Their nickname for their connection last year was 7-11. As in always open, like the convenience store.
For the first half of the 2018 season, it fit well. Dwayne Haskins Jr. wore No. 7, on his way to the most prolific passing season in Ohio State football history. Number 11, Austin Mack, his roommate, was one of his favorite targets.
But Mack was lost for the season during the nightmarish loss at Purdue when he suffered a broken bone in his left foot. After surgery to insert a permanent screw, Mack hoped to return for the Rose Bowl. But it wasn’t to be.
“There was a lot going through my head,” Mack said after a recent practice. “Obviously, I knew my quarterback was probably going to leave (for the NFL). When it’s taken from you (because of) injury, you’re stuck in your apartment by yourself bored all the time. It sucks. But mentally, you have to be strong and fight through it. I had a great support system to help me.”
Mack said he is fully healthy now, even though his foot still gets sore at times.
“I’m mentally hungry,” he said. “Physically, I’m a lot stronger. I was in the weight room with (strength coach) Mick (Marotti) constantly. I’m physically ready and mentally ready to get after it.”
Mack is now a senior. With the loss of captains Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, Mack and fellow seniors K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and C.J. Saunders are determined to maintain the standard set for their unit.
“With three fifth-year guys leaving, it’s up to us to be the voices, to be the leaders and to be the energy of the offense,” Mack said.
Mack has been moved this spring to the Z position (flanker) as the Buckeyes break in a new starting quarterback — Justin Fields or Matthew Baldwin. Mack and Victor shared the X spot (split end) last year.
“He’s able to make that transition because in the end I need the best three guys on the field at all times,” receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “To have Ben and Austin in the same position, that doesn’t help anybody.”
OSU coach Ryan Day said that Mack got off to a slow start this spring but has raised his game in recent practices.
“Sometimes he’ll feel a little bit with that foot, so we’ve got him on volume control,” Day said. “But overall it’s healed pretty well, and he’s looking to show leadership.”
Mack impressed his teammates and coaches as a freshman with his maturity and ability. If he hadn’t gotten hurt last season, he would have considered joining Haskins and declaring for the NFL draft.
“(I) might have, but I’m here and I’m ready for another year of Buckeye football,” he said.
Mack has had a solid career and has made some huge plays. His catch in traffic of Haskins’ pass against Michigan in 2017 in the then-backup quarterback’s first meaningful action was among the most important plays of that season.
But Mack’s career numbers — 52 catches for 689 yards and three touchdowns — are surprisingly modest. His goal this season is simple.
“Just be hungry and make the impact I should have the last couple years,” Mack said. “Obviously, the injury was a disappointment, but now it’s time to make a difference and be the player I should have been.”