Considering Austin Mack has been talked about as a contributor for the Ohio State offense for months now, it's hard to remember the receiver is just a freshman.
Mack, a four-star receiver and the No. 6 player at his position in the 2016 recruiting class, is going to be relied upon by the Buckeyes this season. While Noah Brown is the clear No. 1 option on the outside, Mack is contending to be the second receiver in the Ohio State offense as a true freshman. The Indiana native was one of seven members of his class to enroll early last January and Mack said that has made a huge difference in his development.
“It’s huge. Development wise with my body and being able to get with (strength coach Mickey Marotti) and the strength staff and being able to just become a better receiver overall with coach (Zach) Smith," Mack said. "He’s developed me tremendously with my knowledge as a receiver and being able to get together with the other guys and connect with them, it was huge.
"Being able to be in front of the coaching staff and know that they can trust me on the field, that was huge. Hopefully that enhanced my ability to be on the field this fall.”
While arriving early certainly helped, Mack was even ahead of his fellow early enrollees. The received was the first member of his class to have his black stripe removed, signaling a player has truly become a Buckeye, when he had it pulled last March.
Head coach Urban Meyer, who speaks glowingly of Mack on a regular basis, said that the freshman came to the program with the discipline to excel at the college level.
"When you take a kid like that that is very serious about his trade, came from a very good high school program, has a guy that trained him in the off season, and then we get him, that's why he's game ready," Meyer said. "And he will play this year."
While Mack has taken a studious approach in his time at Ohio State, the freshman hasn't been perfect. Like any young receiver learning the playbook, Mack has had some missed assignments and miscommunication with quarterback J.T. Barrett.
The freshman said his biggest focus right now is on improving his ability to punch routes and bait defensive backs into thinking he's running a deep route. As for his strengths on the field, the 6-2, 215 pound receiver cited his size and ability to be physical with opponents.
Mack's weight marks about a 10 pound increase from where he was listed when he first arrived on campus, a quantitative sign of the benefit of enrolling early that Mack discussed. A less clearly identified edge that coming to Ohio State in January has provided, however, comes with the fact that Mack has already been through a full class schedule. He and the other six players who enrolled early don't have to adjust to college life while simultaneously adjusting to college football.
“I was able to have a full schedule here in the spring and go through practice and everything and go through that whole cycle," he said. "In the summer we only took two classes so they are going to get the whole thing of it here in the fall, but knowing that I had that under my belt it was good.”
Clearly, enrolling in January has been big for Mack.