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Buckeye Heroes: Chris Olave’s legacy serves as a reminder that stars don’t define the recruit

Whether it was in No. 17 or No. 2, Chris Olave defined an offensive generation at Ohio State.

Michigan State v Ohio State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about Ohio State heroes. Whether they are the biggest names in Buckeye athletic history, or underappreciated icons; perhaps even players who made major impacts off the field. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Buckeye Heroes” articles here.

In the modern era of college football, recruiting rankings hold a highly regarded place in the minds of fans. The college football recruiting world is built on a rating system: five-stars are the best of the best, and if you have them your team will win a lot of games. In a world where stars matter – sometimes too much – there are players who rise above any preordained rankings.

Those players are the ones who come to a place like Ohio State. They aren’t talked about by fans, but they quietly grind in the shadows of the Woody Hayes Athletic center vying their time. The thing about recruiting rankings — they don’t matter once the player is inside the building. Everybody can play football at programs like Ohio State, that is why it is so special when one of the more unheralded players in any class steps up.

In my time at Ohio State (2017-2019), there was one player who showed up around the same time. That player was 247sports Composite 399th ranked player, Chris Olave from Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, Calif. Coming into a room with players like Johnnie Dixon, Terry McLaurin, Austin Mack, Parris Campbell, and K.J. Hill, there were quite a few players who made huge plays for the Buckeyes. The floor was set incredibly high with that group, but in the following classes until Olave came to school, there were some misses for a multitude of reasons.

Trevon Grimes was the highest ranked receiver the Buckeyes landed, but he transferred after one year in the program. Other elite recruit Kamryn Babb had an injury-riddled career, and the others in those classes proceeding the 2018 group fell a bit short in regards to the level of recruit the Buckeyes were obtaining. That made the importance of a fateful day in San Diego County that much more important.

Olave is the reason the Ohio State receiver room began to build the reputation it did, and all the five-stars the Buckeyes have can be traced back to a three-star recruit from California.

How he got to Ohio State

The main history here is pretty straight forward. Ohio State still had some room in their recruiting class, and the Buckeyes were still searching for a quarterback who could fit into Ryan Day’s system as Ohio State began their offensive evolution. This took Ryan Day to Mission Hills High to recruit their quarterback, Jack Tuttle — the No. 7 Pro Style quarterback in the country for the 2018 class.

At the time of his recruitment, Mission Hills coach Chris Hauser was trying to sell Olave to programs after missing his junior year in high school. Without any PAC-12 offers from California schools, there was no reason Ohio State would have had their eyes on a player who was ineligible and had no junior tape. The only reason Olave was recruited by Ohio State is because he caught the eye of the Buckeye staff when they were watching someone else.

Olave only had offers from the Boston College, Washington State, and Boise State before Ohio State made their offer. Michigan followed next and then Tennessee, after that he finally received two offers from local schools in UCLA and USC. The lateness of the California offers opened up the door for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes sent Ryan Day to meet with him twice to lock up the commitment according to 247Sports.

All this for a three-star recruit, but the few times rankings are wrong, it is usually due to outstanding circumstances. For the Buckeyes, this was a huge win, and Olave went on to set the tone for the receiver room immediately.

The illustrious career of the California kid

Olave came to Ohio State under the radar, but immediately began to make a name for himself as a player who was standing out in Fall Camp. Olave was the sixth player to lose his black stripe on campus, he was also the lowest-ranked recruit and second offensive player to shed the stripe in the 2018 class. After that came the history we were all familiar with, as a legend was born.

To begin the 2018 season, Olave found the field sparingly mostly in mop up duty, but in all the pressers he was routinely mentioned as the player on offense from the 2018 class standing out. This all culminated into one of the best ends to a freshman season of all time. Olave recorded two catches against Michigan for 48 yards and two touchdowns. Those two touchdowns opened the scoring for the Buckeyes in a 62-39 route over the Wolverines. He also blocked a punt that led to another score, highlighting his versatility.

He followed up that iconic debut performance with five catches and a touchdown in the Big Ten Championship game against Northwestern. The reputations for a big game player was born, and this was the first step in Olave’s legend — his first step in becoming a Buckeye hero. This was continued the following year when the kid from California truly broke out.

Olave entered his sophomore year with high expectations; not the regular expectations you’d expect from a three-star recruit. After his coming out party against that Team Up North and in the Big Ten Championship game, Olave was expected to lead the way in the explosive aspect of the offense.

That is exactly what he did, averaging 17.5 yards per catch on 48 catches, Olave led the Buckeyes in yards with 840 and receiving touchdowns with 12. Olave had the same success in big moments, and was leading the way for the Buckeyes again as they approached the college football playoff. Despite scoring in 10 out of 14 games, Olave’s sophomore year will be remembered for him turning the wrong way against Clemson.

Olave did not let this hold him back, and in a battle of resiliency through the COVID-19 pandemic, the Californian showed why he transcended his recruiting ranking. As an unquestioned leader on the offensive side of the ball, Olave scored in five out of seven games, going for over 100 yards in five games as well. He exalted his revenge against Clemson, scoring two touchdowns and the dagger to put the Tigers to bed.

This was not his end though, and this is where he went from a hero to an all-time legend in the eyes of the Buckeye faithful. Looking at his career, there was not a smoother or more consistent wide receiver that comes to mind in recent memory.

Why he is a Buckeye hero like no other

When it comes to recruiting rankings, players meet expectations to those numbers at quite a high clip. In those rare instances where a player completely transcends his initial ranking, it winds up in a place of folklore among fans. This is exactly how Chris Olave’s career played out.

From an unlikely beginning at Ohio State given his bizarre recruiting path to Columbus, came an unlikely program centerpiece. From the catches against Michigan to start his career, the dagger against Clemson, and many other moments sprinkled in between, a legend was truly born.

What makes him a true Buckeye Hero — and this is not something to hold all players to — he chose to come back for his senior season in hopes of winning a national championship. Foregoing the draft was a risky decision. He was a projected first round pick, but that projection was not a guarantee. So he opted to return, he provided a safety net for C.J. Stroud in year one and set the tone for the rest of the receivers in the room young and old.

That quiet leadership brought out the best in Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and set the standard for the young guys following him. If not for the level and development of Olave, there might not be a Marvin Harrison Jr., there might not be Emeka Egbuka, and there might not be the next recruits in line trying to make their name at Ohio State.

Olave brought a quiet swagger to Ohio State. His legacy lives on through the no nonsense approach to approving every day. He truly embodied every aspect of what it took to become an all-time great receiver at Ohio State. This resulted in him getting drafted in the first round, and the Buckeyes setting the standard for having the best damn receivers in the land.

Of all the Buckeye heroes, Olave may be a little unheralded due to the recency of his career, but as his record setting legacy lives on, he outshined his recruiting ranking. When it was all said and done at Ohio State, the kid from San Marcos, Calif. truly embodied what it meant to be a Buckeye.