Welcome to a new series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. Spring practice is officially underway, and this year’s crop of Buckeyes is already hard at work preparing for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, now is a great time to introduce you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus will highlight one of the newest Buckeyes, and will hopefully provide a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
Today’s freshman: Emeka Egbuka.
Coming all the way over from the West Coast, Emeka Egbuka makes the move to Columbus as the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver and the No. 9 player in the 2021 class overall. One of three top-100 wideouts for Ohio State in this cycle, Egbuka marks the second-straight year that position coach and recruiting wizard Brian Hartline has managed to haul in the top wide receiver in the country, previously landing Julian Fleming out of Pennsylvania in the 2020 class.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound dynamic pass-catcher collected over 35 offers during the recruiting process, earning looks from almost all of the premier programs including Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and many more. Egbuka dropped his top four schools back in May of 2020, with Ohio State obviously making the cut alongside Clemson, Oklahoma and the in-state Washington Huskies. The Buckeyes were thought to always be in the lead for his services, with Egbuka’s decision seemingly coming down to them and the Sooners. He committed to Ohio State on Dec. 11, making things official less than a week later during the Early Signing Period.
Playing his high school ball at Steilacoom, Egbuka put up some insane numbers despite not getting to play his senior season after Washington moved its high school football season to the fall as a result of COVID-19. Racking up over 800 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman, Egbuka really exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. He would go on to compile over 1,400 receiving yards and 22-plus TDs each of the next two campaigns for the Sentinels, helping lead Steilacoom to the 2A state championship game — where he would set the title game record with 18 receptions for 163 yards and three TDs.
In addition to his prowess as a wide receiver, Egbuka got it done all over the field at Steilacoom. In his standout year in 2019, he also returned three punts for touchdowns and rushed for four TDs, finishing the season with over 2,200 all-purpose yards. He was also one of the team’s best defenders, totaling 28 tackles and eight interceptions as a defensive back — two of which he returned for scores. All of that was more than good enough to earn Egbuka the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington.
Just check out the highlights from his action-packed junior campaign and it’s pretty easy to see why he was the nation’s top-rated wideout:
Egbuka is the second receiver that Hartline has plucked out of Washington recently, with Gee Scott Jr. coming over from Sammamish in 2020. Scott was perhaps an important player in his recruitment, as the two had played against each other a bunch on the 7v7 circuit. Scott helped Egbuka get a feel for what life is like at Ohio State, and the two became good friends through the process. The Buckeyes will be hoping the West Coast duo can help them still land J.T. Tuimoloau in the 2021 class, as Tuimoloau attends Scott’s former high school and has a relationship with Egbuka as well.
As you could imagine, a player of Egbuka’s caliber comes with some very high praise from the talent evaluators. Drawing comparisons to Pittsburgh Steelers star receiver Juju Smith-Schuster and already getting some first round NFL Draft buzz, here is what 247Sports national recruiting editor Brandon Huffman had to say about Egbuka’s outlook:
“Elite body control to go with optimal size and strength, with good top end speed and separation. Physical receiver, difficult to press but also take advantage of any cushions given. Can adjust to each and every throw, take short passes the distance while also getting behind the secondary on deep routes. Strong hands, wide catch radius, will bring anything in range down. Consistently draws double coverage and bracket coverage and routinely gets open. Able to get consistent YAC. Also skilled punt and kick returner. Can play safety, with tremendous range and ball skills. Projects as immediate Power 5 starter and future first-round NFL draft pick.”
Everyone knows that Ohio State’s wide receiver room is absolutely loaded, and so it is hard to see even a player as skilled as Egbuka cracking the starting lineup from day one. The Buckeyes will return each of their top two pass-catchers from a year ago in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, while guys like Jameson Williams, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and the aforementioned Fleming will compete to be the team’s No. 3 receiver behind the two superstars. However, don't count Egbuka out entirely, as he comes to Columbus with the perfect mentality to be the school’s next great wideout.
“The recognition and you know, that flashy stuff like social media, that’s not what he’s about,” his high school coach Colby Davies told Lettermen Row back around the time of Egbuka’s commitment. “He’s about about playing this game and his work ethic and commitment to being the best friend and teammate and son he can be. He’s definitely different. What other kid chooses to go play in maybe the most crowded and talented wide receiver room in the country?”
Egbuka is a gifted player, and someone who could certainly work his way into the rotation in year one even despite all the talent ahead of him. There is a ton of competition to be had for snaps in that position group, not only among the guys expected to start but also among his own freshman class, which contains another pair of highly-touted receivers. However, Egbuka comes to Ohio State with similar hype and expectations to that of Garrett Wilson, and if he can follow a similar career path to the future first-round NFL Draft pick, both he and the Buckeyes will be in fantastic shape moving forward.