Smith-Njigba seeks to surge into bigger role in sophomore season

Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) catches a pass in the end zone during the Ohio State spring game on April 17. Credit: Mackenzie Shanklin | Photo Editor

Jaxon Smith-Njigba made a statement after his highly anticipated arrival to Columbus with an impressive toe-tap touchdown in the season opener against Nebraska Oct. 24, 2020.

This play highlighted several flashes the then-freshman wide receiver had in 2020. Entering his second season with the team, Smith-Njigba is looking to use his experience to take the next step among a talented and deep wide receivers room. 

“Going out there, it really helped me just to see what it’s like,” Smith-Njigba said. “Didn’t get the atmosphere and a lot of things I want, but just going out there and competing, it helped a lot.” 

In 2020, Smith-Njigba racked up 10 catches for 49 yards to go along with his lone touchdown in the opening game. 

Along with getting his feet wet in his freshman season, wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said the young receiver has carried the momentum into the offseason. 

“He’s done a great job spring wise,” Hartline said. “He knows he might have one little dip in the middle of spring, but he kinda started out hot, had a day maybe where he needed to catch his breath and he’s been on fire since. I think he’s doing a great job.” 

In his first taste of spring practice in 2020, the Rockwall, Texas, native participated in only three practices before COVID-19 halted organized events. 

With his first chance at a full offseason of development coming a year later, Smith-Njigba said he is taking advantage of the opportunity. 

“Even after this spring, just developing and competing every day, especially against our defense,” Smith-Njigba said. “Last spring was hard for us. It was hard to develop. I didn’t get to develop as much because I’m not running routers and catching balls every day like I am this spring. This spring was real crucial and it was big for us, big for me.” 

Smith-Njigba displayed his talents in the annual spring game Saturday with five catches, matching his first-year totals with 50 receiving yards and a touchdown. 

Although Smith-Njigba is primed to make an impact in the passing game, he recognized the importance that he has as a blocker on the edge in the running game. 

“I know I can catch the ball. I know I can run routes. So, if I just add that to my game, that makes me even better, even a more all-around player,” Smith-Njigba said. “I take pride in it and I just try to do the best in whatever they ask me to do.” 

With his increased attention to the blocking game, Hartline called Smith-Njigba the best blocker in the Ohio State wide receivers room. 

Looking toward summer and fall practices, Smith-Njigba pointed to a few aspects of his game that he still wants to improve heading into his sophomore season. 

“Going into the summer, I’m trying to get bigger, faster, stronger,” Smith-Njigba said. “Just ready to go out there in the fall and just make plays.”

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