PASADENA Calif. — The Ohio State wide receiver room began the 2018 season in turmoil.
In the offseason prior to the start of the year, wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired for allegations of domestic violence, and quality control coach Brian Hartline was promoted to interim wide receivers coach with a little more than a month to prepare his group for the season ahead.
But Hartline, led by a trio of redshirt senior wide receivers in Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, succeeded through it, leading four of his receivers — Campbell, McLaurin, Dixon and redshirt junior K.J. Hill — to more than 600 yards and six touchdowns heading into the Rose Bowl against Washington.
“We went through a lot this offseason losing my coach and all that,” junior wide receiver Binjimen Victor said. “We had our mind to it, and I feel like we did it, we went out with a bang.”
The four leading receivers all have one final game together before three depart after five years together, and Hill has a decision to make about whether or not to declare early for the NFL Draft.
But regardless of the members of the receiver room that are leaving, Hartline was confident in the depth that will be left behind.
“I think the group as a whole is very talented,” Hartline said. “We got a lot of guys, Ben Vic and Austin Mack coming back, so really excited again for next year, for the guys that will be taking the next step.”
With Mack, a junior, and Victor returning for their fourth seasons, there will be veteran leadership left after Dixon, Campbell and McLaurin depart.
McLaurin said he does not expect a regression from the wide receivers after this season.
“I don’t expect any drop off, to be honest,” McLaurin said. “Coach Hartline does a good job of making sure everybody’s prepared to play whether you’re a starter or not, so there shouldn’t be any drop off, but you’re gonna see some new faces next year.”
One of the new faces next year will be Garrett Wilson, a five-star recruit out of Lake Travis, Texas that signed to Ohio State earlier in December.
Wilson is one of the highest-rated wide receiver recruits in program history, and McLaurin will leave the program with high expectations for what Wilson can do.
“I’m hearing he’s pretty good from coach Meyer and coach Hartline and coach Day,” McLaurin said. “He’s gonna be in the brotherhood of Ohio State and Ohio State wide receivers, I’m sure he’ll learn the culture real fast and I hope to come back and see he’s doing some big things.”
For Hartline, the future is more than Wilson.
Hartline rattled off the likes of freshman Chris Olave, freshman Kamryn Babb, sophomore Jaylen Harris and redshirt freshman Elijah Gardiner as the start of a young core of receivers he has in the room now.
With the addition of Wilson, Hartline said it can be a bit of a puzzle to fit all of the receivers into the lineup, finding the traits that shape the room as a whole.
“I think anybody that comes to Ohio State expects to make an impact. I think you don’t come to Ohio State to not play,” Hartline said. “We will attack it however it sees fit, when the group kind of starts molding itself, and each year, the group is different, and it takes on its own personality, so that’ll start developing early in 2019.”
With Hartline established as the full-time wide receiver coach heading into 2019, he will have the chance to mold the group, put the puzzle pieces together into whatever he sees fit.
But until then, Hartline has one more game with a trio of veteran wide receivers that he said will be used as the benchmark for years to come.
“The most important part of any group is if your best players are your hardest workers, and they work,” Hartline said. “It’s very important for me to use them as a template. I think I can only do that if they were the right template, and they are.”