Jeremiah Smith Ohio State Buckeyes Wide Receiver

‘Sky’s The Limit’ For Freshman Receiver Jeremiah Smith

If you’re ever looking for a dose of reality, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Burke always has a prescription ready.

Burke will tell you how he sees it, not how he thinks you want to hear it. That’s one of the reasons in the days leading up to the Cotton Bowl last December he was asked about ballyhooed incoming OSU wide receiver Jeremiah Smith.

“I mean, especially me, I gotta see bro in person,” he said matter-of-factly, which is just about the only way he speaks.

“All that high school stuff is cool, but when you’ve got an elite corner lined up across your face, let me see what you can do. I heard he’s a five-star and can move and da da da, but let’s line up, man, and we’ll find out.”

Burke is correct about the accolades. Jeremiah “JJ” Smith was the top receiver in the 2024 recruiting class. Most recruiting services even had him as the top player in the nation, as did the Maxwell Football Club, naming him the National High School Player of the Year.

Burke’s original assessment happened before Smith was ever on campus, which is no longer the situation. Smith was an early enrollee for the Buckeyes, so he’s been through winter workouts, player-led practice sessions, and now two full spring practices.

Speaking with reporters a week ago, Burke had finally had an opportunity to assess Jeremiah Smith first hand, and once again he told it as he saw it.

“It might be a big statement, but just the way he handles himself and the way he moves and the potential he has, I feel like he might be the next best receiver to come through here,” he said. “I’m really excited to see what he can do, and sky’s the limit for him.”

No Limits?

“Sky’s the limit” is a common cliche but that doesn’t mean Burke is wrong. In fact, he’s not the only Buckeye singing those same praises.

Senior wide receiver Emeka Egbuka has seen it just about every day since Smith’s arrival. The workouts, the off-hours skill building, the desire to get better, Egbuka has been there each step. He’s also been through everything that Smith is now going through, all the way down to being the No. 1 wide receiver in his recruiting class.

Egbuka understands the pressure that expectations can bring. He also understands the best way to get through it is to try and get the most out of it. To that point, the tangibles and the intangibles are both in Smith’s favor.

“Freak. Freak athlete,” Egbuka said. “One of the quietest dudes I’ve ever met. Not a man of too many words. But he came in and he put his head down and he worked. I say this every time about the freshmen who come in — the only thing you have to do as a freshman is just shut up and listen. Like all you have to do is just shut up, put your head down and work. And that’s something he understands.”

As a high school senior, Smith (6-3 215) produced weekly highlights, ultimately posting 88 receptions for 1,376 yards and 19 touchdowns in 14 games — including 11 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown in a state-title winning performance in his final game.

It is still very early in spring camp. Only two practices have taken place, with the third not scheduled until next week. Even so, Smith is already making a mark.

“I will say there’s nothing he really can’t do,” Egbuka said. “He runs fast. He jumps high. He’s strong. He’s a natural pass catcher. I mean, yeah, freak.”

How Early Is Too Early?

Making an impact as a true freshman is very difficult at Ohio State. Generally the depth is too good and so is the talent.

The situation at receiver is interesting because receivers coach Brian Hartline is recruiting at a high level, which means he’s bringing in players who are more ready to play early, but those players also become sophomores and juniors, making it difficult for true freshmen to find a role.

When former Buckeye receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr. is selected in the first round of next month’s NFL draft, Hartline will have coached five first rounders at Ohio State, and only one of them will have had more than 12 catches as a true freshman (Garrett Wilson, 30 in 2019).

Harrison and Egbuka were both true freshmen in 2021. They played about as much as two true freshmen could at Ohio State, and neither one of them was able to earn snaps on offense in every single game that year.

Harrison caught 11 passes as a true freshman — with five of them coming in the Rose Bowl. Egbuka caught nine passes.

What will it take for Jeremiah Smith to see the field as a true freshman?

“Logically speaking, you have to understand the offense,” Egbuka said. “You have to know the ins and outs. Not just not your play, but your role in the play. The concept of it all, which takes a little bit to learn but it’s not impossible. And you’ve got to be able to block, go out there and make big plays. But ultimately, if you’re talented enough, you’re gonna get on the field.”

Starting Rumors

Cris Carter, David Boston, and Garrett Wilson are the only receivers in Ohio State history to catch at least 30 passes as true freshmen.

Wilson was obviously the most recent, posting 30 receptions for 432 yards and five touchdowns off the bench in 2019. Boston overtook a starting role midway through the 1996 season on his way to 33 catches for 450 yards and seven touchdowns — including two in the 1997 Rose Bowl win over Arizona State.

Carter still holds the school records for freshmen, producing 41 receptions for 648 yards and eight touchdowns in 1984. It is a record that has stood for 40 years, but maybe has never been as primed as it is now to be broken.

But this would take more than talent. Plenty of Buckeyes have had the talent, but do they work? Can they handle the responsibility? Are they coachable?

“He’s very coachable,” Egbuka said of Smith. “I do my best to uplift the young guys and give them pointers here and there, and he’s always willing to listen. He always puts his best foot forward every single day. He hates to lose. He’s a competitor, which is huge, especially in Zone 6. So I think he has a bright future here.”

The competition will continue to unfold this spring and into fall camp. The Buckeyes are looking for two new starting wide receivers to play alongside Egbuka.

It is rare for a true freshman to win a starting job anywhere at Ohio State. But few freshmen have come in and been able to do what Smith has already done. Which is why Egbuka believes Jeremiah Smith is capable of winning a starting job this season.

“Yeah, I mean, I believe he is. I think the sky’s the limit for him,” he said. “I’m not gonna say that he’s starting as a freshman because that’s not for the far future. But if he continues his hard work in his diligence in his craft and he’s able to learn the offense, the sky’s the limit for him, like I said.”

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