Ohio State wide receiver Julian Fleming (4) tries to get away from Oregon’s Dontae Manning in a game last season. Fleming hopes this season he can show the talent that made him the No. 1 receiver recruit in the country in 2020.

AP Photo

Fleming

COLUMBUS — While second-year wide receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka have already created enough excitement to be seen as worthy successors to Ohio State’s two NFL first-round draft choices, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, it’s been different for Julian Fleming.

Curiosity has been the operative word for Fleming, a third-year wide receiver, who was a 5-star recruit ranked No. 1 nationally at his position when he joined OSU’s 2020 recruiting class.

There is, of course, curiosity if he will live up to that ranking. And curiosity if he deserved it. And curiosity if he can stay healthy.

Fleming has caught 19 passes and has one touchdown catch in his first two seasons at OSU. He played his freshman season with a brace on his shoulder and had surgery on the shoulder after the season. He missed four games with a hamstring injury last season and encountered lesser issues during Rose Bowl practice in December and spring practice in April.

He thinks this year will be different. And not just on the physical side of football.

“I felt like it was time to grow up and start taking things much more seriously. It was definitely a process that took a little bit of time but now I feel like I’m really locked in, really committed to Ohio State football,” he said.

“I’ve had a couple bumps and bruises along the way, things that have held me back. But honestly there was just a bunch of outside stuff that held me back and affected me in different ways. It was good to cut out the outside noise and all the outside drama that takes place in college football and really just be locked in here (the Woody Hayes Athletic Center).

“I’ve taken every measure to try to continue to better myself in every possible way. I’m hoping this year will be different for me and I’m excited for it. I like to cut out expectations. I really dwelled on expectations for the past two years. Sometimes your work ethic doesn’t meet your expectations. Right now I feel like my work ethic is matching my expectations. That’s why I’m really excited,” he said.

Fleming seemed to indicate college football was a little tougher than he expected.

“Everybody’s path is different. I came from a smaller school and I wasn’t as well developed. My route running really wasn’t up to par, wasn’t that crisp. But now I feel like I look like a whole different player in that aspect of football,” he said.

“Right after the season I had to focus on me and a lot of the stuff I had been through and realize I have to continue to build on that and not dwell on it. I just had to constantly build and build and build and now I feel like I’m starting to build into that football player I am really, really trying to become.”

Ohio State had arguably the best group of wide receivers in college football last season with Jaxon Smith-Njigba (95 catches, 1,606 yards), Wilson (70 catches, 1,058 yards) and Olave (65 catches, 936 yards). And it’s possible it could have the top pass catching group in the country again this season.

Smith-Njigba will return for a third season before following Wilson and Olave into the NFL next spring. Harrison, Egbuka and Fleming are regarded as the top candidates to fill the two open wide receiver spots, but wide receivers coach Brian Hartline says there are six receivers he thinks are ready to play heading into next Saturday’s opening game against Notre Dame at Ohio Stadium.

His top six are Smith-Njigba, Fleming, Harrison, Egbuka, Xavier Johnson and Jayden Ballard.

“We have a group of guys who are ready to step in. I have six guys who are really ready to go out on the field and play who can do everything I ask. We have a (receivers) room that is fully ready, that maximized their freshman and sophomore year and they’re ready to do really good things things in their second or third year,” he said.

“They’re fast and they move. They’ve got great hands. Their route running is pretty darn elite. There are a lot of things they can do. It’s probably a pretty difficult match-up with their combination of size and speed.”

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.