COLUMBUS, Ohio — Cincinnati Summit Country Day 3-star wide receiver Xavier Johnson knew he wanted to play for Ohio State — even if that meant paying his own way.
Unlike most walk-ons, though, Johnson didn’t lack for other options. His announcement on Jan. 27 that he’d accepted a preferred walk-on spot at Ohio State meant he chose the Buckeyes over a full ride at a number of different schools, including Mid-American Conference programs Ball State, Kent State, Miami, Ohio, Bowling Green and Akron, as well as FCS power North Dakota State.
As his recruitment was beginning to wind down, Ohio State came through with the preferred walk-on offer on Jan. 12. Johnson — a lifelong Buckeyes fan — visited on Jan. 17 and loved it, but at his family’s insistence, he still took a previously planned visit to North Dakota State on Jan. 19. The Bison joined his offer list during that trip, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to sway him from the chance to play for the Buckeyes.
“I wanted to take a chance on myself,” Johnson said. “I’m a really competitive guy. I think I can rise to the level of competition. I love to work hard, so I think that chip on my shoulder that I’m not a scholarship guy is going to help me a lot and push me to work that much harder.”
Johnson played wide receiver and cornerback in high school, and he met with coaches at both positions during his visit. He said Ohio State is bringing him in as an athlete and will figure out where he works best.
What’s amazing is that despite earning those offers, there’s still a good argument that he was overlooked during the recruiting process. After all, Johnson is the No. 170 wide receiver in the Class of 2018, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. The No. 171 wide receiver is headed to Virginia. A total of five Big Ten schools — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Purdue and Rutgers — signed or have commitments from wide receivers ranked lower on the list than Johnson. None of those schools offered him a scholarship.
“Xavier was under-recruited,” Summit head coach Justin Isaacs said. “I think it’s a shame that some of these schools didn’t come through with an offer for him. I believe he didn’t get a look because he’s playing small-ball football. But just because he’s from a small school doesn’t mean he’s not great, too.”
Instead, he’ll head to Ohio State, home of the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018 and so talent-rich that its walk-ons are higher ranked than players its Big Ten peers are signing to scholarships. But don’t underestimate the player who found the end zone this season in five different ways: rushing, receiving, kickoff, punt and interception returned for a touchdown. Ohio State made it clear that playing time is earned in practice and doesn’t discriminate between scholarship and walk-on players.
“He wants to work and be the type of player where nothing was given to him and everything was earned,” Isaacs said. “He’s always been like that. We gave him nothing in high school, and he’s not going to get anything at Ohio State. If he gets playing time, it’s going to be because he earned it. He believes he can get on the field with his hard work. He knows it’s not going to be easy, but he has a mental toughness about him and work ethic that I haven’t seen before.
“There are big things to come from Xavier Johnson.”