Xavier Johnson Awarded Ohio State’s “Block O” Jersey for 2023

By Andy Anders on August 19, 2023 at 3:32 pm
Xavier Johnson

Xavier Johnson will have a new number this season.

The sixth-year senior affectionately dubbed “X” by teammates was named the recipient of the Buckeyes’ “Block O” jersey on Saturday, becoming the fourth Ohio State player to be awarded the No. 0 since the NCAA began allowing players to wear the number in 2020.

“My goal is to continue to inspire hope in this team,” Johnson said in a statement released by Ohio State. “I’ll lead, inspire and help us reach the highest of heights.”

Johnson joins Jonathon Cooper, Thayer Munford and Kamryn Babb as Buckeyes to be awarded the number. Johnson drew comparisons to Babb, a two-time captain who was regarded as Ohio State’s spiritual leader for the past two seasons, from offensive coordinator Brian Hartline this spring. 

“How I always think of Kam Babb is as an amazing young man, he’s created a standard. Everyone kind of knows,” Hartline said. “X is in line with all that. Big man of faith, great leader with the young guys, willing to speak up. The future's bright for Xavier.”

The “Block O” jersey was created in memory of Bill Willis, a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer whose No. 99 is retired in the Horseshoe. He was one of the first two players to break professional football’s color barrier for the Cleveland Browns in 1946, alongside fellow Hall of Famer Marion Motley. The jersey, awarded annually, is given to a team leader that embodies Willis’ “toughness, accountability and the highest of character.”

Johnson, a former walk-on who turned down scholarship offers to play at Ohio State, became an impact player for the Buckeyes last season, making memorable plays in the team’s season opener against Notre Dame and season finale against Georgia.

He caught what proved to be the eventual game-winning touchdown pass against the Fighting Irish on Sept. 3, then tackled Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree at his own 13-yard line on the ensuing kickoff to pin the team deep.

A 37-yard scoring connection between C.J. Stroud and Johnson against the Bulldogs gave the Buckeyes a 28-24 lead going into halftime of the Peach Bowl on Dec. 31, a play accentuated by Johnson splitting two defenders with a spin move.

Johnson, who was placed on scholarship in 2021, saw playing time at both wide receiver and running back last season, getting the opportunity to see some work out of the backfield after injuries piled up at the position. For the year, Johnson caught 13 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 12 times for 146 yards and a score. 

Johnson also returned 12 kickoffs for a total of 269 yards, an average of 22.4 yards per return, with six total tackles as a cover man on special teams.

Hartline said this spring that he thinks Johnson is “a really good receiver and a really good running back” and that Ohio State must “find ways to use that” this season.

“Xavier’s awesome. The growth he's had over the last 12-18 months has been awesome. A true offensive weapon,” Hartline said. “I mean, his ability to be an elite receiver and also go in the backfield and carry the football, pick up protections, I mean there's so many things that young man brings to the table, let alone special teams. To me, he's gonna play football for a long time.”

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