Before last year's Michigan game, receiver Chris Olave was a promising freshman who'd shown flashes of tantalizing ability.

During the game, Olave became a star.

Olave scored Ohio State's first two touchdowns on passes from Dwayne Haskins Jr. and blocked a punt that Sevyn Banks returned for a pivotal third-quarter touchdown in a 62-39 victory.

“I believe it changed my career, having that game,” Olave said Tuesday as the Buckeyes prepared for Saturday's game in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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It's hard to argue. Olave had already gained notice for his smooth route running, speed and hands. But to rise to the moment in a huge game confirmed that he had everything necessary to become a special player.

“It was a little spark of confidence to myself, and I believe it brought me closer to my teammates, them knowing that I can do that,” Olave said.

Olave was an under-the-radar recruit after having to sit out as a high school junior because of a transfer issue. Coach Ryan Day stumbled onto him during recruiting in San Marcos, California, when he was scouting Olave's Mission Hills High School teammate Jack Tuttle, who's now at Indiana.

Olave didn't grasp the enormousness of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry until he enrolled.

“It was the first day I stepped on campus,” he said. “I didn't really know how (big) the rivalry was when I first got here because I'm from the West Coast. But when I first got here, everybody was talking about it.”

In their workout that day, Olave said, players had to do “Team Up North Abs” in which their reps equal the days left until the Michigan game.

Heading into last year's game, he didn't sense that he was on the verge of something special. The Buckeyes had a veteran receiving corps. The odds of a true freshman having a monster game seemed steep.

“At the time, I didn't really know how big it was,” Olave said. “I was just kind of playing football. Especially after the game, that's when it hit me. My family was there for the first time, and they all had smiles on their face. My teammates and my coaches and Buckeye Nation were astonished by the performance.”

Day was among those surprised.

“I don't think anybody really knew up until that game what he was capable of,” Day said. “Then what you've seen afterward is what he is capable of.

“Obviously, to play in a game like that and to become a legend in the history of The Game as a freshman — to block a punt, have two touchdowns — that's just unbelievable. Look what he's done from there.”

Olave followed that game with five catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern in the Big Ten title game. This year, he has 39 catches for 637 yards and 10 touchdowns. Last week against Penn State, he caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in tight coverage for the score that gave Ohio State a much-needed cushion in a 28-17 victory.

Now comes Michigan again.

“That's why I came to Ohio State, to play in these types of games,” Olave said. “I wanted to play against the best, so when we get an opportunity to play the big game, I believe I've got to bring out my best.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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