Football is a team sport. Coaches typically tell players success comes from a team effort, not any one individual. But often, a single individual can make that small difference between victory and defeat.
A staple in coach Urban Meyer’s offense for years, a hybrid wide receiver and running back called an H-back, has been defined by a single player.
Former Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin helped to make the role famous during his time under Meyer, helping lead the Gators to national championships in 2007 and 2009.
But as the 2014 season approaches for Meyer’s Ohio State football team, that H-back spot doesn’t have a Percy Harvin— it has a Dontre Wilson.
“The ‘Percy Harvin role’ is overused a lot,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said March 27. “It’s just that Percy Harvin was a great player and our offense is built around getting the football to a great player … So hopefully (sophomore running back) Dontre (Wilson) will fit that mold because he has the ability to be a great player and he is taking strides to be that. But it is not necessarily a hybrid, or a versatile receiver. It is just, the best players are going to touch the ball.”
The 5-foot-10-inch Wilson — Harvin is one inch taller — was tapped earlier in the spring by Meyer as the likely starter at H-back, a move Smith said has already paid dividends.
“He is probably performing at the highest level in the group right now,” Smith said. “I don’t know if he is a focal point of the offense but he is probably a focal point just as far as effort and consistency goes.”
Taking snaps with the wide receivers this spring instead of the running backs as he did heading into last year, Wilson said the change has been a plus since it allows him to have more space to work between the lines.
“I mean once you catch it downfield, you’re already in the open field,” Wilson said. “Sometimes when you get the ball in the backfield you have to make space. You have to run to the open field, then you make your move. But once you catch the ball down the field, you’re already in open space so you can make your move.”
Wilson, who finished fifth on the team in receiving yards last season, became a threat out of the backfield, running screens and doing what he could to beat defenders around the corner.
He was also seen as a decoy during the latter portion of the season, with opposing teams keying in on the speedy running back whenever he was on the field.
Wilson said the feeling of being a decoy wasn’t the most pleasant experience at times.
“I just didn’t feel like I was that involved,” Wilson said. “Basically most of the plays I was pretty much just faking and fly sweeping and the defense would bite and we would throw it downfield. So yeah, I felt like a decoy. But now, things have changed, so now I’m getting my chance and I’m making the best of it.”
Smith didn’t have a chance to coach Wilson last season — as the then-freshman was under the tutelage of running backs coach Stan Drayton — but made it clear that decoy role for Wilson is a thing of the past.
“I am not into coaching decoys,” Smith said. “I think that when you present a skill set like he does, when you perform at a high level, when we don’t get you the ball, you are naturally a decoy because of the attention on you, so that just comes back to consistent performance that is shown every day out here.”
A running back throughout high school and during his first year in college, Wilson will have to get used to the change in position despite his experience catching the ball already.
The change will take time, Smith said, but Wilson’s work ethic is enough that it won’t take be long before he is fully acclimated.
“The biggest strides he has made has been in his development and understand of the position,” Smith said. “He has always been talented, but he is starting to do things like how I want wideouts to operate. Dontre is taking big steps right now because he is going so hard. He is putting in the effort, putting in the time and has really bought completely into the culture that we have here.”
Wilson noted that he will continue to be the team’s primary kick returner next season after holding the position throughout 2013 alongside former running back Jordan Hall.
But Wilson said his time returning kicks will not hinder his offensive presence, something he added the Buckeyes will need after losing so much from last season.
“(Running back) Carlos (Hyde) was a big loss for our team, and also our offensive line because they pretty much carried us a lot throughout the season,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a big switch, so hopefully everything will go smooth and everybody can make plays still.”
Wilson and the Buckeyes are set to open up their 2014 season Aug. 30 at noon, when they are scheduled to take on Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.