As a true freshman last season, Buckeye wide receiver Emeka Egbuka finished fifth on the team with 771 all-purpose yards. Only Jaxon Smith-Njigba, TreVeyon Henderson, Garrett Wilson, and Chris Olave were more productive.
Most of that total (580 yards) came via kickoff returns, but his 191 receiving yards as a true freshman were 52 more yards than classmate Marvin Harrison and 142 more yards than Smith-Njigba the year before.
Egbuka came to Ohio State as the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2021 recruiting class and quickly made his mark in the spring game, catching seven passes for 123 yards in his Ohio Stadium debut. He earned the backup job to Smith-Njigba last season in the slot and also took over as the team’s sole kick returner.
It was a successful rookie season and also a productive learning experience.
“Last year was a great year for me,” Egbuka said this spring. “I got to sit behind guys like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon and really just learn from them. And I know how great of careers they’re gonna have in the NFL, and just to have those guys as my big brothers guiding me along the way was the best thing I took out of last year.”
Having talent like that in front of him meant that he could ease into things, relatively speaking of course. It allowed him to learn on the job a bit and figure out what he was missing and what all was needed.
What did he learn?
“The game is a lot faster at this level,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people say that but it’s really true. So the main thing is just knowing your assignment and knowing not just your assignment but the whole play. So if you get put in there at another position that you know what you’re doing and you know the full concept. Because once you know the full concept then you know the full play, you’re able to play at full speed, not second-guessing yourself while you’re running routes and stuff like that.”
The days of second-guessing are gone for Egbuka, who now knows every receiver position on the field. He can move from spot to spot with complete confidence. It requires study and work and practice, but it also requires a competitive spirit.
“I mean, you can’t walk into our wide receiver room and not get better,” Egbuka said. “Everybody in the wide receiver room, even the new guys are great, and they’re pushing you to limits that you’ve got to exceed. And we just all lift each other up and it’s a constant competition. Like, ‘Oh, I can run this fast. I can jump this high.’ You’re just climbing that ladder and you’re getting higher and higher and that’s what’s so great about being in a wide receiver room that’s so talented.”
With Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave out of the picture, two new starting jobs are up for grabs. Whether or not Egbuka ends up landing one of those spots, he’s still going to be heavily involved in the Ohio State passing game.
Perhaps the real question is whether or not he will continue to be the Buckeyes’ primary kickoff returner.
His 580 kickoff return yards last year were fourth-most in school history and he currently holds two of the three most productive kick return games in OSU history. In so doing, he made it all look a heck of a lot easier than it actually was.
“It’s a hard thing to do,” he said. “It’s probably one of the harder things I’ve had to do because you just get past that first line of defenders and then there’s 12 more waiting for you when you only thought there was 11 on the field. So you get to the 50-yard line and you realize you still got 50 more to go. So it’s definitely one of the harder things to do but I’m up for the challenge and I’m glad they trusted me to put me back in that role.”
With every return, there was a chance that he might provide the Buckeyes with their first kickoff return touchdown since Jordan Hall in 2010. It didn’t happen, but Egbuka has confidence that can change this year.
“There’s a couple I thought I was in the clear,” he admitted. “Definitely going to make those into touchdowns this year. But yeah, I can’t say enough about the blocking. That’s the reason I got to those positions.”
Whether he is returning kicks again this year or in the starting lineup just a handful of times, whatever the Buckeyes need from Emeka Egbuka, it is expected that he’s going to be very well-equipped to provide it.
“I see myself contributing wherever I’m needed,” he said. “So wherever they put me on the field, even if that’s running back, quarterback, tight end, I’m just gonna do my thing. Just do something special when the ball’s in my hands and that’s all I can ask for.”