Ohio State football has had no shortage of decorated wide receivers in its 130-year history.
From legends such as Cris Carter and Joey Galloway to recent stars such as Michael Thomas, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints, and Parris Campbell, on the Indianapolis Colts, Ohio State has produced multiple NFL stars at wideout –– and current Buckeyes like sophomore Chris Olave and freshman Garrett Wilson hope to have similar success.
Never before, however, have the Buckeyes claimed four of the nation’s top 16 receivers in the same recruiting class.
“We wanna go out as one of the best wide receiver classes, but there’s gonna be a lot of work and a lot of commitment that will have to be put in to get to that point,” incoming freshman wide receiver Julian Fleming said.
Class of 2020 early enrollees Mookie Cooper, Gee Scott, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Fleming may very well take the lineage of elite Buckeye wide receivers to the next level. All four are top 100 overall prospects — making them not only the most highly ranked unit coach Brian Hartline has ever recruited, but possibly the most talented in the history of Buckeye football.
Fleming, a five-star recruit from South Columbia High School in Pennsylvania, was the No. 1 receiver in the class of 2020 and the No. 3 player overall. During his senior season, he gathered 78 receptions for 1,524 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Fleming ended his high school career leading his team to a dominant 74-7 win in the state championship.
“In high school, expectations were high, and my expectations for myself were higher than everybody else’s,” Fleming said. “Coming here now, I’m not rated anything. There are no stars. I’m a freshman at Ohio State looking to earn a position.”
Smith-Njigba, the nation’s No. 5 receiver, mirrored Fleming’s sentiments. While he totaled 35 touchdowns and 2,162 receiving yards for Texas’ Rockwall High School in his senior season alone, he understands that at Ohio State, everything must be earned.
“You’ve gotta look at the bigger picture. If you want to win, you’ll do whatever it takes to win, and we’ve got threats all across the field,” Smith-Njigba said. “Of course you want to see 15 balls a game, but realistically it’s not gonna happen on any level at any school. However many balls I have, I have to make the opportunity and take advantage of that.”
Smith-Njigba and Fleming cite Wilson’s impressive freshman season, which ended with five touchdowns and 432 yards, as an inspiration to them. Smith-Njigba said he feels especially connected to the rising sophomore, as both players hail from Texas.
“Seeing him play and compete at such a high level gave me a little boost, especially seeing how quick he got in as a freshman,” Fleming said.
Hoping to have a similarly explosive freshman year, Scott said he already feels a sense of camaraderie among the four. The four-star recruit from Sammamish, Washington, graduated from Eastside Catholic High School with a four-year total of 36 touchdowns on 175 receptions.
Scott said the four signees have pushed one another immensely during their first month as teammates.
“It’s helpful because you not only have those guys alongside you, but you also grow with them,” Scott said. “You’re all going through the same things, waking up early together, going through these hard workouts together. When you do all those things together, you grow more. They continue to push me on a regular basis.”
Rounding out the group is Missouri native Mookie Cooper. After transferring to Pattonville for his senior year of high school football, he was denied eligibility and was unable to finish out his career.
“I cried for four weeks straight,” Cooper said. “It used to make me work out harder. Football can be taken away at any time so you gotta still be productive with life.”
During his junior year at Trinity Catholic, he led the Titans to their first-ever state championship victory, tallying 869 receiving yards and nine touchdowns that season.
“You have to do stuff other guys don’t do,” Cooper said. “Coach Hartline tells us all the time, if you see certain stuff other guys aren’t doing, that’s your green light to go do them. At this level, everyone is replaceable.”
All four prospects said that along with Wilson, Olave has emerged as a strong supporter and leader for them.
The rising junior led Ohio State with 840 receiving yards in 2019 and will assume more of a leadership role after the departure of three senior wide receivers.
“He’s pushed me on multiple levels, whether that’s being attentive in the film room or in school or in workouts,” Scott said. “No matter what we’re doing, he makes sure I’m on my A-game, and he’ll hold you accountable.”
Smith-Njigba said he felt the pain of Olave’s season-ending route mistake that ended the Fiesta Bowl — but said the team plans to remedy that wound.
“During workouts, they’re not afraid to talk about it,” Smith-Njigba said. “It’s on almost every TV here when we’re working out. I didn’t play in that game, but I know that for the upperclassmen, we don’t wanna go through that again. So we’re working right now to keep that from happening.”
With their combined talent, the four signees alongside Olave and Wilson have the chance to capitalize on this past year’s impressive offense and solidify their reputations as elite wideouts.
Their first opportunity will come at Ohio State’s Spring Game April 11.
“I’m excited for the new offense. I’m excited to learn,” Fleming said. “Expectations are definitely high.”