Garrett Stover’s toughness and tackling ability were on full display in Big Walnut’s 49-7 win over Worthington Kilbourne on Friday night.
The Ohio State linebacker commit broke his thumb while making a tackle on Big Walnut’s first defensive play of the game. Even so, Stover continued to play for the rest of the first half and made plays all over the field, showcasing his athleticism as he recorded nine tackles from the safety position to help Big Walnut take a 28-0 lead into halftime.
Stover did not play in the second half due to the injury, but his one half of play was enough to see why Jim Knowles and James Laurinaitis are excited about him joining Ohio State’s linebacker unit next season. And Stover, who is ranked as the No. 10 linebacker and No. 133 overall prospect in 247Sports’ composite rankings for the 2024 class, is equally excited about playing for them.
“Knowles was at my school today, talked to him for a while. And Laurinaitis too, we really got a strong connection,” Stover said. “They always say that they can't wait to coach me. I can't wait to be coached by them. They’re the best in the country. It doesn't get better than that, having those two in the linebacker room coaching you. So I can't wait.”
Stover said he’s “pinched myself" thinking about how he is three months away from arriving at Ohio State as an early enrollee. And he’s loved watching the Ohio State defense so far this season as the Buckeyes have held their first four opponents to 34 combined points.
“They fly around like crazy,” Stover said. “I can't wait to play in that defense, in that scheme. The Notre Dame game was unbelievable. And I'm excited to see what they do against Maryland next weekend.”
He’s also enjoyed watching his cousin, Ohio State tight end Cade Stover, start the season in a big way as he’s caught 17 passes for 240 yards in the Buckeyes’ first four games.
“He's phenomenal. I love watching him out there,” Garrett Stover said. “He lives for those games, and he's one of the toughest dudes on the field all the time, and when the ball’s in his hand, he's gonna do something with it, he's gonna do something big. And I love when they throw it to him, because he's gonna put on a show. So, yeah, I love watching him and I'm really proud of him.”
While Garrett will not actually get to play with his cousin at Ohio State unless Cade chooses to stay at OSU for his sixth year of eligibility, he expects Cade to be a valuable resource for him throughout his own Ohio State career.
“It's great having him as somebody that has gone through the process and knows the hard work it takes to get there,” Garrett Stover said. “So having him on my shoulder to ask questions or anything and see what he's done is really beneficial, and I think as I get there, I'll have him in my ear a lot, just checking up on me and stuff. So it's really nice.”
Before he starts his college career, Garrett Stover is focused on finishing strong in his final high school season. He acknowledges that the year hasn’t gone according to plan, as Big Walnut lost four of its first five games, but he believes his team is building momentum after back-to-back blowout wins over Franklin Heights and Worthington Kilbourne.
“I’m not gonna lie, it's been a little rough,” Stover said. “We faced a lot of adversity early on. We took some tough losses, we were four or five plays away from winning those games, and it just comes down to all those little things that we try to get better at every day. And us seniors trying to lead this team in the right direction every Friday night, and it's getting there, and we're really turning things around. So I'm excited to see what we do the rest of this half of the season.”
He thinks he and his teammates have learned from the struggles they’ve endured this year.
“Once you fail, you try to correct everything the second time, and that's what we're focused on doing and just focusing on getting better every week,” Stover said. “And like I said, moving in the right direction. We're headed that way. And just gotta keep on these guys.”
Individually, Stover believes he has improved as a tackler this season while playing both middle linebacker and safety over the course of the year.
“I think my tackling’s improved as the season has gone on,” Stover said. “I’ve been playing more safety, kind of coming downhill and running the alley and cleaning up everything. But I was playing middle. I just need to work on getting guys off me more and breaking down to the ball and running my feet to the tackles. But yeah, just still playing fast and physical.”
Stover currently weighs 210 pounds, but he expects to bulk up to 225-230 pounds before his first spring as a Buckeye. He knows he’ll have a lot to learn when he gets to Ohio State after playing safety for much of his high school career. But he believes his background in the secondary will help him with being versatile and playing in coverage for the Buckeyes, and he’s confident Knowles and Laurinaitis will teach him everything he needs to learn to excel as a linebacker at the next level.
“It just comes down to taking in all the little things like Coach Knowles and Coach Laurinaitis are going to teach me,” Stover said. “I know they’re gonna teach me a lot of things there, things I don't really know now, and just using my athleticism and the type of player I am to do those things, it's gonna help me a lot down the road, especially playing at that level.”
“They always say that they can't wait to coach me. I can't wait to be coached by them. They’re the best in the country. It doesn't get better than that, having those two in the linebacker room coaching you. So I can't wait.”– Garrett Stover on Jim Knowles and James Laurinaitis
Despite his injury, Stover plans to be back on the field this week when Big Walnut plays Westerville North. With the Eagles battling for a playoff spot, he knows every game is important from here on out, and he wants to do everything he can to help his team get there.
“Just win these next games and win big and prove to everybody that the first half of the season, that team was not the team that we want to finish out on,” Stover said when asked what his goals are for the rest of his senior season. “So we're gonna keep getting better and keep growing as a team and put piece by piece together and just try to get as many wins as we can the next three games.”