Growing up in San Marcos, California, as a self-proclaimed “Pac-12 kid,” Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave didn’t pay much attention to the Big Ten’s most contentious football rivalry.
It wasn’t until he caught a 24-yard touchdown in the opening quarter of his first Michigan game as a true freshman that Olave said he truly understood “The Game.”
He finished with 48 yards, two touchdowns and a blocked punt in a performance that convinced some that Olave might be the next great Ohio State wide receiver.
“That’s the plan,” he said.
But Olave’s initial plan didn’t include Ohio State at all.
Olave had to sit out his junior season at Mission Hills High School due to an ineligibility issue, which slowed his recruiting track. Olave said that ahead of his junior year he had no offers, and only accrued a couple of small school offers before his senior season.
“Going into my junior year I was kind of depressed and I leaned on my family for everything,” Olave said.
It wasn’t until Oct. 7, 2017, that Olave received what he called his first “big” offer from the Buckeyes. Despite his previous unfamiliarity with the program, Olave said he and his family jumped on the opportunity.
In his first 11 games the former three-star recruit saw little opportunity behind a record-setting receiver corps that included a trio of current NFL players in Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon.
Leading up to the Michigan game, Olave caught just five passes for 70 yards and no touchdowns on the year, but his spark-plug showcase propelled him to an encore performance in the Big Ten Championship a week later.
Olave went for a season-high five catches and 79 yards against Northwestern, including a 29-yard third quarter touchdown that proved his success against Michigan wasn’t a flash in the pan.
“It doesn’t really change me,” Olave said. “It humbles me more. Just to know that people are expecting more from me this year.”
Now that Olave has shown he can produce when the stakes are high, wide receivers coach Brian Hartline expects consistency.
“You can go out and have a really good freshman year, and guess what you gotta do next year? Be really good again,” Hartline said. “If you have a really good year again and again, then maybe you can continue to chase your dream.”
Playing at 170 pounds last season, Olave, now at 185, said he made gaining weight a priority of his offseason. Despite the increase in size, junior cornerback Jeffrey Okudah said Olave hasn’t given up a step.
“Chris Olave’s really fast,” Okudah said.
Olave credited Okudah, whom he called the “best corner in the nation,” with helping him improve despite frustrating him with tight coverage every day in practice.
It won’t likely take Olave 13 games to collect double-digit catches this season, but with another year of what he called “reloaded” depth at receiver, Olave is also embracing an increased role on special teams as a potential punt blocker, gunner and kickoff player.
Olave didn’t watch Ohio State-Michigan games on TV growing up, and with the season opener against Florida Atlantic kicking off Saturday, it sounds like he’s adding 2018’s installment to that list.
“What I did last year is in the past,” Olave said. “And what I want to do this year, I’m gonna make it happen.”