With the first five already accounted for, The Lantern continues its countdown of the top 10 most important Buckeyes for the 2014 Ohio State football season.
No. 5: Dontre Wilson, sophomore H-back
Ever since the Southeastern Conference began to dominate the college football landscape in 2007, fans from other regions of the country have been reminded that their favorite teams don’t possess enough quickness to beat schools from the SEC.
When coach Urban Meyer took the reins at OSU in November 2011, he made it clear that he intended to change that: the Buckeyes were going to get a lot faster. After an undefeated campaign in 2012, the puzzle of constructing a more explosive offense acquired a key piece when four-star recruit Dontre Wilson committed to OSU in February 2013. In Wilson, a speedster who is able to play both running back and wide receiver, Meyer landed a player that epitomized his offensive philosophy. Expectations were high for the then-freshman.
Wilson wound up playing in all 14 games in 2013, and although he didn’t adapt to the offensive schemes as much as his coaches would’ve liked, the double-threat still produced some decent numbers. As the team’s primary kickoff returner and a significant threat on the ground and in the air, Wilson finished with 983 all-purpose yards. Only running back Carlos Hyde, quarterback Braxton Miller and wide receiver Corey Brown had more.
He showed glimpses of his ability from the first game of the season. In the second quarter against Buffalo he returned a kickoff for 51 yards. A week later he rushed five times for a total of 51 yards and his only touchdown run of the season as the Buckeyes dismantled San Diego State 42-7. Then came the shootout against California that suited his skillset, helping him to season-highs in both rushing (59 yards) and receiving (48 yards).
The Big Ten portion of the schedule didn’t quite see the same production out of Wilson. His 26 rushing yards against Indiana were his highest total of conference play, as were his 35 receiving yards against Penn State.
What was more concerning was the way Wilson’s impact seemingly disappeared in the team’s crucial three-game run to end the season. The then-freshman’s production was limited to just the return game against Michigan and Michigan State as he gained 16 and 70 yards, respectively. In the Discover Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, Wilson rushed for 24 yards on three carries, had one return of 25 yards and a catch that resulted in a loss of five.
While he might not have exploded onto the scene in the way many hoped he would, Wilson is poised to do just that during his sophomore season.
Both Wilson and his coaches have admitted over this offseason how he didn’t really understand his role in last year’s offense. But now things have changed, and the expectations of Wilson –– especially from Meyer –– are high.
“Last year he was a hybrid guy that really wasn’t great at anything. (He) was not quite strong enough to run inside like you need that hybrid guy to do. (He) was simply an outside running player,” Meyer said on Monday at the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. “He’s gained the weight. He’s much stronger. He’s much more prepared for this level of football. He’s always had the talent and he’s always had the effort, so…he’s an impact guy for us in a lot of ways.”
One of Wilson’s main roles toward the end of last season was to redirect the attention of opposing defenses toward him and away from his offensive teammates. Now, with the departures of Hyde and Brown to the NFL, Wilson becomes the unit’s most important and dynamic player behind Miller.
When Meyer recruited Wilson many analysts were quick to draw comparisons with current Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, who succeeded in the hybrid position under Meyer at Florida. If they do turn out to be similar players, Buckeye fans can take heart in the fact that Harvin nearly doubled his yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns from his freshman to sophomore year.
If the Buckeyes hope to capture their first Big Ten title in five years, they need Wilson to have a similar improvement.
OSU’s first game of the season is scheduled for Aug. 30 when the Buckeyes face Navy in Baltimore, Md.