Since the day he set foot on Ohio State's campus back during the summer of 2006, Ray Small has had big expectations to live up to. Before he had played a single down of his collegiate career, Small was already being compared favorably to one of OSU's most electric players: the speedy Ted Ginn Jr.
And why not? Like Ginn, Small was quick and shifty. Both hailed from Cleveland Glenville, although that hardly made them unique on the Buckeyes roster. Although Ginn was recruited as a defensive back, he wound up on offense – the same as Small.
Throughout his freshman season, teammates frequently referenced Ginn when discussing Small. He was described as a "little Ginn." His play during practice on the scout team gave the OSU defense fits, by many accounts.
When the dust had settled on his freshman campaign, Small had amassed eight catches for 68 yards and one touchdown.
But as the 2007 season got underway, Small's status was the most talked about news on the team. He suffered a high ankle sprain early in fall camp – we now know it was somewhere around day three – and his status was suddenly the featured topic.
Would Small be back in time for the season opener? Would he be back for Big Ten play? Would he redshirt? Would the young Buckeye offense be able to survive without him?
Those answers turned out to be no, yes, no and very much so.
For Small, trying to get healthy was more than likely his top priority, but now he had to be feeling the weight of the OSU offense on his shoulders. Already fans had anointed him as the next big-threat wideout that could stretch opposing defenses down the field like Ginn before him, but there was a problem.
Ray Small is Ray Small. Ted Ginn Jr. left OSU for the NFL after last season.
The pressure to step into another player's shoes can be tremendous, especially at a university like Ohio State where it seems every player who departs leaves behind an impact.
"I think that everybody's maybe going to say something about him, but Ray's going to try to be Ray and Ray could be a very good Ray for us," said junior wide receiver Brian Robiskie, who also is being expected to make up for the loss of two first-round NFL draft picks from last season. "I think as soon as he gets back healthy and as soon as he gets back on the field, I think that you'll start to see some of those things."
It is not a question of whether or not the raw talent is there for Small. In the limited action he saw last season, he demonstrated a shiftiness that, yes, was somewhat reminiscent of what Ginn could do. During the spring, he turned heads at the team's kick scrimmage as one of the primary weapons for the Buckeyes in the return game.
But expecting him to be the next Ginn, Gonzalez or anyone else might be a bit much so soon – and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell knows that.
During the spring, Hazell was asked if Small would be able to step into Ginn's role right off the bat. The coach paused for a second, pursed his lips and thought for what seemed like an extra few seconds before answering.
"We're just trying to get him a little better every day," he finally said.
Not a bad goal.