Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2017 is entering a pivotal season.
Those Buckeyes are entering their third season in Columbus, which means they’re expected to be ready to play significant roles for Ohio State if they haven’t already. Each of them now have two years as Ohio State players under their belts, and by the end of the upcoming season, all of them will be on the back end of their careers while some of them will have decisions to make about whether it’s time to go to the NFL.
With that in mind, Eleven Warriors is taking an individual look this offseason at each of Ohio State’s third-year players – in descending order of their 247Sports composite recruiting rankings – and the expectations that preceded their Ohio State careers, how they have performed in their first two seasons as Buckeyes and the outlook for the remainder of their careers.
The fourth installment of the Third-Year Reset brings us to another five-star recruit, defensive back Shaun Wade, who appears poised to play a big role in the secondary in his third year at Ohio State – regardless of where exactly he lines up – after emerging as a key role player in his first playing season for the Buckeyes in 2018.
Before He Became a Buckeye
As a high school football star at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, Wade helped lead the Conquerors to four consecutive Class 3A state championships. In his senior season in 2016, Wade recorded 63 total tackles and seven interceptions – including two interception returns for touchdowns – and was named by USA TODAY as the All-USA defensive player of the year.
For his high school career as a whole, Wade recorded 130 total tackles, 12 interceptions and 29 passes defended. The star cornerback also made plays on offense as a wide receiver, catching 56 passes for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns in his Trinity Christian career.
Wade was ranked as the No. 17 overall prospect and No. 2 cornerback prospect – behind only fellow Ohio State signee Jeffrey Okudah – in the recruiting class of 2017.
Career to Date
Wade redshirted his first season at Ohio State after undergoing surgery for an abdominal injury. The new redshirt rule that allows players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt was not yet in effect in 2017, so Wade did not play a single snap as a true freshman.
That didn’t stop Wade from earning significant playing time in his first playing season for the Buckeyes last year. After playing just nine defensive snaps in the season opener against Oregon State, Wade was inserted into the lineup of Ohio State’s nickel defense as the team’s top slot cornerback and continued into that role throughout the rest of the season, playing at least 23 defensive snaps in the Buckeyes’ final 13 games of the year.
Wade also saw some playing time at safety, starting one game at that position against Nebraska. He played all 84 of the Buckeyes’ defensive snaps against the Cornhuskers.
For the 2018 season as a whole, Wade led all Ohio State players with three interceptions and also recorded 31 total tackles, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked punt. Wade also memorably recorded a pair of pad-cracking hits in the rivalry game against Michigan.
Wade gave up his share of plays last season, too – as just about every Ohio State defensive back did in a rough year for the Buckeyes on that side of the ball – but for the most part, he was excellent for a player in his first season of game action and set himself up to play an even bigger role in the secondary going forward.
Having spent time at slot cornerback, outside cornerback and safety over the course of his two years with the Buckeyes, Wade could potentially play any of those positions for Ohio State in 2019 – and it appears likely that he’ll at least see some snaps at multiple positions once again this year.
Wade played each of the first 15 defensive snaps in this year’s spring game as a hybrid slot cornerback/safety, which could be an indicator of his role to come this season. While Wade’s success as a slot cornerback last season makes it logical for Ohio State to continue him playing in that spot, the Buckeyes are at least exploring the possibility of expanding that role into one that makes him a mainstay on the field.
That role could vary from week to week depending on matchups. Against opponents that have spread offenses that typically put three or more wide receivers on the field on every play, Wade could hypothetically play slot cornerback for the entire game. It’s likely Wade will also drop back and play as a traditional safety at times in the Buckeyes’ base defense, though the Buckeyes experimented heavily with single-high safety looks and with Brendon White playing as a hybrid safety/linebacker in his new Bullet position this spring.
Depending on whether new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley opts to deploy a rotation at outside cornerback, Wade could also see some playing time at that spot now that Kendall Sheffield is playing in the NFL. Even if Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah don’t rotate out of the game regularly, Wade could be the next man up outside if either of them gets hurt.
How much Wade will line up in each spot remains uncertain, and the Buckeyes could continue to experiment with him playing different roles into the season to determine where he can help the defense the most. Wade says he doesn’t care what position he lines up at; he just wants to play and help the Buckeyes however he can.
“I just want to play football, for real. Wherever they need me, I’m going to play,” Wade said this spring. “So if I’m one game they need me at corner, I’ll play corner. One game they need me at safety, I’ll play safety.”
What is clear, though, is that Wade should be in line for significant playing time and have a chance to be an impact player in Ohio State’s secondary this year, and his versatility to play a variety of roles makes him one of the Buckeyes’ most valuable defensive backs.
“What I think is best for Shaun is to learn how to play inside, whether you call it a safety or a nickel, that’s invaluable for him. So I want him to be able to play outside, play corner; inside, play nickel; have the ability to drop back,” Hafley said this spring.
Ryan Day named Wade, along with fellow defensive back Josh Proctor and true freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson, when asked which players he thought made the biggest strides this spring.
“Shaun Wade made a lot of plays last year, he’s been having a really good camp,” Ohio State’s head coach said in the week leading up to the spring game.
Wade hasn’t been talked about much yet as a potential prospect for the 2020 NFL draft, but that’s a possibility that shouldn’t be ruled out. He certainly appears to have the talent to play at the next level, and a big season this fall could propel him into the early-round pick conversation.
At the same time, Wade is still just a redshirt sophomore with three remaining seasons of eligibility, so he’ll have a tough decision to make if he emerges as an NFL prospect this season.
Should Wade stay at Ohio State beyond this season, he’d likely be in a position to lead Ohio State’s secondary in 2020, with Arnette and Jordan Fuller entering their final seasons of eligibility and Okudah a strong candidate to declare for next year’s draft. He’d certainly be in line to be a full-time starter (if he isn’t already this year) at either cornerback or safety, which could give him an even bigger opportunity to elevate his NFL draft stock.
Ohio State will certainly hope Wade sticks around for at least one more season after this one, as his departure paired with Arnette, Fuller and likely Okudah could hypothetically leave the Buckeyes with an inexperienced secondary in 2020.
If Wade makes the strides expected of him and plays up to his potential this year, though, he should at least have the option of going to the next level to consider.