Brian Hartline: “I Completely Understand” Decisions From Transfer Receivers, Won’t Stop Stacking Top-End Talent in Position Room

By Griffin Strom on June 10, 2023 at 8:35 am
Brian Hartline

Perhaps no position group on the Ohio State roster should inspire more confidence in Buckeye fans ahead of the 2023 season than the wide receiver room.

That was as true on the first day of the offseason as it is in the first week of June. The Buckeyes possess the consensus best wideout in college football in Marvin Harrison Jr., and the two other projected starters alongside him – Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming – are five-star talents in their own right. Even after that, the group is chock full of high-caliber recruits and heralded pass catchers, with more entering the program as recently as this past weekend (CC: Brandon Inniss).

But in assessing the outlook for many of the wide receivers in Brian Hartline’s position room earlier in the offseason, it was hard not to wonder where opportunities would come from for players that could be battling for meaningful playing time at most other programs across the country.

Take for example second-year receivers and four-star recruits Kyion Grayes, Kojo Antwi, Kaleb Brown and Caleb Burton, who logged just 67 combined snaps as true freshmen in 2022. Even before Inniss, the top-rated recruit in Ohio State’s 2023 class, got on campus, Hartline and Ryan Day said the new batch of freshmen was already pushing the previous group in spring practices. And in the case of Carnell Tate, who was one of the foremost standout performers during the spring, that was clear to see.

But before the end of April, the obvious question was answered for multiple such players. Burton, last year’s No. 132 overall prospect who didn’t play at all in 2022 and suffered an injury setback in the first spring practice, entered the transfer portal on April 25. Five days later, he was joined by Brown –  the No. 79 overall prospect in the 2022 class who looked like a promising open-field playmaker as both a return specialist and pass catcher.

Both landed at big-time Power-Five programs, with Burton joining Auburn and Brown committing to Iowa, where the latter could run into his former team as soon as this year depending on the Big Ten standings by the end of the regular season.

Hartline wasn’t thrilled to see either of them go, as transfers out of his perennially loaded position room haven’t been all that common over the past several years, but he understands the tough spot they were in all the same.

“I guess I didn't really have any expectations. I'm just hopeful to continue to build and shape the room as best we can. I completely understand all the pressures that everyone has,” Hartline said during an interview session with Ohio State’s assistant coaching staff at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last week. “And frankly, what they feel is right is up to them. But it is just tough, man. I think at the end of the day, they feel like they have a four- to five-year window and they're just trying to give themselves the best chance.”

Ohio State hasn’t benefitted from the transfer portal at the wide receiver position under Hartline, but given the talent he pulls in from the high school ranks each season, it hasn’t had to. Still, the Buckeyes brought in eight new scholarship transfer portal additions overall this offseason, which is nearly three times as many as the Buckeyes ever had previously.

So even if the portal claimed two players Hartline might have envisioned bright futures for in the program over the past couple of months, he still fully supports the ability for players to have a say in shaping the trajectory of their college careers.

“I think that anytime you're able to provide more power to the player, it's a good thing,” Hartline said. “It's their responsibility to use the power the right way. And the right light. But I think anytime the players are (given) the power, it's better off for the sport.”

The benefits of landing the top wide receiver prospects in the country year in and year out obviously outweigh any potential drawbacks. But in the modern age of increased player mobility, that will undoubtedly lead to more situations like that of Burton and Brown in the future.

In every recruiting class since 2019, Hartline and the Buckeyes have signed at least two of the top 15 wide receivers in the nation, with three of them in 2020, 2021 and 2023. Not to mention, Fleming and Egbuka were both the No. 1 receiver in the nation out of high school in their respective classes. In the 2024 class, Hartline already has commitments from the top two receivers in the country – five-star prospects Jeremiah Smith and Mylan Graham.

Whether players end up transferring out or not, it doesn’t sound like Hartline intends to stop stockpiling as much top-end talent in his position room as possible moving forward.

“Typically, the more talent you have, the more you're demanding of the player. And then the more you demand of the player, the more of the growth you're probably going to get for each individual,” Hartline said. “So the goal is to continue to add the best players in the country to the room to allow them to push those that are currently there and those that are coming. So that's always the goal and that's what we're going to try to do.”

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