going forward this spring, he wants to work on techniques and improving his craft. 
  • Grayes said he choose to switch his number to seven because it’s his favorite number, the one he wore in high school and feels a lot of great Buckeye legends wore the number seven.
  • Grayes said he “doesn’t know how to explain” what it’s like competing in Ohio State’s loaded wide receiver room. “It’s more like you just have to be here to see it. To witness Marv, witness Xavier, witness Emeka, Julian. You just have to witness it to see it. There’s a lot of extra work put in behind closed doors that nobody sees.”

Kojo Antwi

  • Antwi said when he first arrived at OSU he “knew in my mind I wasn’t ready to get on the field yet.” He said he was going to come in and work and learn from the older guys, then eventually take over.
  • Antwi said “there’s always room for improvement” in his game and didn’t want to say he’s fully ready to play at the moment, but said as he learns over the season, he’ll definitely be ready to contribute.
  • When breaking down his game as a wide receiver, Antwi said he’s “explosive, a playmaker. I’ve got speed and I just can’t wait to showcase that in the spring game.”

Jayden Ballard

  • Ballard said he is focused on developing his whole route tree as a receiver this spring rather than just being a deep threat, though he believes his deep-threat ability is the best part of his game.
  • He says he has been putting in extra work outside of practices with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Kyion Grayes. Even though they arrived in the same recruiting class, he says he’s chasing Harrison and trying to become the same caliber of player he is.
  • Ballard says he looked up to Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson when he arrived at Ohio State and the biggest thing he’s learned from watching the Buckeyes’ older receivers is how to improve his footwork.

Reis Stocksdale

  • Stocksdale said it “means a lot” that C.J. Stroud praised him before the Peach Bowl, when Stroud said Stocksdale is “somebody who I definitely think that will have an opportunity to play in his career here.” Stocksdale: “I love C.J. He’s a great quarterback.”
  • Stocksdale said he tried to keep his head up after muffing two punts against Indiana last year and that he has kept working on fielding punts ever since.
  • Asked about his possibility of earning a bigger role, Stocksdale said he wants to “just do whatever I can help the team win.”
  • He said it is inspiring to see the success other Ohio State walk-on receivers like Johnson, C.J. Saunders and Sam Wiglusz have had before him.
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