COLUMBUS, Ohio — The decisions were all personal and individual for the Ohio State wide receivers, so for at least a couple of days they went their separate ways.
But it was the power of the group that seemingly made up all of their minds even when they were apart, and by now it should really come as no surprise that Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Terry McLaurin all arrived at the same conclusion.
The work for those veterans with Zone 6 apparently just wasn’t done. The bond between them was too strong to leave behind if they still had another year to strengthen it. Perhaps even more important, there was still plenty for all of them to accomplish both individually and as a team — and take a guess which of those areas mattered most to a group that walked onto the field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and insisted on being interviewed as a three-person group.
“Sometimes it’s bigger than the money,” Dixon said. “Passing up a brotherhood like this would be crazy.
“I mean, there are goals we still want to reach this year, and having those two guys with me was definitely a big factor. It was kind of an individual thing, but we all talked about it together. The biggest thing is we want to win a national title, and we want to be a big part of that.”
The expectations for the Buckeyes only got greater with the Zone 6 unit somewhat unexpectedly staying intact with every draft-eligible player putting off the NFL for a year, with K.J. Hill included in that group along with that trio of veteran leaders.
And even with a new quarterback taking over, there is already offseason buzz that Ohio State could be even more dangerous offensively next season with all those wide receivers potentially easing the transition for the post-J.T. Barrett era. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that Mike Weber also decided to return to partner with J.K. Dobbins at tailback and a solid group of linemen will be back, but it’s the wideouts who are the most intriguing, given how dramatically that unit appeared to improve last season.
That rise could have given Campbell a reason to move on, since his breathtaking speed was put on full display when he was healthy as he averaged more than 14 yards per touch as a rusher and receiver. McLaurin could have considered his work of changing the culture as done after helping establish the kind of relentless work ethic on the practice field needed to make an impact, complementing that with 6 touchdowns. And after finally getting to enjoy a full season relatively healthy, Dixon hardly could have been blamed for taking his 8 touchdowns from last season and seeking a paycheck for the next one.
But all of them saw more room for improvement. And none were ready to leave without achieving that and competing for a national title after the stinging disappointment of the College Football Playoff snub in December.
“I feel like we took a big step in that last year,” McLaurin said. “But at the same time, we just feel like there is more to be done. There are more plays to be made. We’re not satisfied with where we took it yet. We feel like as part of coming back, we just want to leave the room better than when we came in. I’m not saying it was a bad room. We just want to keep enhancing it every year.
“Everybody comes back that had a key part in the offense developing last year, so I feel like it’s just taking that next step. Just getting better as a unit, and then propelling the offense to take the necessary steps to get where we want to get next year.”
The next quarterback will play a crucial role in that, and with Dwayne Haskins as the favorite heading into spring practice, there will be incredible pressure on him to deliver for Ohio State as it defends the Big Ten title and tries to get back to the College Football Playoff.
But he shouldn’t have to worry about a lack of weapons at his disposal, and Zone 6 wants to take some of that stress off his shoulders. After spending all of last season fielding questions about whether their struggles had brought down the offense and using that as motivational fuel, now the wide receivers get to show whether they can handle success without slowing down the growth curve.
“It’s crazy,” Campbell said. “I didn’t think we would all be back, but it’s definitely exciting. … Definitely we all feel like we left something on the field last year, and it was obvious. You could see it. But I think the leadership around our room is A1A, top of the list, but I think we have to capitalize on every opportunity we get this upcoming season and we’ll be fine.
“The ultimate goal is to win a national title, and I wouldn’t choose anybody else to go do it with.”
With McLaurin standing on his left and Dixon on his right, both still wearing scarlet and gray, the feeling was mutual.