There isn’t much debate ahead of the 2023 season about who the best wide receiver in college football is.
After a spectacular 2022 season in which Marvin Harrison Jr. caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns and made highlight-reel grabs throughout, the unanimous All-American is considered the best receiver in college football – if not the best player in college football. He’s undeniably one of the sport’s biggest stars and will enter the 2023 season as the face of Ohio State’s program.
Harrison has always exuded a quiet confidence, which hasn’t changed this spring. He said Thursday he believes he deserved to win the Biletnikoff Award last season (which instead went to Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt) as college football’s best pass-catcher, and Brian Hartline said “anybody that has two eyes could have saw he should have got that.” But if Harrison wants to actually be the best wide receiver in college football this year, he knows he has to perform at the same level all over again.
“You gotta go out there and prove it,” Harrison said. “Obviously, last year was last year, and to have that honor going into next year, it's one thing, but you gotta live up to it during the season. So that’s moreso what I was focused about.”
It might not have looked like Harrison had much to improve with how well he played last season. He would have already been a top-10 overall pick if he was eligible for this year’s NFL draft. But Harrison says there are still many ways in which he can be better in 2023, and that’s what he’s working toward this spring. Specifically, Harrison wants to improve his ability to extend plays into more yardage after the catch.
“There's always room to get better everywhere. Whether that’s getting in and out of your breaks faster, ball skills,” Harrison said. “But I think one thing in particular that I've kind of focused on was just making plays after the catch. Trying to turn 5-yard catches into 20, or 20-yard catches into 60, things like that. So I think that’s one thing I’m conscious about just going into next year and practicing for that.”
Hartline says Harrison can see he still has room to grow because he’s no longer comparing himself with other collegiate receivers but with the best receivers in the NFL.
“Does he want to be an old head or an old veteran compared to who, like the 18-year-old? Or is he comparing himself to Justin Jefferson, Davante Adams? I mean, perspective is, I don't even know how you would think anything otherwise besides the things he's trying to chase is not amateur and on a smaller level, like college football,” Hartline said. “His goal is like a lot of our guys, not just him, it's not sheltered at college football. I think he has perspective and wants to chase his dad. So the smallmindedness, I don't think really Marvin has ever possessed that. He's always been pushed to think big. And I think he's probably doing that.”
A year from now, Harrison will likely be preparing to begin his NFL career. For 2023, though, Harrison will be trying to help the Buckeyes achieve the team goals they have yet to accomplish since he arrived at Ohio State: Beat Michigan, win a Big Ten championship and a national championship. Those goals motivate Harrison to push himself to make an even bigger impact for Ohio State this season.
“There's a lot more work to be done,” Harrison said. “We didn't accomplish any goals we did as a team last year. So obviously whatever I did last year wasn't enough. So I think I'm not getting too big a head or anything like that.”
One thing Harrison doesn’t expect to actually do in games this season, though, is return punts. While Harrison has been first in the punt returner line in each of Ohio State’s first two spring practices and believes he’s capable of handling that responsibility as needed, he expects Emeka Egbuka to be the one returning punts this fall.
“There’s a good chance I won't be back there at any point during the season, but in an emergency situation, if I need to go back, I think I can,” Harrison said. “I'm just trying to develop that skill. It's moreso just helping tracking the ball when the ball is in the air.”
There’s been no shortage of noise surrounding Harrison since his emergence as a star receiver last season. At the end of last season, there were suggestions that Harrison was offered a lucrative NIL deal to transfer to USC. But Harrison says his focus was always on returning to Ohio State and preparing for his third season with the Buckeyes.
“I just kind of sit back and watched everything play out,” Harrison said. “Because obviously I knew what was actually going on. So just reading a bunch of different things, it's kind of moreso just a joke to me.”
Harrison was also subjected to some trash talk in February when a photo of Georgia safety Javon Bullard’s hit that knocked Harrison out of the Peach Bowl signed with the inscription “Night Night” went viral on the Internet. But Harrison didn’t let that bother him either.
“I just kind of laughed at it. It was kind of funny to me,” Harrison said. “Given the play and the circumstance, I don't know exactly if he signed it or someone signed it for him or what the logistics of that is, but I thought it was kind of funny.”
Night Night lol bet https://t.co/a1Qyg1Sl6R— Marvin Harrison Jr. (@MarvHarrisonJr) February 8, 2023
Harrison has a good resource to help keep him grounded in his father, who knows firsthand what it takes to succeed at the highest level as a Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. Harrison said his father handles his NIL inquiries, allowing him to focus on football.
Harrison doesn’t really need anyone to remind him to stay focused on football, though, because that would be his mindset anyway.
“You gotta keep the main thing the main thing. All that NIL stuff’s not even possible if you’re not performing on the field,” Harrison said. “So that’s what I focus on.”
While Harrison has already positioned himself as an Ohio State great with one of the best seasons a Buckeye receiver has ever had in 2022, Hartline believes Harrison’s best is still yet to come.
“I think the chase he's on, he's nowhere near where he wants to be, so in his mind, he doesn't know what everybody's celebrating,” Hartline said. “You guys are celebrating, but he's not. He's still on that same chase.”