2022 is a good year to be a Smith-Njigba -- and it's about to get better
INDIANAPOLIS — For the Smith-Njigba family, 2022 has been as good as it gets. And strangely, nowhere was that more evident than at the corner of Maryland Avenue and West Street in late July.
At one corner, Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba was staying in one of Indianapolis’ fanciest hotels for Big Ten Media Days. Directly across the street, outside of Victory Field, there’s a banner with a giant photo of his older brother, Canaan Smith-Njigba.
Canaan, who chose baseball over football after high school, started the season with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians before getting called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in June.
“It was a dream come true. Everybody was crying and stuff like that,” Jaxon said. “It’s a day that we’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and for it to come was just a blessing. I know how hard he’s worked. How hard our family and people have pushed him. I know the things that a lot of people don’t, so for him to do that, our family was just real proud of him. We know he’s going to do great things.”
I didn’t even notice until now, but across from the hotel where Jaxon Smith-Njigba stayed for Media Days… a giant picture of his brother, Canaan. Pretty cool. pic.twitter.com/JGnQiqR8BQ
— Alex Hickey (@bigahickey) July 27, 2022
Canaan’s callup was a bit of sibling one-upsmanship. Back on New Year’s Day, it was Jaxon setting a seemingly unbeatable standard of athletic accomplishment for 2022.
Ohio online sports betting is officially launching on January 1, 2023. Ohio will join other Big Ten states where sports betting has become legalized such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and more.
Jaxon’s 347 receiving yards were an all-time bowl game record, while his 15 receptions set a new Rose Bowl record. On top of that, he tied the Rose Bowl record with 3 touchdown catches. In the process, he also became the first Ohio State receiver with multiple 200-yard games.
Maybe the only thing more mind-blowing than those numbers is the reality that Jaxon is just getting started.
The mission: Becoming the greatest college receiver
Older brothers can sometimes exaggerate a bit when bragging on their younger siblings, and Canaan is no exception. He’s been telling people that Jaxon is about to prove himself as the best college receiver of all-time.
Whether or not Canaan has seen footage of Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s a bold proclamation. But Jaxon isn’t exactly shying away from it.
“It probably does sound crazy to a lot of people,” Jaxon said. “But we’ve always talked like that, and we’ve always wanted to prove it. It’s been fun. It’s older brother talk, but I also feel like it’s real talk.”
Circumstances certainly indicate that the younger Smith-Njigba is destined for a monster season.
Last year, he became Ohio State’s single-season receiving leader despite splitting time with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — the 10th and 11th picks of the 2022 NFL Draft. Now he is the undisputed lead dog in a much younger receiving room.
It is not inconceivable that Smith-Njigba could become the first — and only — player to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a season since Nevada’s Trevor Insley in 1999. And it becomes downright reachable if the Buckeyes play in the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff.
Last year, Smith-Njigba averaged 123.5 yards per game. With 2 additional games at that average, he would have reached 1,852 yards on the season. In order to cross the 2,000-yard threshold, he’d need to average 133.4 yards per game this year.
It’s a lot, but it’s not impossible. Western Kentucky’s Jerreth Sterns led the nation with 135.9 ypg last year. In 2018, UMass’ Andy Isabella averaged 141.5. Obviously, neither the Hilltoppers nor Minutemen were getting anywhere near the CFP, so those players didn’t have a shot at 2,000.
Smith-Njigba does. And he’s ready to get after it. To him, that means cutting no corners in pursuit of greatness.
“I think I’m the best,” he said. “So I’ve got to work like it.”
2022 is just the beginning
2022 has already been a great year to be a Smith-Njigba, but don’t assume it will be the best year for the family.
In Canaan’s case, better things are almost certainly ahead in 2023. A mere 3 days after accomplishing his dream, he fractured his left wrist after colliding in the outfield with teammate Brian Reynolds. The Pirates placed him on the 60-day injured list, meaning he’ll be out until about the same time Jaxon is getting his season started.
“He’s not fully celebrating right now,” Jaxon said. “He’s ready to get back on the field and hopefully get on base or whatever.”
2023 is also the year Jaxon might accomplish his 2 biggest career goals, and the only things that can match the emotions of seeing his brother called up to the big leagues.
“Winning a national championship would be big,” he said. “Getting drafted will be big. All of those things. But winning a national championship would definitely [match that feeling].”