Three members of Ohio State’s receiving core stayed back as the team took the field against Michigan on Saturday. It was Senior Day. Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon walked out one-by-one.
Freshman wide receiver Chris Olave ran onto the field like he normally does with the rest of the team. He went to the sideline and watched as Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon embraced their head coach and joined the team for the final time at Ohio Stadium.
For Olave, this meant a lot.
“All three of them are completely role models in my life,” Olave said. “When they ran out before the game, it kind of made me tear up and I wanted to do something to contribute to this game just for them.”
So Olave set the tone early. He ended capped off a 6-play, 57-yard drive to start the game with a 24-yard touchdown reception from redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The quarterback targeted him again in the second quarter, connecting on another 24-yard score.
But that was not the play that Olave, nor the receivers he wanted to honor with his play, will remember.
With Ohio State holding onto a 27-19 lead against the Wolverines in the third quarter, the Buckeyes’ defense stopped a Michigan drive at their own 36-yard line, forcing a punt.
Instead of taking it in stride, taking the field position, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano and quality control kicking coach Parker Fleming called a block play that Meyer plainly stated, “I didn’t think we could do.”
“You only have 2.1 seconds to get there. And he’s not that fast,” Meyer said. “I said we’re not going to get there, we’re not going to get there, we’re not going to get there. And not the first time I’ve been wrong. Been wrong many, many times.”
Olave burst through the A-gap, finding a hole and batting the ball into the hands of freshman cornerback Sevyn Banks, who returned it 33 yards for the score.
These are the kinds of situations Olave loves: to put himself in a position to make an impact for the betterment of the team as a whole.
“I just do it for my teammates and the love of my brothers beside me and just everything we have been through throughout the season,” Olave said. “It’s been crazy, so to come out here and contribute to the team, it’s a blessing.”
This is something the three seniors saw from the start of his collegiate career.
Dixon said, as fall camp started, Olave was running around, participating in drills and such and people would come over and question who Olave was.
The redshirt senior said that anyone who guarded him in those practices would say, from day one, that they knew Olave was something special.
“I haven’t seen a freshman come in like that like ever,” Dixon said. “He’s better than me, Parris, Terry hands down. Not even close.”
But Olave knew his place. He knew, coming in as a freshman, what he had to do to succeed at the collegiate level: follow the players who have been in his position.
“You just got to take after the older guys and what they do because they have been around for five years, so they know what it takes and they know the process,” Olave said. “I just stuck behind them and just got to it.”
Olave said his opportunity came after junior Austin Mack suffered a season-ending foot injury against Purdue, saying the coaching staff threw him into the rotation, taking advantage of any opportunity he had.
Coming into the game, he did not have many opportunities, recording only five catches for 70 yards, including a career-high two catches against Michigan State.
But Haskins knew the ability of the freshman receiver, even without consistent numbers.
“Chris came in as a freshman, you can see all the talent, all the skill in the world,” Haskins said. “Didn’t have opportunity to play much this year. So when he got in there he made it matter.”
With two touchdown catches and a punt block leading to another, Olave firmly planted himself into Ohio State lore, with many crediting him for the momentum leading to the 23-point victory against the No. 4 team in the country.
But for Dixon, that heightened view of Olave will not cause him to change. The redshirt senior said Olave is not a player he expects to “have a big head.”
To Dixon, Olave reminds him a lot of himself.
“For today, what he did, it just keeps momentum in his life,” Dixon said. “That’s the thing I think happened with me, coming off a great spring, great offseason. It helped me, pushed me on. So a guy like that, with the momentum in his life, he’s going to be amazing.”
As Campbell, Dixon and McLaurin took the field for the final time at Ohio Stadium, the expectation is that the torch, in the midst of a 60-minute game against Michigan, was passed to Olave.
Meyer sees it. He sees a bright future from the freshman receiver.
“Get used to that one now. That’s the real deal,” Meyer said. “He’s got the ‘it.’”