Even when K.J. Hill high-stepped into the end zone like a drum major as he scored Ohio State’s winning touchdown at Penn State last week, he knew he was no one-man band on the play.
Austin Mack had thrown the initial block on the wide screen to spring Hill, then Terry McLaurin threw the one that cleared the path down the sideline. It is, after all, what the receivers do at Ohio State, or else.
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As in, “Or else you don’t play,” McLaurin said.
McLaurin, a fifth-year senior, and Hill, a fourth-year junior, are among those who adhered to that demand from coach Urban Meyer from the start of their careers. That includes making oneself a fixture on kick-coverage units and the like. For others, sometimes it takes a while.
“It depends on the individual,” Meyer said this week as Ohio State prepared for a game Saturday against Indiana. “Mike Thomas, it took a while” but then he bought in to become the team’s leading receiver and now one of the top receivers in the NFL. “There’s a rite of passage (involving special-teams play) before you catch a pass.”
Another example was on display Saturday. Junior Binjimen Victor scored the pivotal touchdown in the rally on a 47-yard catch. His time in the receiving rotation rose for one major reason.
“Bin Victor is starting on kickoff return now. He never did that before,” Meyer said. “He had a sense of value, a sense of respect. That whole thing about respect. You’ve got to earn it. You’re going to go block and be on special teams, and then good things happen.”
Evan Spencer is the gold standard for that. Meyer called him the most valuable player on the 2014 national championship team, even though he caught just 15 passes in the 15 games. His value came in the blocks he threw — the one that wiped out two Alabama players on Ezekiel Elliott’s 85-yard touchdown run in the College Football Playoff semifinal was for the ages — and his zealous approach to special-teams play or anything else he was asked to do, like throwing a TD pass to Thomas in the Bama game.
McLaurin, a freshman being redshirted on that team, paid attention.
“I vividly remember Evan,” McLaurin said. “He didn’t get all the love that he necessarily deserved, but when it was time for somebody to make a play, a block, or a catch, or even a fumble recovery — the onside kick against Alabama, he made (the catch). And I pride myself on being that kind of guy, whether it’s a catch or a block or special teams. I want to be that guy where coach Meyer and my teammates trust me to make the play.”
Flip on the video of games just this season and it’s a virtual how-to when it comes to the receivers blocking on all manner of plays.
“I think we’re all good at it,” Hill said.
But he added that McLaurin is the best, and there’s a reason why.
“Every time he blocks a guy, he either puts them on their butt or knocks them out,” Hill said.