Noah Brown is among a number of young players who have thrived in key roles for Ohio State, a team that returned just six starters and sent 14 players to the NFL after last season, while helping the Buckeyes to a 6-0 start and a No. 2 ranking heading into Saturday's game at Penn State.
Brown, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound wide receiver, has attracted more attention than most. The redshirt sophomore from Flanders, N.J., has shown a knack for catching touchdown passes, with six of his 16 receptions having gone for scores.
He had a four-touchdown game at Oklahoma, including an incredible catch when he pinned the ball on the back of his defender with one hand and got his other hand on it before falling out of bounds. He also caught the eventual game-winning 7-yard touchdown pass in overtime last week at Wisconsin.
"A lot of my touchdowns have been in the red zone, where I feel like I have an advantage over a lot of corners with my ability to go up and get the ball," Brown said this week in a telephone interview. "I feel like that's where a lot of my touchdowns come from, but I also take pride in other aspects of my game."
The score against Wisconsin, a game in which the Buckeyes trailed 16-6 at the half, also showed how reliable Brown is at crunch time.
"I was asking for the ball and hoping that it would come my way," he said. "In those types of situations, I like to be able to be there for my team, to be able to make a big play. I always want the ball in that situation. But the most important thing was the win."
Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett has noticed.
"He has that mentality that, when the ball is in the air, it's his," he said. "It's one of those things that either you've got it or you don't. And Noah, he's got it."
Brown's performance is even more amazing when one considers that he was out of football last season after having suffered a compound fracture in his left leg. The accident happened late in training camp when Brown went up for a pass and landed awkwardly without being hit.
The injury was devastating at first, but Brown stayed positive with the help of his teammates and his family and worked hard in his rehabilitation.
"It was tough to have football taken away," he said. "That definitely hurt. But being around my teammates kept my spirits high and helped me know I was going to be able to make it. If I kept grinding, it would get better."
It was a long climb back. Brown said that he started to feel like his old self about halfway into training camp and that practice repetitions helped him regain his confidence.
The potential is there as Brown and the Buckeyes begin the second half of their season sporting a 20-game winning streak in true road games. It starts off Saturday night at Beaver Stadium in a "whiteout," which Brown called "a crazy experience" when he saw it two years ago.
"I feel like that brings the best out of us," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to going out there and playing in that environment."