Few people knew what was going on in the late night or early morning hours at the Ohio State practice facility.
That's because my transition from quarterback to wide receiver began as a stealth mission.
It all started in June 2015. I would work with head coach Urban Meyer and wide receivers coach Zach Smith during the day, and then after hours, I logged extra time catching passes from Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett.
We all had the same commitment, and the same devotion to secrecy: Don't tell anyone.
You see, after it became clear that I would no longer be playing quarterback, I had to dedicate myself to a new challenge. A brand new skill set, in fact. I had always wanted to succeed as a football player; nothing changed there, except the position. So while I knew I had to knock off a thick layer of receiver rust, I also knew that once I put my mind to it, I would find a way to get it done.
Every workout, then, every day of those cloak-and-dagger training sessions, I saw another opportunity to work toward that goal. To tap into my competitive drive, and find a way to meet this new challenge.
But my drive and flexibility didn't just start by running "sluggos" away from prying eyes. Going back to high school, I had always been a versatile player, willing to do whatever the team asked of me. I bounced around the depth chart back then, first playing safety, then a bit of receiver before settling in at quarterback.
The fact Braxton at WR is so dope!! Well u can play him anywhere on offense. #GoBucks— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 8, 2015
Honestly, I was just being an athlete. I played football to, well, play football. I didn't really care about any one position.
But since my high school coaches couldn't have me play defense and quarterback at the same time, they decided to put me under center.
(And I'd say that worked out pretty well!)
Being an athletic quarterback put me on Ohio State's radar, and committing to the Buckeyes was a slam dunk. Fast-forward into my college career, and before I knew it, I was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Twice.
Then the injuries came.
Even after the two shoulder surgeries, I was still focused on coming back and playing quarterback. But, over time, I lost some of my quarterback skills while rehabbing. I was struggling to throw over 45 yards.
That's...not a great thing for a guy who has to throw the ball down the field.
I had to make a tough decision. Did I want to stay under center and put more stress on my shoulder at a point in my career when being a consistently effective quarterback didn't seem realistic? Or should I switch positions, going back to a clean slate with my athleticism, like back when I was a kid?
I went with the latter. And I don't regret it one bit.
I challenged myself as the transition to receiver began. And I found, if there's something you really want to accomplish, you have to picture yourself actually doing it.
The most significant adjustment was seeing the game from an entirely different perspective. As a quarterback I saw the receivers running routes, which is totally different from running the route yourself. Getting acclimated with my legs was an adjustment too. You're simply not running full speed as often when playing quarterback.
I really didn't want many people knowing what I was doing in those early stages of embracing the receiver position.
Although I'm a quick learner, I didn't honestly know at the time if receiver was a position where I could achieve major success at the college level. I was trying to keep my hard work under wraps in those few months before the 2015 season as I figured out what exactly my future might hold. I wanted as few people as possible to know about the receiver workouts.
Especially not the media.
I already knew the most basic receiver fundamentals, like the proper technique to catch a ball at full speed. So as my training progressed, we focused on little details. We went through the entire route tree.
It was all very difficult. The learning required a lot of time and energy, and even more patience to understand the position. I had to do my research and homework. Never let anyone tell you football is just about athleticism.
I didn't reach the point where I was ready to face a defender until summer camp, and I didn't learn how to work against press coverage until less than a month before the season. I had to take my time learning how to beat a defender. With a body in front of me, I had to get a feel for how to get him out of his comfort zone and attack leverage, all while still running a quality route at full speed.
The footwork to get open and create separation didn't take long to feel comfortable with. I was always running the ball as a quarterback and going through defenders. So it was just a matter of adjusting to find the right placement and footing from a new perspective. As a receiver you have to make sure you're on top of your technique, or you'll be off balance quickly.
It all came naturally to me over time, though. Eventually, it felt like I was that youth football player just going out and making plays again.
That's not to say there weren't challenges. Football is a challenging game. Running routes, in particular, could be difficult at times. I could run all of them, but I wanted to be precise in my technique. Sometimes in practice I would stop pumping my arms, which is one indicator I needed more work.
Another came after I flipped my hips on a comeback route. You should be raising up at about a 40-degree angle. Sometimes I didn't do that, and I stood straight up. Right away I knew that needed to be fixed.
Those tiny, intricate but important tweaks kept on popping up, and they still will as my journey continues. Everything needs to be mastered in practice so that work shows up on game day.
There weren't any real nerves once it came time to play my first game at a new position. The word "nervous" isn't really in my vocabulary. Wide receiver was my title now, and I was ready to go out there against Virginia Tech and show what I had learned.
It felt great to make an immediate impact after going through the transition process for months. Having it happen on prime-time national TV made what I accomplished feel that much sweeter—especially after coming off two shoulder surgeries
Then the spin move came.
For two months straight all I heard about was that spin. I didn't hear anything about the catch I dove for to make my first career reception, or the other pass I caught for my first receiving touchdown. It was just the spin move.
I feel like that changed my life.
Doing something special like that is the sort of thing you dream about. The spin went viral the same night. My Twitter, Instagram and phone were all blowing up. I had over 200 texts, which took a couple of weeks to go through. It was exciting to get that feeling back of not only playing, but shining after a year off.
I want to keep on doing that for years.
I've been studying tape of Tavon Austin and Percy Harvin. When I get the ball in my hands, I relate to them a lot. I always want to do something crazy this game, or this play, or this drive. That's how I think.
At the Senior Bowl and combine, teams told me I'm a potential first-round pick, which was my goal. I feel like I'm a first-rounder if a team needs a big playmaker. But regardless of where or when I go, I've been working to perfect my craft every day. Because there's always room for growth. And as I've found, you never know what to expect next.
First I grew as a quarterback. Then I ran into an obstacle that could have derailed my football career. But I rerouted myself and started growing as a receiver instead.
Now I'm going to continue growing while making highlight plays on Sundays.