Receiver catches about anything thrown his way

Bill Rabinowitz
Despite limited playing time in two of three games, Jaxon Smith-Njigba of Rockland, Texas, has 24 catches for 558 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enroll at Ohio State in January. [The Dallas Morning News]

In the first game of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s senior season three weeks ago, he caught 12 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

That is not a misprint. He had 311 receiving yards for Rockwall High School in suburban Dallas. And no, the opponent wasn’t a patsy. Highland Park is ranked 80th nationally by MaxPreps and actually defeated Rockwall 66-59.

But Highland Park had no answer for Smith-Njigba, who will enroll at Ohio State in January as part of an incoming group of elite receivers.

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“I'm definitely amazed by it,” said Smith-Njigba (pronounced En-jig-buh) of his season-opening performance. “I’m thankful about it. But I told my dad and my brother, ‘This is just going to be one game in the season.’ I feel like there'll be another game where I have to come through and just put up some huge numbers. That was just one of those nights.”

He hasn't been shabby in the other two games either despite playing barely a half in each. Smith-Njigba has 24 catches for 558 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

“I think he's the best high school football player in Texas,” Rockwall coach Rodney Webb said. “That's all relative to the position that you play and the team that you're on — I understand that — but I wouldn't trade him for anybody.”

What makes Smith-Njigba special, Webb said, are his route-running and hands.

“With receivers, it's not a question of, are you open the entire route, but are you open when you need to be open?” Webb said. “He's got an uncanny knack for creating space at the right time and bursting into open space when the ball is getting there.”

Smith-Njigba attributes that to his work habits.

“I watch a lot of film,” he said. “I know what I'm doing out there. I just know that I know how to play the game correctly.”

Like current Buckeyes freshman and fellow Texas import Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba is superb at making contested catches and snagging balls that aren’t right on target.

“He's got the most amazing set of hands I've ever seen on a high school receiver,” Webb said. “He catches anything near him. He'll catch it with one hand if he has to.”

Webb is as effusive about Smith-Njigba off the field. He described him as an excellent student who’s a role model in the community.

“What you're going to learn about Jaxon when he gets up there is that he is a very magnetic personality on the field and off the field,” he said. “He's a very kind-hearted kid. He's one that thinks of others before he thinks of himself.

“He's just always smiling, always happy. You never see him brooding or mad.”

Smith-Njigba is ranked as the 62nd overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings. He will be joined by fellow receivers Julian Fleming (No. 3), Gee Scott Jr. (No. 63) and Mookie Cooper (No. 75) in the Buckeyes’ recruiting class.

“It’s going to be fun going to work every day competing with them and competing against them,” Smith-Njigba said. “I'm excited.

Smith-Njigba has seen how explosive the Buckeyes’ passing game has been with Dwayne Haskins Jr. and now Justin Fields and the group of receivers Ohio State regularly produces.

“It’s definitely cool, just watching them from a different perspective the last couple years and seeing what they do,” he said. “It’s just amazing I'm going to be in that offense next year and get to be with those guys on the field in front of 100,000 fans.

“It’s definitely crazy. I'm ready for it. It's going to be awesome, so I’m just really hyped.”


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