Oller: Will Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. live up to mountain-high hype?

The Columbus Dispatch
We have been here before, when an Ohio State football player enters his second, third or final season looking to improve on what already has been accomplished.
Marvin Harrison Jr. arrived in Columbus as a highly-touted recruit out of Philadelphia, the son of NFL great Marvin Harrison, and proceeded to not only meet, but exceed expectations.
Now entering his third, and likely final season with the Buckeyes, the 20-year-old wunderkind wide receiver faces one of the biggest challenges for athletes who already have done it all.
Do it all again. Only better.
Marvin Harrison Jr. had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and is projected to be a high NFL draft pick in 2024.
It is a big ask of Harrison Jr., based on his sterling 2022 statistics (77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns) and because he enters fall without a truly-tested quarterback.
Last season, Harrison Jr. benefited from having Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud throwing to him. Stroud is gone, selected second overall by Houston in the NFL draft. Stroud’s replacement likely will be Kyle McCord, who was Harrison's high school quarterback at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philly. McCord has completed 41 of 58 passes in two seasons. The other QB option is sophomore Devin Brown, who has never attempted a pass in a college game.
Regardless of which quarterback coach Ryan Day picks to start, neither is likely to match Stroud’s pinpoint accuracy, which in fairness to Harrison should factor into the expectation equation ... but probably won’t, because that’s not how sports work. Athletes are expected to excel, regardless of circumstances. After all, Archie Griffin followed a sensational freshman season with an even better sophomore year, then won back-to-back Heismans in 1974-75 despite no longer having John Hicks plowing the field in front of him.
Marvin Harrison Jr. had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and is projected to be a high NFL draft pick in 2024.
Injury is the only escape clause. Jaxon Smith-Njigba entered last season as hyped nationally as Harrison Jr. is being gushed over this season, but expectations were put on hold after the Buckeyes receiver injured a hamstring against Notre Dame in the opening game. He played only one more game, finishing the season with five catches one year removed from having grabbed a school-record 95.
Similarly, Keith Byars was coming off a runner-up Heisman finish in 1984 when he broke a foot during fall practice in 1985 and limped to 215 yards on 55 carries.
Injuries let Smith-Njigba and Byars off the hook, so to speak, but former OSU tailback Pepe Pearson was not so “fortunate.” After rushing for 1,484 yards as a junior in 1986, Pearson slid back to 864 as a senior.
Marvin Harrison Jr. had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and is projected to be a high NFL draft pick in 2024.
What happened?
“People who don't know the game look at the numbers and only see a down year,” Pearson said Thursday. “But the year before I had Orlando Pace and two other linemen (Juan Porter and LeShun Daniels) who were key to me getting over 1,400 yards. They left (after 1996) and I had a young line going into my senior year that most seniors don’t have.”
By contrast, Ohio State receiver Michael Jenkins backed up his first season as a starter (41 catches for 836 yards in 11 games) with an outstanding second year (61 for 1,076 in 14 games). But his numbers slipped as a junior (55 for 834 in 13 games), despite the return of quarterback Craig Krenzel.
Explanation? Defenses, after two seasons of getting burned, adjusted coverages to better control Jenkins, who warns that Harrison should expect the same this season.
“The coaching will have to get creative with getting him the ball. He will always be double covered,” Jenkins said. “But his dad was a model of consistency for years, and is very involved in Jr.’s life. I’m sure he won’t take a step back … but even if the numbers aren’t quite the same, Jr. seems to be well-grounded and able to handle the pressure and attention.”
Marvin Harrison Jr. is expected to receive extra attention from opposing defenses this season.
I would not expect Harrison’s numbers to improve in 2023. He is a contortionist, bending his body to catch off-target passes, which will help when relying on a less-accurate quarterback. But Jenkins is correct that he also will be double-teamed more often, and with an inexperienced offensive line, look for the passing game to rely more on quick-hitters to slot receivers and tight ends.
Where does that leave Harrison?
After rushing for 1,484 yards as a junior in 1986, Pepe Pearson gained 864 as a senior.
“As you mature and get older, you make sure other stuff improves,” said Pearson, who between his junior and senior seasons worked on becoming a better teammate. “Maybe I’m not as good of a leader my junior year, but my senior year I’m more vocal in different situations within the game.”
Pearson is confident Harrison will be a better player this season, even if his improvement goes unnoticed by the untrained eye. As for folding under pressure? Forget it.
After catching 61 passes for 1,076 yards in 14 games as a sophomore, Michael Jenkins had 55 for 834 in 13 games the following year.
“Guys who are elite athletes like Marvin, what they do … to overcome anything like pressure is put the work in extra hard the following year,” Pearson said. “You work at your craft, fine-tuning the fundamentals of your position. That stuff takes away any added pressure.”
Finally, not that the best athletes need an extra dose of confidence – most already are supremely sure of their abilities – but there is great security in knowing if you did it once, it can be done again, whether hitting a crisp 5-iron 175 yards to the pin, striking out the .350 hitter or making defensive backs look like overserved patrons stumbling out of a bar.
Harrison Jr. has done it much more often than once. He will be exceptional, even if somehow the final numbers suggest otherwise.

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