It’s not often that a wide receiver comes to Ohio State and becomes a difference-maker in their true freshman season.
Nine games in, Texas product Garrett Wilson has not only lived up to his five-star ranking but gained the trust of his teammates and coaches.
“Garrett’s still real young, but certainly his talent is off the charts,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said. “And so I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves with Garrett. But we think he obviously has a tremendous ceiling, and he’s growing every week. He’s understanding how to practice. He’s understanding how to play within the offense.”
Despite delivering highlight-reel touchdown catches for the Buckeyes since the 2019 Spring Game, Ohio State’s 73-14 rout over Maryland Saturday was a breakout game for Wilson.
He was Ohio State’s leading receiver for the first time, hauling in 82 yards on four catches, including a 14-yard touchdown grab from redshirt senior quarterback Chris Chugunov –– his fourth of the year.
Wilson would’ve had another, as he changed course midroute to get under a 46-yard deep-ball in the end zone late in the third quarter, but it was erased by a holding penalty on freshman offensive tackle Dawand Jones.
Chugunov and Wilson connected on a 35-yarder earlier in the quarter.
“When I’m out there, I’m in the zone. I look at it as just doing my job. If I’m not making that play, I’m upset with myself,” Wilson said.
Wilson didn’t wait until late in the blowout to make an impact on the game.
Sophomore quarterback Justin Fields hooked up with the speedy wideout on a 27-yard toss to the sideline on the Buckeyes’ third drive of the game, setting up the offense on the Maryland 4-yard-line before another score made it 21-0 in the opening quarter.
Though Wilson has demonstrated his talent as a wide receiver, he’s also excelled on special teams as a punt returner.
“I think when you look at what he’s done and the last few returns, he’s making a strong move to be the starter,” Day said ahead of the Maryland game.
Wilson got the nod ahead of redshirt junior running back Demario McCall Saturday, who held down the spot in all eight previous games.
In his first punt return of the season against Miami (Ohio) Sept. 21, Wilson chewed up 52 yards.
Wilson headlined Ohio State’s 2019 recruiting class with fellow five-star prospect and freshman defensive end Zach Harrison. Both have made an immediate impact. Harrison has 2.5 sacks on the season through nine games, and Wilson said their success shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“I feel like we came in, and a lot of people expected that of us. Coaches expect that of us. This is our job now, and we’re looking at this like we’re trying to be professionals in this,” Wilson said.
With a receiving corps consisting of three seniors and one sophomore in K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack and Chris Olave, respectively, Wilson has shown he can be trusted with meaningful minutes in the receiver rotation. Wilson’s four touchdown grabs are third on the team, and his 18 catches and 216 yards are fourth.
The last time a true freshman wideout had more than four scores in a season for Ohio State was in 1996 — David Boston caught eight that year.
It ultimately requires experience for players to reach their full potential. Even with Wilson’s rapid ascension, Day said Wilson hasn’t yet approached his high ceiling.
“I think it’s very hard to step in as a true freshman and make an impact right off the bat. I think it takes a little time,” Day said. “You learn about the system; you learn about how to practice; you learn about all those things, and so I think as the season has gone on, he’s gotten better.”
A key to Wilson’s quick transition to the college game has been the relationship built between Wilson and Fields. With this season being both players’ firsts in Columbus, Fields and Wilson kicked things off in January, when Fields transferred from Georgia and Wilson arrived as an early enrollee.
“We came here together, and that helps out the relationship for sure,” Wilson said. “That’s one of my best friends on the team now, ever since I got here. Day One, I remember he was sitting in the car with my family, and we’ve been building the relationship up. That’s an awesome dude and great player –– can’t wait for a future with him.”