Jaelen Gill’s hope of carving out a larger role on the Ohio State football team ended in April following a series of conversations with wide receivers coach Brian Hartline.
It left the Westerville South graduate with the realization that it was going to be an uphill climb to earn a starting spot when the Buckeyes resumed practices in preparation for the upcoming season. He was likely to still be buried on the depth chart as a third-year sophomore.
The prospect was unappealing. As someone who had caught only seven passes in two seasons, Gill was eager for more playing time.
After consulting with family members, Gill soon entered the NCAA transfer portal and garnered interest from a variety of programs, including Baylor, Florida and North Carolina.
"We just felt it was the best opportunity to leave," he said.
Boston College was one of the first to get in touch with Gill, and benefited from a close connection.
Jeff Hafley, the Eagles’ first-year coach, spent last season as defensive co-coordinator for the Buckeyes.
Gill felt they had a good relationship. Hafley had been effusive in praising him on the practice field, his defenses tasked with slowing down the athletic pass catcher.
"He would just tell me all the time how much he thought of me," Gill said, "and that he thought I could be a really good player."
It was a major reason why Gill ultimately transferred to Boston College, where he will have a chance to see the field right away after announcing last week that he had received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately.
Speaking with reporters on a conference call, Gill discussed his departure from Ohio State for the first time.
He said it was not an easy decision, even as he eyed more playing time elsewhere. His late grandfather, Eddie Bennett, was a big Ohio State fan, and during one of their last conversations, Gill told him he was committing to the Buckeyes.
Staying so close to home also raised expectations. The crowds that watched him on Friday nights in the suburbs, where he became one of the top recruits in the state in the class of 2018, expected similar stardom in the Horseshoe.
"There is a little pressure being a hometown kid," Gill said. "Whenever I came back, people were asking questions like, ‘Why are you not playing?’ But I kind of block it out, tunnel vision, and stay focused."
Some factors made his transition to college more difficult.
A former running back in high school, Gill was slotted to be an H-back, a feature of offenses overseen by former coach Urban Meyer.
But following Meyer’s retirement in late 2018, paving the way for coach Ryan Day to assume more control, the position no longer had prominent use. Gill adjusted to more of a traditional slot receiver role.
Any chance to show further progress this past spring was limited when a majority of spring practices were canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gill said he "felt ready to go" following winter strength and conditioning workouts and the three spring practices he went through with the Buckeyes.
Then the remainder were canceled, along with the annual spring scrimmage.
"I was really looking forward to that, to be able to go into spring practice and show my worth and value, but unfortunately the COVID situation happened," Gill said. "If we had spring, I’m not really sure where I’d be or what I’d be doing. I probably would still be back at Ohio State, but everything happens for a reason."
Gill left with no hard feelings or any apparent frustration with how his two seasons in Columbus went. He viewed the time as a chance for growth behind future NFL receivers and believes he is ready to show it at Boston College, able to line up at any spot.
"I look at my time at Ohio State definitely as a learning experience," he said. "It's a great program. I got nothing but love and respect for them. I learned a lot from the guys that were in front of me and around me, a lot of the veterans like Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, K.J. Hill.
"All those guys were people playing in front of me, so I sat back, watched, worked as hard as I could and just learned from those guys."