Finding the right fit for your college football program isn't just about what happens on the field, but off it as well. Today, Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State landed a commitment from one of the top-rated players in the state on Sunday afternoon when Lexington four-star linebacker Cade Stover pledged his services to the Buckeyes, just one week after his official visit.
Let's take a look at what Stover — the No. 130 prospect overall in the Class of 2019 — brings to Columbus.
ON THE FIELD
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Stover is a physical prospect who plays with a high motor. He covers the field from sideline to sideline and always seems to be in the right spot to make a play on the ball or ballcarrier.
“He means a lot [to our team],” Lexington head coach Taylor Gerhardt told Eleven Warriors. “You’ve got a kid of his talent caliber who it’s just a pleasure to coach. What goes along with his tremendous talent and ability is his mind for the game.”
Stover, who will be a fourth-year varsity starter this fall, finished his junior season with 126 tackles and was named first-team all-state despite missing three games with a torn labrum. He plays a hybrid safety role in the Minutemen’s 3-3 stack defense called the ‘Adjuster’ position, which allows him to roam, read and react and simply make plays.
“He’s like another coach on the field for us,” Gerhardt said. “We move him around and he makes all of our defensive backfield calls. He has now moved to the level where he is truly a field general. It’s really neat to be able to have that caliber of talent and that kind of mind and command of the game.
“He also doesn’t flinch away from film work. He gets in there and works at it and wants to know about the game. Having him there, we expect him to make plays and he’s going to make plays. But he’s also there to direct other kids to be in position to make plays. That’s been invaluable to us. His grasp on what we’re asking him to do at this level is really exciting.”
Even with all that said, Stover remains extremely coachable. He’s eager to learn new techniques and coverages in order to stay on top of his game.
“With his tremendous talent, drive and competitiveness, sometimes it’s difficult to say, ‘Hey kid, you didn’t do this right and we need to talk about this,’” Gerhardt said. “He doesn’t like to mess up and he doesn’t like to be chewed out a little bit because we didn’t perform the way we needed to, but he also responds the right way and he’s very, very coachable. When you have that kind of talent, mind and work ethic, he’s a once-in-a-long-time kind of athlete.”
That said, Stover is still growing — he’s up 25 pounds in the last year alone — and will play outside linebacker at the next level. There’s even a chance he develops into a stand-up defensive end if he adds more muscle to his frame. If that happens, Gerhardt isn’t concerned about his star pupil.
“Changing positions is never easy, especially at the high level at which the Buckeyes play or what these college coaches are asking these kids to do,” Gerhardt said, “but it’s easier for these kids to project down toward the line than backwards. His ability to be in a position to see the entire picture defensively and understand the moving parts, for him to move down to linebacker there isn’t going to be any kind of tough adjustment for him. Matter of fact, the field may be cut in half for him.
“The position we have him in, we want him to go anywhere that he’s needed with the football. With his grasp of the game and his meticulous effort in the film room, I don’t see any issue with him transitioning to that position.”
Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect high school prospect. And while Stover may want to make an impact the moment he steps on campus, he’ll have to also remain patient as he waits for his turn for playing time.
“He wants to step in and compete to play right away. That’s his goal and has always been his mindset,” Gerhardt said. “One of the things that he’ll need to learn — that all kids need to learn — is patience. Even if he is in the mix to play on Saturday afternoons, there’s going to be a learning curve. The detail and the complexity [of the college game] is just really amazing. People don’t really understand how much goes into that. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to adapt quickly, but there’s always going to have to be that little bit of patience.”
Stover was also named second-team all-Ohio on the hardwood, as he averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game last season to lead Lexington to its first appearance in the state semifinals since the Minutemen won the tournament in 1990-91. He is just 74 points shy of becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer and already holds the career and single-season marks for rebounding, which were previously held by former NBA journeyman Jamie Feick.
IN THE CLASS
Stover becomes the eighth member — but quite possibly the first linebacker — in Ohio State’s Dynasty ’19 recruiting class. I say that, of course, because its still possible Georgia four-star athlete and recent commit Steele Chambers will play on the defensive side of the ball, though his preference seems to be running back.
Where Chambers ultimately ends up will dictate how many more players the Buckeyes take at the position, but the number should be in the three to four range.
Ohio State took just one outside linebacker in Dallas Gant last cycle — compared to two inside in Teradja Mitchell and K’Vaughan Pope — so the staff will certainly place extra emphasis on the outside. The Buckeyes are only set to lose one linebacker following the 2018 season in senior Dante Booker, but there are a lot of moving parts otherwise that could include unforeseen draft declarations or transfers.
Virginia five-star linebacker Brandon Smith is one of the staff’s top priorities inside, while you’ll want to keep in mind names like Florida four-star Rian Davis, Tennessee four-star Kane Patterson and Florida three-star Marcus Tillman Jr. on the outside.
The position is also strong from an in-state perspective, and the staff could certainly dole out offers during camp season to three-star prospects like Cardinal Mooney three-star Luke Fulton, Cleveland St. Ignatius’ Tommy Eichenberg, Massillon Washington’s Jamir Thomas, Clayton Northmont’s Jestin Jacobs and Reynoldsburg’s Dezman Cooper.
While some people love to live in the crowded city, Stover would prefer the slow-paced life of a farmer. In fact, he plans to major in agribusiness in college and hopes to take over the family business when his playing days are over.
His family owns a several-hundred acre farm in Johnsville where they herd organically-raised cattle, chickens and pigs. They also grow corn and oats — selling only what they don’t use on the farm — and own butcher shops in Mansfield and Powell.
“To have a kid — where the world is wide open for him — he just wants to follow what his father does and what his family does,” Gerhardt said. “He comes from an incredible family, a very strong family unit. That’s one of the most important things to him, period.”
Stover would be the first to admit he wouldn’t be where he is without his father, Trevor, who played tight end at Bowling Green in the mid-90s. He was an all-Mid-American Conference performer who finished his career with the Falcons with 45 catches for 533 yards and seven touchdowns.
Working on the farm, where he bales hay and feeds the cattle bright and early in the morning, certainly improves Stover's work ethic and strength, too.
“He’s an extremely hard worker," Gerhardt said. "He shows up for our practices after helping his dad on the farm. He’s one of the hardest workers you’ve ever been around. He loves that aspect of pushing himself and challenging himself. It won’t take long talking to him to understand the kind of character he has. He’s a family man and family comes first. He’s lucky to have that. He’s very, very serious about it and he just wants to do well for his family and he wants to be with his family. That’s always been a really neat part of this kid.”