It took all of 75 days at Ohio State for Carnell Tate to set a new bar for Buckeye freshmen.
Just five practices into Ohio State’s spring schedule, Brian Hartline and the Buckeye coaching staff had already seen enough. At the conclusion of Ohio State’s first scrimmage this past Saturday, the Buckeyes assembled in the end zone to debrief as visiting recruits, family members and media converged around them. The first order of business? Bestowing an honor upon a first-year wideout who had his fair share of standout moments in the preceding practice.
Less than three months after arriving on campus as an early enrollee, Tate saw his black stripe removed right then and there. Of course, that tradition will eventually be carried out for every player who hopes to “officially” become a Buckeye, but the timeframe varies and is often not without significance. Tate became the first true freshman to shed his black stripe this season, but even more impressive is the fact that the Chicago native earned the honor earlier than any Buckeye freshman since the custom’s 2012 inception.
Considering the buzz Tate generated in the high school ranks even before committing to the program, Saturday’s benchmark suggests Buckeye fans have every right to be excited about the potential success of the top-60 overall talent.
Beyond his early development on the field, Hartline said Tate’s black stripe removal had just as much to do with how he handles himself off of it, whether he’s at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center or in the classroom at Ohio State.
“I would say anytime a guy comes in and handles his business off the field – I think he has all straight A’s right now. He's never missed a workout, he's always on time, he's doing his job on the field,” Hartline said. “The combination of all that, it was well-deserved.”
Indications of an impressive start to his Buckeye tenure came as early as Ohio State’s first spring practice. Ryan Day didn’t single Tate out specifically, but the Buckeye head coach said his three early enrollee freshmen wideouts – Tate, Noah Rogers and Bryson Rodgers – were already pushing the Buckeyes’ second-year pass catchers.
With Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming out for the spring and Marvin Harrison Jr. and Xavier Johnson holding veteran status in the program, the door is wide open for Ohio State’s untested receiver talent to catch the eyes of the coaching staff upon arrival.
“The three guys that came in have already made an impact,” Day said. “We've been very impressed with them. And then Brandon coming in this summer. So this is gonna be a really good opportunity with Emeka out, Julian out, we're going to be smart with and Marvin, those guys have played a lot of football. So what an unbelievable opportunity for all those guys to step in and play.”
In the first week of spring practice, though, Hartline pointed to Rogers in particular as the first-year wideout that appeared to be leading the way early on. Hartline said Rogers, another four-star recruit that ranked six places ahead of Tate in the 247Sports composite rankings, “really has the ceiling that's not calculable.” Like Tate, Rogers also made plays in Saturday’s scrimmage and appears to be on a great trajectory in one of the nation’s most talent-rich position rooms. But Tate ended up the first of the bunch to shed his black stripe over the weekend.
Hartline said a big factor in Tate’s early success is his ability to quickly correct mistakes and move on from them.
“I'd say he's being well-detailed. I would say that he's doing a pretty good job taking meetings to the field,” Hartline said. “We talk about techniques, we talk about the details of every play, and he's pretty consistent on hitting those. Probably the best thing he's done is just the ability to make a mistake, correct it and then move on from it. He does not, he very rarely has repeated mistakes. And that's usually a pretty good sign of a good player, a guy that's about his business and that's really what you're hoping for.”
Given the high expectations Hartline has for his incoming pupils on a yearly basis, the Buckeye offensive coordinator wasn’t necessarily astonished by Tate’s ability to adapt to the program early on. But perhaps Tate is already ahead of schedule even by Hartline’s standards.
“I wouldn't say he's surprised me. I think that I really appreciate where he's at off the field and on the field so early in his career,” Hartline said. “I wouldn't say I would expect it to happen so quickly. But you know, I would have figured by the end of summer it would be starting to click a little bit. But he's done a great job since he stepped foot on campus.”
"Young guys, a lot of times they're just always scrambling. Now, Carnell's done a great job, he's not scrambling as much."– Brian Hartline on Carnell Tate
While other freshmen are still drinking from a firehose at this stage in their first spring at Ohio State, Hartline said Tate “isn’t scrambling as much.” But Hartline said consistent work, attention to detail learning from mistakes will allow players like Rogers and Rodgers to settle into the program.
“Right now, it's just the ability to continue to make mistakes and correct mistakes. Because they're gonna happen all spring,” Hartline said. “Spring is really trying to build a foundation to help some young guys really do a great job through the summer, and then do a great job in the fall camp. And now fall camp's like your third time doing it all, and it all can slow down a little bit and now we can really put our best foot forward. Right now young guys, a lot of times they're just always scrambling.
“Now, Carnell's done a great job, he's not scrambling as much. So Noah's gotta do a great job and Bryson's gotta do a great job of continuing to take notes, reviewing those notes, having mistakes on a Monday or a Tuesday, and then reviewing those notes again on a Wednesday or a Thursday. We practice every two days, you can't let the mistakes of two days ago show back up in two days, because that can happen if you're not organized. So a combination of all that I would say is their main focus.”
With the progress that Tate and other young Buckeye wideouts have made so far, Hartline said his position room is even deeper than it was at this time last season. Several of those players will see their opportunities dwindle once Egbuka and Fleming return to the fold, but that doesn’t make the future at wide receiver any less bright for the Buckeyes.
“I would say that we are a good, six, seven deep right now. And that's really good,” Hartline said. “I would say in my opinion, the guys, they're showing trajectory. The four, five, six is much better than it was this time last year. So everyone's being pushed, everyone's growing. And having these extra reps with a couple guys out have been awesome. And they know that those are eventually gonna go away. So as long as we're maximizing those, we'll be in a much better position come fall camp.”