To feel comfortable continuing to play the tight end position that he’s played for Ohio State for most of the past two seasons, Cade Stover needed one more chance to play on defense.
Stover, who told Eleven Warriors in February that he missed playing linebacker “every day” for the past two years, got the opportunity to return to the linebacker position in the Rose Bowl, and performed well enough in that game – in which he recorded six tackles – that it appeared he would remain on the defensive side of the ball entering this spring.
After just four practices this spring, Stover decided to move back to tight end, which he now once again believes is the position where he can help Ohio State most this season and where he has the brightest future as an NFL prospect.
Stover says he would have always wondered if he should have switched back to defense, however, if he hadn’t given it one more shot.
“100 percent,” Stover said Thursday when asked if he needed one more chance to play defense. “I had to be on my terms. I had to be at peace with it. I knew if I wasn't, then it’s always going to be ‘What if this was that? What if this was that?’ And I felt good about it.”
Stover still has a defensive mentality, but he’s talked with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Kevin Wilson about how he can bring that to the tight end position. And in just three practices since he moved back to offense, he says there’s already a “night and day” difference between how Ohio State utilized him at tight end for the past two years and how they’re planning to use him in the offense this year.
“They’re turning me loose,” Stover said. “I'm just trying to bring what I did on defense over here to the offense and so far, I’ve done it. I'm a lot happier.”
How can Stover play the tight end position while still playing with the same mentality that he had as a defensive player?
“Just trying to maul people, really,” Stover said. “Whoever’s in front of you, you’re just trying to really flat out just put him on his back. It’s like in a street fight and you’re trying to put whoever’s in front of you on his back.
“You're probably gonna hear it more than you see it. As far as heads knocking, as far as helmets bashing. There’s going to be a lot of energy, a lot of stuff going on, a lot of stuff flying around.”
Day and Wilson believe Stover’s defensive mentality will be a good thing for the offense as long as he plays with sound technique and fundamentals.
“My thought if he came back was I wasn't going to tie his hands,” Wilson said Tuesday. “I was going to try to get him to play with the energy and the passion that he likes playing defense. We've gotta play under control, we can't be reckless and we have to have some fundamentals, per se. But I like for him to play to his strengths."
While playing defense has always been Stover’s passion, he recognizes he may have more pro potential as a tight end than he would as a linebacker. Stover is built more like a defensive end than a linebacker, but he’s never played defensive end aside from a brief stint there during his freshman year at Ohio State. He has the prototypical measurables that NFL teams look for at tight end, though.
“You look at tight ends, you look at my body, the way I move and I mean, that's really, that's what I do,” Stover said. “I don't know how many people love a 6-foot-4, 260-pound middle ’backer anymore.”
Stover is also likely to be on the field more this season at tight end than he would have been at linebacker, as he projects as the likely starting tight end now that Jeremy Ruckert is pursuing an NFL career. And now that he’s entering his fourth season at Ohio State, Stover says the most important thing to him is having the opportunity to play regularly.
“I’m just a ballplayer. I’m just trying to play ball,” Stover said. “I told Coach Wilson, I want to be at the point like, I want to feel like if I suck, then we’re gonna struggle. So wherever that was the most pressure that I could grab, really, and it seemed this was the best spot.”
Even though he’s now changed positions four times in his Ohio State career, Stover isn’t worried about getting lost in the shuffle. He’s tried to bring the same work ethic to the field regardless of which position he’s playing, and he believes that will lead to a strong finish to his career as a Buckeye.
“In my mind, I've always prided myself on if you’re the hardest worker, you’re the toughest guy out there, it's gonna be hard to slip through the cracks,” said Stover, a redshirt junior who still has three years of eligibility. “So that's just really what I've tried to do. Being around everybody here has contributed to that tremendously, so I love these guys here, and I think I found where I need to be at here for me and for this team.”
Cade Stover back on offense, playing tight end and wearing No. 8: pic.twitter.com/SP8xWCA7MJ— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) March 29, 2022
Stover says he has been in constant communication with Day and Wilson about which position he should play. While he said there was some persuasion from their end for him to come back to offense and play tight end, they ultimately allowed him to decide where he wanted to play and he always felt as though they had his best interest in mind.
“They’re good people,” Stover said. “They’ve always been, that's why I'm still here. That's why people stay around this place, because you're around good people.”
Stover still isn’t ready to completely close the door on making yet another move back to defense, but he believes right now that his second move from defense to tight end will be the one that finally sticks.
“I don't like to consider myself a liar, so I'm not gonna lie to you guys and say I'm never gonna go back. I don't know, but right now, I’m gonna stay here,” Stover said. “Right now, for me, I mean, I'm where I should be, and this is where I, unless something drastic happens, but for now, I think I'm staying here.”
Wilson and Day are excited to see what Stover can do at tight end this year, and Ohio State’s other tight ends say they’re happy to have Stover back in their position group.
“I love having Cade around. He brings great energy, he’s a tough dude, he's a leader,” Mitch Rossi said. “I think that Cade brings kind of an edge and a toughness that we need and something that maybe at the time last year we needed, like a little more edge to us.”