Let’s be clear — the chances that a true freshman wide receiver catches more than 15 passes for the Buckeyes this year is pretty low.
That’s just not how things go at Ohio State.
The number of true wide receivers who came in and caught at least 15 passes as first-year freshmen over the last 40 years at OSU can fit on one hand.
But what a group of names it is.
Garrett Wilson caught 30 passes for 432 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. Ted Ginn, Jr. caught 25 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns in 2004. David Boston caught 33 passes for 450 yards and seven touchdowns in 1996. Cris Carter caught 32 passes for 476 yards and seven touchdowns in 1984.
That’s it. That’s the list.
I just wanted to lay the groundwork before moving on to the actual topic here.
So let’s talk about Carnell Tate, and more specifically what All-American wide receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. said about him Tuesday night at an interview session with reporters.
It started innocently enough, but then…
“Carnell’s gonna be special, man, I think,” Harrison said. “Carnell’s probably at a better point right now than I was going into my sophomore year. So I mean, I think he’s amazing. He handles his business. He’s always in the right spot, catches the ball and runs great routes. So I’m excited to really see what his career looks like. I think he’ll be one of the best receivers to ever come to Ohio State.”
With everyone standing there as Harrison said it, he had to be immediately fact checked even before he began his third sentence. Surely, he meant that Tate was at a better point than Harrison was at this time as a true freshman, not last year when Harrison went on to somehow only finish second in the Biletnikoff voting as the nation’s best receiver.
But Harrison stood his ground. He meant at this point last year as a sophomore — that’s where he sees Tate’s progression.
As ridiculous — in a good way, not a buddy-don’t-make-me-Snopes-this kind of way — as that sounds, Carnell Tate did lose his black stripe earlier than any other receiver in OSU history. (Granted, the black stripe was only implemented by Urban Meyer in 2012, but that’s still a hell of a lot of wide receiver history.)
There was silence that came over the group as Harrison went on. All of us in that room have already written or talked about Tate plenty, but nobody has come out and said anything like Harrison just did.
His words have now unlocked a whole new level of expectations, but it is still extremely important to remember your history when looking to the future.
And it’s also important to realize what’s going on in the present.
Ohio State has four veteran receivers right now in Harrison, Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, and Xavier Johnson who could all be in the NFL next season.
There may not be a ton of passes heading to any true freshman this season. And oh yeah, the Buckeyes have brought in a freshman class of receivers that could very well surpass any they’ve ever had.
Remember that list of Buckeye receivers who caught at least 15 passes as true freshmen?
How about this list of freshman receivers who didn’t?
Marvin Harrison caught 11 passes as a true freshman. Emeka Egbuka caught nine. Jaxon Smith-Njigba caught 10 passes for 49 yards. Chris Olave caught 11 passes. Jameson Williams had just six catches as a true freshman. Michael Thomas caught three passes for 22 yards and then redshirted as a true sophomore.
Those are the kinds of numbers that recent greats have produced as first-year players. That kind of production is a more realistic expectation than whatever Old Faithful-like levels of gushery are happening right now.
Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline always stresses that every single one of his players has their own path. They have their own respective timelines.
When Marvin Harrison, Jr. says that Carnell Tate is already a year ahead of where he was, that’s a tremendous compliment and it shines a light on what the Buckeyes are seeing from him on and off the field.
But while we are all building him up with expectations, let’s not forget to give him time to get there so that those same expectations aren’t eventually used to tear him down.
Let a freshman be a freshman. And let the expectations be something fun to talk about, not a wrecking ball to be wielded when our impatience gets the best of us.