The strongest college programs typically see their success from one season just flow right into another because of a powerful recruiting presence.
The Ohio State football team can be considered one of these programs — year in and year out being among the top teams in the country. A steady flow of talent through Columbus has been a major contributor to this success.
One of the most successful positions for OSU over the past few years has been the wide receiver spot.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Buckeyes have seen 11 wide receivers taken in the NFL Draft, including four — Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez in 2007, Santonio Holmes in 2006 and Michael Jenkins in 2004 — taken in the first round.
Now with former receiver Corey “Philly” Brown hoping for a future in the NFL, the Buckeyes are left searching for their next elite pass-catcher.
Juniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are easy choices to fill the void left by Brown next season because of their experience on the field for OSU, but that next star receiver could be someone who has yet to don the Scarlet and Gray.
Incoming wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, a West Palm Beach, Fla., native was listed as a four star recruit by Rivals.com and ESPN before committing to OSU in December.
“He chose Ohio State because it was the best university and this program, this offense, this head coach we have, myself … it was the best chance for him to develop into the maximized version of himself,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said on National Signing Day Feb. 5.
Dixon said the pedigree of OSU and coach Urban Meyer when it comes to the success of wide receivers drew him to Columbus.
“I wanted to be a great receiver and under coach Meyer and coach Smith, I can make that happen and they can make that happen,” Dixon said on Signing Day. “(Meyer’s) had great players here and also at Florida at the receiver spot, so I knew that him coaching me would be a big impact.”
Zach Smith was involved in Dixon’s recruitment and said part of bringing him to Columbus was a willingness to point out flaws.
“I went down and watched Johnnie Dixon practice a couple times and told him, ‘That was awful,’” Zach Smith said. “We talked about it, but the kid at the end of the day went home and said ‘That guy’s going to make me better and he’s real.’”
Dixon added that he hopes to play right away for OSU but understands the effort that requires.
“I feel like if I work hard enough, I can hit the field and I can make an impact,” Dixon said.
Even with the returning players at wide receiver, Zach Smith said there was no guarantee that any one player will receive playing time.
“You don’t want to take away from what guys like Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have done for us this past year, but at the end of the day we got better — we were a better unit but we weren’t where we needed to be,” Zach Smith said. “There’s not a position in my room where that is locked down or anyone who really has an edge … I’m not confident there’s any delineation between wideouts. The way the younger guys develop by the end of the year, I think its going to be a dogfight.”
Coming in, Dixon is slated to be one of the shorter receivers, only standing 5 feet 11 inches tall with nine of the 14 Buckeyes listed on the roster standing at 6 feet 1 inch or taller.
Despite the advantages that taller receivers have, Zach Smith said it doesn’t matter how tall a player is as long as he is able to produce.
“I like electric guys that are going to take the football and put it across the endline,” Zach Smith said. “That’s it, I want it in the end zone, I don’t care how big you are — it doesn’t matter, just get it in the endzone. It’s nice to have size but I like playmakers.”
Dixon and the rest of the receivers are slated to have their first shot at the field Aug. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore when OSU is scheduled to start its season against Navy.
Even though the Buckeyes start the season in a warmer climate, late season games in the Midwest can often get quite cold.
Dixon said he isn’t worried about the going from the warmth of Florida to Columbus though, and just wants to prove himself on the field.
“The weather’s not really a big factor to me,” Dixon said. “Once you make it to the NFL, you play in all types of weather so the weather wasn’t a big deal for me. I just wanted to be a great player, a great receiver, it had to be here.”