Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s Acrobatics No Surprise to Buckeyes

Three plays after taking a vicious shot from Nebraska defensive back Deontai
Williams (which saw Williams get ejected from the game for targeting), Ohio
State freshman wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba ran along the back of the end
zone, was spotted by Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields who then tossed the
ball Smith-Njigba’s way, and the Buckeye rookie went up — and out — to catch
the pass and then somehow managed to get a foot back in bounds for the

The score gave the Buckeyes a 45-17 lead, but that play sure felt like it was
worth more than just the seven points it added to the scoreboard. Highlights of
the play were shown everywhere. It is already one of the catches of the year
this college football season. Joe Montana and Dwight Clark couldn’t have done
it any better.

For a freshman to make that kind of play is even more surprising, unless
you’ve seen Jaxon Smith-Njigba play for almost any amount of time previously.

Reporters were permitted to watch one spring practice back in March before the
world was shut down and in that practice, Smith-Njigba made a number of
catches that could be considered foreshadowing for what everyone saw on

“It’s not really surprising to see that catch is made. I mean, he does it all
the time in practice,” said Fields, who didn’t personally see the catch happen
because he was busy being knocked to the ground. “I think when the whole team
saw it we weren’t surprised by his ability to do that because he’s shown it
multiple times in practice. But Jaxon is a great receiver with great speed,
great hands, and he runs great routes. So he definitely brings another
talented receiver to our already talented receiver corps.”

Smith-Njigba came to Ohio State with incredible accolades. A 5-star recruit,
he caught 104 passes for 2,094 yards receiving and 35 touchdowns as a senior
at Rockwall High School in Rockwall, Texas last year.

Smith-Njigba plays behind fellow Texan Garrett Wilson in the slot. Wilson is
himself a former 5-star receiver as well, so he understands the pressure that
comes with such labels. He has helped Smith-Njigba along the way, but declined
to take credit for teaching him the kind of footwork that was seen in the back
of that end zone last weekend.

“No, I don’t take credit for that. The state of Texas can do that,” he said
with a smile hiding behind his mask. “Jaxon, he is someone that has amazing abilities. One of the best
I’ve ever seen. And he’s gonna be balling for years to come. Jaxon has all

Maybe the most impressive thing about the catch is that it came on the same
drive as the targeting shot he took to his upper body.

“Yeah, he popped up right after he got hit. We talked about it on the sideline
after it happened,” Wilson said. “He was pretty funny. But just to see him go
back out there and make a catch, he said it was something that he wanted to do
after getting hit like that. So I know he was happy to get the touchdown catch
after that.”

Smith-Njigba only caught two passes on the day. One went for no gain and the
other was just a simple 5-yard pass that he caught in the back of the end
zone. It was intended to be a routine play, which is all Ryan Day asks from
his players.

When you recruit the right players, however, sometimes more than the routine
can happen.

“We kind of have some acrobats out there,” Day said this week. “And so yeah,
when you practice that way, it shows up in the games, and so very happy to see
him get his first touchdown. I was pretty excited.”

As Day said, the excitement doesn’t just belong to the player making the
catch. The team also watched it again in the team meeting room and enjoyed it
one more time.

It’s also fun for the head coach who gets to see a freshman make his first big
play as a Buckeye.

“Well, it’s exciting especially when you go through the recruiting process and
you spend so much time with he and his family and the communication and
talking to them about the possibilities of what could happen,” Day said.

“Playing in the Horseshoe, playing in big games, playing in conference games,
and all of a sudden you see something like that in this first game, it was
pretty neat.”