Ohio State football: Five Buckeyes to watch this season

There are stars all around at Ohio State but here are five of them who could shine especially brightly this season:

Marvin Harrison Jr.

Harrison wasn’t eligible for the NFL draft but he still made a big impression on the NFL scouts who were there at Ohio State’s Pro Day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Facility in March.

Harrison was on the receiving end of future first-round pick quarterback C.J. Stroud’s throws as he showed off his arm talent for the scouts.

Obviously after the season he had, Harrison was no surprise to any of the assembled talent evaluators.

But one scout was particularly impressed. “Like window shopping at a Lamborghini dealership for the model that doesn’t come out until next year,” one unnamed scout said, according to the Twitter account of ESPN’s Jordan Reid.

Harrison caught 77 passes for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns last season as a sophomore for OSU in his first year as a starting wide receiver.

But maybe just as impressive than just those numbers was his ability to get separation from defenders and twist his body in seemingly impossible ways to make a catch or get a foot down in bounds for a completion.

He was a consensus All-American after being selected first-team All-America by The Associated Press, The Sporting News, The Football Writers of America and The Walter Camp Football Foundation.

He was the first Ohio State receiver to be a consensus All-American since Terry Glenn in 1995.

NFL scouts are not the only ones keeping their eyes focused on Harrison. Opposing defenses will be trying new ways to slow him down this season. It’s a given he will see double teams a lot of the time, if not all the time.

Harrison is not fazed by the possibility of a steady diet of double teams or reduced statistics this season.

“I think if I’m out there and I’m drawing two defenders I’m doing my part in the game. I might not have 100 yards (receiving) or the touchdowns that may be expected of me. But if I’m impacting the game by drawing two defenders and getting other receivers one on ones then I’m doing my part. That’s kind of how I look at it,” he said at the Big Ten Football Media Days.

Mike Hall Jr.

For the first two games last season Hall was a dominant interior presence on Ohio State’s defensive line.

He showed speed and quickness at the snap of the ball that were unusual for a 6-3, 290-pound man. He had two tackles for losses and a sack in the opener against Notre Dame and in the second game against Arkansas State he had three more tackles for losses and another sack.

But during the Arkansas State game he suffered a shoulder injury which limited him the rest of the season.

He missed the third game of the season against Toledo but played in all the other games. He had another huge game against Michigan State when he had 2.5 sacks while being on the field for only seven snaps.

He finished the season with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses but none of those came in the last seven games of OSU’s season. His 4.5 sacks tied Jack Sawyer for the team lead and his 7.5 tackles for losses were the second highest total by a Buckeyes defensive lineman last season.

“It’s a new year, it’s a new me,” Hall said as he looked ahead to this season.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and defensive line coach Larry Johnson expect big things from him if he stays healthy.

“He has tremendous potential. I think the sky is the limit in terms of where he can end up,” Knowles said earlier this summer.

Johnson said, “He can be special. He’s got all the skill sets to be special. He’s just got to stay healthy and go from there. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Johnson also said people sometimes overlook how good Hall is at defending against the run.

Sonny Styles

Styles might be Ohio State’s version of Elly De La Cruz of the Cincinnati Reds — an exceptionally talented player who fans can’t wait to see perform at the highest level.

The sophomore safety got around 75 percent of his playing time last year on special teams. But by the end of the season he had progressed to the point that he was on the field playing defense on 12 snaps in OSU’s College Football Playoff semifinal against Georgia.

If defensive coordinator Jim Knowles sticks to his philosophy of putting the best 11 defenders on the field it’s hard to see a way Styles won’t be one of three starting safeties in the Buckeyes’ defense.

“When you look at the potential best 11 players for the 2023 defense he’s a guy that our staff is going to point at and say, ‘We need to find a way to get him in there,’ ” Knowles said during spring practice.

“I think he’s got all kinds of skills. We’re going to experiment with him in different places and see what’s best for Sonny and our defense. He’s ready to play.”

Styles says he will “go wherever they tell me to go,” and that he will play anywhere. “I’m kind of comfortable at any position,” he said.

Styles is the son of Lorenzo Styles, a former first-team All-Big Ten linebacker at OSU who went on to play six years in the NFL.

Sonny Styles, was 5- star recruit who was ranked the No. 1 safety nationally in the 2023 recruiting class. He reclassified, graduated early and became part of the 2022 OSU recruiting class. His brother, Lorenzo Styles Jr., recently transferred to Ohio State from Notre Dame.

Emeka Egbuka

Not everyone knows that Egbuka, not Marvin Harrison Jr., was the No. 1 rated wide receiver recruit nationally in the 2021 recruiting class.

Together, he and Harrison gave Ohio State one of the top pair of receivers in the country last season. And they should do the same again this season.

Egbuka caught 74 passes for 1,151 yards and had 10 touchdown catches last season. His catches and yardage were both top five all time at OSU. He had 100 or more yards receiving in six games. Harrison achieved that mark seven times. Egbuka caught at least five passes in nine games last season. Harrison did that in 11 games.

Egbuka was originally going to line up as a wideout in 2022 but when Jaxon Smith-Njigba missed most of the season with a leg injury he played the slot receiver position most of the time.

Egbuka said in an interview last season that he and Harrison quickly became friends when they enrolled early at Ohio State and they have dreamed of playing at a high level together. During that interview he also said he thought he and Harrison could become a better pair of receivers than Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase were at LSU.

When he was younger Egbuka also was a standout as a baseball player. He won the national championship of the 7-8 year old division of the MLB Pitch, Hit and Run Contest in 2011.

He considered looking for a school that would allow him to play football and baseball but eventually decided with the amount of time required to play major college football he would not attempt to compete in two sports.

TreVeyon Henderson

Henderson was on this list last year but for a very different reason than this year. Last year he was coming off one of the best seasons ever by an Ohio State freshman running back. This season he is on the comeback trail after injuries ruined his sophomore season.

As a freshman, he rushed for 1,248 yards and 19 touchdowns. He gained 277 yards against Tulsa, which was the third-highest total ever by an OSU running back. His 19 touchdowns broke Maurice Clarett’s OSU freshman record. Last season he was limited to 571 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

He injured his foot in the third game of last season against Toledo and was not healthy the rest of the season. He averaged 4.8 yards a carry after gaining 6.8 yards a carry as a freshman. Finally in December he had surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot, which had limited his ability to make cuts, a big part of his game.

“I’m just excited to be back. I’m just trying to tune up everything and be the best running back I can be,” Henderson said during a preseason interview.

By the end of last season Ohio State was down to two healthy running backs — Chip Trayanum and Dallan Hayden. Evan Pryor missed the entire season because of a preseason injury, Miyan Williams played very little in the last three games and Henderson was injured most of the season.

Now, in a bit of a surprise in the transfer portal era, all five are healthy and have returned to Ohio State.

“You have to compete. When I committed here I knew what I was getting into,” Henderson said.

Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.