Getting Fleming, Smith-Njigba back reinforces OSU receivers

Published 1:29 am Thursday, September 22, 2022

By Jim Naveau


COLUMBUS – After Ohio State’s 77-21 win over Toledo last Saturday night, Emeka Egbuka predicted the future for his fellow wide receiver Julian Fleming, which until now has been a risky proposition.

“He’s going to continue to build and excel and thrive,” Egbuka said after Fleming caught a pair of touchdown passes in his first action of the season and only the thirteenth game he has played out of a possible 24 since arriving at OSU.

Egbuka has confidence in his often-injured teammate because he has looked into his eyes. And because he observed how Fleming responded to numerous setbacks.

“There are certain guys who get injuries and you can see the look in their eyes that they’ve been defeated.  Julian is the complete opposite. When he got the (latest) injury he was in the training room 24/7, getting right, working with the trainers day after day,” Egbuka said.

“The way he just stepped up after battling injury after injury, adversity after adversity and still coming back stronger and stronger, it was just time he stepped into the spotlight and had a big moment.”

Fleming played his freshman season in 2020 with a damaged shoulder, which dated back to his high school days, and had surgery after his first year at OSU. He had hamstring issues last year. A shoulder popped out during a preseason scrimmage this season.

Then a physical problem he and Ohio State coach Ryan Day described as “a tweak” kept him out of the Buckeyes’ first two games this season.

“It ripped me apart at first,” Fleming said about his most recent trip to rehab. “It kind of happened out of nowhere. It was unexpected. There was nothing I could really do to prevent it. From that time until now it’s just been a lot of rehab and taking care of my body the best I can.

“Just talking to some of my teammates who have been through so many things and have been able to come back, it kind of kept me in a positive head,” he said.

Egbuka said, “I’ve been waiting for him to see the field. It was only a matter of time until he had a game like this and exploded. I’m excited about what’s to come for him.”

Fleming’s two touchdown catches – on passes of 11 yards and 5 yards from C.J. Stroud – might have overshadowed the return of leading receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who caught two passes for 33 yards against Toledo.

With Fleming and Smith-Njigba missing games and working their way back to 100 percent healthy, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Egbuka have dominated OSU’s receiving statistics. Harrison has five touchdown catches in the last two games and Egbuka leads the team with 20 catches.

If No. 3 Ohio State gets all four of its top receivers playing at a high level, maybe Saturday night against Wisconsin, or sometime soon, what would it be like?

“I would be biting my nails if I were a D-coordinator,” Egbuka said.