Chris Olave will have a starring role in Saturday’s Ohio State-Oregon matchup, but it won’t be the first time the star wideout has had a vested interest in a contest between the two programs.
It’ll just be the first time he wants the Buckeyes to win that game.
The California native vividly recalls tuning into the 2015 College Football Playoff national championship game, the most recent meeting between the Buckeyes and Ducks, and Olave couldn’t help but pause, grin and laugh when asked Tuesday which team he was rooting for at the time.
“I was young, I remember watching it at home with my family. I was definitely an Oregon fan,” Olave said. “I remember they beat Florida State before that, so I was going for Oregon, but Ohio State came in and kind of put the bang on them. They were hitting hard, and kind of messed up Oregon’s game. That’s what I remember about it. Ohio State came to play that game, they had a real good team.”
Olave’s Oregon fandom might not make immediate sense, given that he grew up just a couple hours from USC in his own home state. However, between the 2010 and 2014 seasons – at which point Olave went from fifth grade to his freshman year at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California – the Ducks finished in the AP Poll top 10 every year, with four top-five finishes.
USC, on the other hand, finished two of those seasons unranked while juggling four different head coaches in that five-year window.
“Oregon was really like a powerhouse growing up,” Olave said. “Chip Kelly, I remember just watching Oregon growing up with my family. We were all Oregon fans, me and my brother, so just to be able to play against them. All the different jerseys, they were a powerhouse, top five in the country every year, so just to be able to play against them and have the opportunity to step on the field with them is gonna be huge.”
It was Kelly’s successor, Mark Helfrich, that was running the show at Oregon by the time Olave transferred to Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, California, as a junior, and Willie Taggart took over the program while Olave began climbing the recruiting ranks as a senior.
While Ohio State caught onto Olave’s talents earlier than most by happenstance when then-quarterbacks coach Ryan Day went to California to watch Mission Hills quarterback Jack Tuttle work out in 2017, Oregon was late to the party.
Olave said he had some contact with the Ducks, who wanted him to visit the program in late January of 2018, but Olave’s “mind was already set on Ohio State” by then, and he committed to the Buckeyes on Jan. 28 of that year.
Few could argue that things have not worked out for the best for Olave, a three-star recruit that has a real chance to set the Buckeyes’ all-time career receiving touchdowns record this season en route to a potential first-round NFL draft selection, but things could have gone differently had Oregon shown interest early in his recruitment.
“It was my dream school, but I don’t know. We’ll never know,” Olave said. “They never came, so I guess we’ll never know.”
If Olave is still harboring any resentment, he’ll have a shot to show the Ducks what they missed out on this weekend. Even without Justin Fields at quarterback, Olave didn’t skip a beat in the season opener to his senior season, racking up 117 yards on just four catches, with touchdown receptions of 38 and 61 yards in the second half against Minnesota.
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In fact, Olave actually sees quite a few similarities between the prolific Ohio State offense of which he has long been a featured star and the one operated by Kelly at Oregon back when he watched the Ducks religiously.
“Coach Day and Chip Kelly, I think they’re real close,” Olave said. “They both worked together. I think Coach Day gets a lot of concepts from him and that tempo. We definitely have a similar offense to that, and that’s huge.”
Kelly’s mentorship of Day has been well-documented, and the latter does not deny the influence that the current UCLA Bruin head coach has had on both him and college football as a whole throughout the years.
“When that spread offense was making its run and the no-huddle was making its run, he was really on the forefront of that,” Day said. “And then to see what he did at Oregon, and then from there, I think he was one of the guys who I guess you could say could be responsible for the spread offense, for the no-huddle offense – one of the pioneers in that area.”
Kelly isn’t at Oregon anymore, and the Ducks have only made the final AP Poll in one of the last five seasons. However, Mario Cristobal’s team is top-15 competition for Ohio State this weekend, and it’s a matchup that many have been anticipating for quite some time.
Olave not least of which.
“It’s a childhood dream to play in a game like this, Ohio State vs. Oregon Week 2,” Olave said. “I grew up an Oregon fan, I always wanted to go to Oregon. But just to play against them, one of the best teams in the Pac-12, excited. So I can’t wait to be able to play against them.”