Jaxon Smith-Njigba ready for role as top receiver for Ohio State

Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jaxon Smith-Njigba was one of the Ohio State receivers who weren’t getting a lot of attention at this time last year. All the national buzz was about NFL prospects Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson.

Smith-Njigba, the starting slot receiver for the Buckeyes as a sophomore last year, eventually stepped out of the shadow of the more established receivers to pace the Buckeyes with 95 catches and 1,606 yards.

With Olave and Wilson sitting out the Rose Bowl and looking ahead to the NFL draft, Smith-Njigba became the game’s offensive MVP, catching 15 passes for a postseason-record 347 receiving yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State’s 48-45 shootout win over Utah.

Smith-Njigba entered spring practice 2022 as the undisputed No. 1 wideout, the guy who will be getting the preseason attention this time.

The annual Scarlet and Gray game will be less about him and more about Ohio State’s other receivers auditioning to be his costars in the Buckeyes’ high-flying offense.

Young receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. – who caught three touchdown passes of his own in the Rose Bowl – Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming and freshman Kyion Grayes will get a chance to make their cases Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

“It’s just a new wave now, a group of receivers, of course, and I’m excited,” Smith-Njigba said. “It’s just next man up, honestly.”

Coach Ryan Day said Smith-Njigba will be lining up all over the field in 2022, so other receivers will have to be versatile, too.

“We’re going to have to move Jaxon around,” Day said. “That’s just how it’s going to have to go. Even last year in the bowl game he played outside a little bit, caught the big touchdown pass in a two tight end set. He’s a quick learner.

“The more versatile those guys are and we can move them around, the better we’re going to be, so I don’t think there’s one guy that’s just learning one position,” Day said. “I think they’re all learning multiple positions right now, which is really the way it should be done.”

What Smith-Njigba is looking forward to most is being the featured wideout in an offense led by quarterback C.J. Stroud, who as a freshman last season threw for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns while completing 72% of his passes.

“I’m definitely excited to get on the outside and get some one-on-one opportunities, hopefully, with some corners,” he said. “I feel like that’s a piece of my game that I’m ready to show, also, this year. They’ve definitely given me more freedom, I feel like.”

He and the Buckeyes are hoping the Rose Bowl star turn is a preview of things to come. And he knows the No. 1 receiver role comes with the responsibility of setting an example.

“That’s my challenge to me is how can I step up even more, be a leader to these young guys and see if we can make a run at the natty this year,” he said.

His fellow receivers see the commitment.

“He’s put so much pressure on himself,” Harrison said. “He’s motivated more than anybody here probably.”


Diante Griffin, the grandson of Ohio State legend Archie Griffin, has committed to Ohio State as a preferred walk-on. Running back Archie Griffin is the only player to win the Heisman Trophy in consecutive years, in 1974 and ’75. Diante’s father, Andre, played running back for Ohio State from 1998-2001. The younger Griffin is a defensive back from Lima (Ohio) Senior High School.

NOTES: Defensive backs Bryson Shaw and Lejond Cavazos plan to transfer. Shaw started 12 games at safety last season. Cavazos was limited by injuries during his two seasons in Columbus. … Brian Hartline got a raise to $950,000 after being promoted from receivers coach to passing game coordinator. His base salary was $600,000 last season. Tony Alford will make $750,000 after being promoted from running backs coach to running game coordinator. That’s up from $618,000.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.