'We had unfinished business': Why star receiver Chris Olave stayed at Ohio State

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Chris Olave walks off the field after Ohio State lost 52-24 to Alabama in the national title game Jan. 11. "I had a terrible feeling in my stomach," Olave said Thursday.

Chris Olave sank in disappointment as he trudged off a suburban Miami field in January following Ohio State’s loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff final.

“I’m a competitor,” Olave said, “so I had a terrible feeling in my stomach. I just didn't want to leave college like that. Growing up, I've always wanted to win a national championship, do everything in college, then go to the NFL.”

Motivated by the defeat and a desire to clear the final hurdle for a more satisfying finish to his college career, the Buckeyes wide receiver opted to remain in school for his senior season, holding off on a draft declaration that had previously been seen as a foregone conclusion.

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Fellow receiver Garrett Wilson admitted being a bit surprised.

“When you’re as good as Chris, you think those dudes are gone,” he said.

But Olave heavily weighed the national championship game loss, plus other factors, in his decision to return, as he discussed for the first time publicly on Thursday with reporters during a Zoom call.

“I came back because I felt like we had unfinished business,” he said. “I believe in the quarterback play. I believe in coach (Ryan) Day. I believe in the program. So I wanted to do another year to try to win a national championship and try to do all those things.”

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Along with the sting from January, he felt he had room for improvement before leaving for the NFL, personal development that could also boost the Buckeyes’ national title ambitions as he forms a dynamic duo with Wilson.

Though Olave led the team in receiving in the previous seasons, including catching a career-high 50 passes in a pandemic-shortened season last fall, he saw a need to become stronger.

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave scores one of his two touchdowns in the College Football Playoff win over Clemson on Jan. 1.

“I could get a lot stronger in the weight room,” Olave said. “Try to play with more strength. That's one of the flaws in my game last year.”

He mentioned his work with wide receivers coach Brian Hartline as something that would leave him further along as a receiving prospect.

“Just another year in the system,” he added, “and I feel like I’ll be good.”

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Olave believes he can become a more well-rounded receiver by the time he prepares for his rookie season in the NFL next year, noting he wants to “try to be NFL-ready Week 1 when I get to the NFL.”

Through three seasons at Ohio State, he has shown to be a skilled route runner and considerable deep threat.

When quarterback Justin Fields threw six touchdowns in a semifinal win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl, Olave snagged two of them, including a 56-yard score late in the third quarter.  

Olave burst past a cornerback and a deep safety to catch the pass from Fields as he crossed the goal line.

His speed has rarely been in question.

But with additional strength for the 6-foot-1, 189-pounder, Olave could also make more catches in traffic or fight off bigger defenders or double coverage.

This offseason is not the first time Olave has been motivated by a disappointing ending in the Playoff.

As a sophomore in 2019, he broke off his route on a potential game-winning drive late in a loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.

It resulted in an interception for Fields. In the aftermath, Olave shouldered much of the blame, and the setback fueled him.

The national championship game loss in January did not involve a similar late-game slip-up. The Buckeyes were routed. The result was not in question in the second half. But Olave felt driven by the defeat all the same.