Buckeyes receiver recruiting turning 'playmakers into pros'

Jeremy Birmingham10 months
Aritcle written by:Jeremy BirminghamJeremy Birmingham

Birm

Brian-Hartline-by-Birm-Lettermen-Row

COLUMBUS — It seems like every week since he’s landed in the NFL, Terry McLaurin has validated the Washington Football Team’s decision to draft him out of Ohio State.

He’s also been serving as a quasi-informercial for third-year Buckeyes wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.

“Hartline changed our mindset when he got there, man,” McLaurin told Lettermen Row following his game against Dallas on Thanksgiving afternoon. “We were always hard workers and wanted to make plays.

“He made us into pros while we were there. We embraced our role. We just cared about the culture being strong and having fun together.”

Evaluating the Buckeyes culture happens a lot here at Lettermen Row, especially due to its role in recruiting. But rarely is the testimony of what Ohio State preaches, especially in Hartline’s receivers room, as thoroughly evident as it has been in the last six days. The hard evidence started two weeks earlier, though.

Former 5-star prospect Julian Fleming, the country’s top-ranked 2020 wide receiver recruit, flashed a glimpse of his enormous playmaking potential during a primetime matchup with Rutgers in early November. He showed the explosive burst that made him the most-coveted wideout in America, sliced through the Scarlet Knights secondary and Justin Fields hit him in stride for a likely touchdown.

Fleming dropped the ball, both figuratively and literally. Rather than his first touchdown, Fleming faced his first major teachable moment.

“It was a good learning opportunity,” Hartline said. “[It] re-solidifies some things that we believe here in the receiving room. We’ll learn from it and grow from it.”

Against Indiana, Fleming’s next moment came. The talented freshman chased down Hoosier’s defender Jamar Johnson who, having just picked off Justin Fields for a second time, appeared to be heading toward a potential pick-six as Indiana fought to regain momentum toward an upset over the Buckeyes. Fleming, hustling all the way, punched the football loose, leading to an Ohio State recovery and allowing valuable time to run off the clock.

The effort from Fleming has been preached by Hartline and the Buckeyes for years. The proof is in the pudding, too. Look at this clip from the Ohio State comeback win over Penn State in 2018.

Ohio State-Parris Campbell-Johnnie Dixon-Curtis Samuel-Terry McLaurin

Parris Campbell, Curtis Samuel, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon all arrived in the same Ohio State class. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Look familiar? It should. Hustle, in that case from Johnnie Dixon, can be contagious. Hartline can’t teach that, though — it comes from the players on the team and respect for each other.

“We all worked hard already,” Dixon told Lettermen Row on Thursday. “[Hartline was] teaching us different stuff he learned over the years, and it just worked well for us. It was definitely a process, but everyone started to pick it up at some point. It became normal.”

Fleming’s play came about two-and-a-half hours before 5-star 2022 receiver Caleb Burton called Hartline and committed to the Buckeyes. The country’s No. 2-ranked receiver has modeled his game after Garrett Wilson, who went to high school about 30 miles away from where Burton does outside of Austin, Texas. His decision to commit to Ohio State has direct correlation to the sensational Buckeyes sophomore and the way he’s bought into the program and developed his game.

“I think it’s definitely something I was really looking forward to watching,” Burton said. “How he progressed from his freshman to sophomore season. That’s one of the main thing I’ve watched when I watch Ohio State, just how well Coach Hartline develops and he develops his guys really, really good.”

That development came full-circle on Thursday in Dallas as Terry McLaurin showed off his wheels and saved his team key points against the Cowboys. It was an uncommon effort in the NFL, where oftentimes passion wanes as pocketbooks grow.

There are plenty of athletic freaks that make their way through Columbus, especially at wide receiver, but the model for what the Buckeyes can do for a young receiver is put fully on display with Terry McLaurin. His numbers at Ohio State didn’t draw the attention of the NFL, but his work ethic and competitive nature did. His physical talents helped get him drafted, but his passion for being a special teams monster made his path to playing time easier and his selflessness — honed in the receivers room with the Buckeyes — has made him a captain after just one year in the league.

Michael Thomas may be the NFL’s most recognizable Buckeyes receiver and highest-paid, but it’s McLaurin’s path, his development and his commitment to culture that best serves as proof of what Brian Hartline can provide.

That proof is why Ohio State has become the place for the country’s best wide receiver prospects just three years into Hartline’s tenure.

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