Ohio State Tight End Cade Stover Playing Through Knee Injury In Final Game As Buckeye

By Dan Hope on December 27, 2023 at 6:40 pm
Cade Stover at Cotton Bowl practice

Cade Stover is refusing to let his injured knee keep him sidelined for the Cotton Bowl.

Going into the team’s trip to Texas, there was some question as to whether the two-time Ohio State captain would play in the Buckeyes’ season finale due to that injury, which he battled through the second half of the season. He wasn’t initially on the list of offensive players slated to meet with the media on Wednesday, sparking speculation that he could sit out the game to prioritize getting healthy ahead of the 2024 NFL draft.

But Stover has been practicing with the Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium this week, and he said during his interview session Wednesday that he will be on the field for his final game as a Buckeye on Friday when Ohio State faces Missouri (8 p.m., ESPN).

“I signed up for a full year, I gotta play a full year,” Stover said. “Will I play every snap? I doubt it. But I'm definitely gonna be in the game Friday. So I wanna go out with these guys on the right term.”

Stover, who was still wearing a bulky brace on his injured knee during the practices that were partially open to the media Tuesday and Wednesday, said only that his knee is “fine” when asked how it was feeling on Wednesday, though he said it feels better than it did late in the regular season, when he missed Ohio State’s first game of November against Rutgers with the injury before battling through it in the final three games of the month.

While Stover has not yet formally declared for the 2024 NFL draft, he gave no indication on Wednesday that he was thinking about using his sixth year of eligibility to stay at Ohio State. He said he hasn’t spent much time reflecting on the finality of this week as he prepares to conclude his Ohio State career, but he is motivated to finish his career with a win and felt it was important for him to be on the field with his teammates for one more game.

“There was a lot of back and forth of what's smart and what's not. You got a lot of different opinions, but then again, at the end of the day, it kind of comes down to what you can morally live with and what you morally stand on,” Stover said. “And that's what I felt was the best decision was to be out there with the guys.”

“I signed up for a full year, I gotta play a full year.”– Cade Stover on playing in the Cotton Bowl

Stover thought about entering the 2023 NFL draft after four years as a Buckeye, but he’s glad he chose to stay at Ohio State for another year. He’s taken advantage of returning by putting together one of the most productive seasons ever for an Ohio State tight end, catching 41 passes for 576 yards and five touchdowns, leaving him just 65 yards shy of the single-season record for tight end receiving yards and tied for third in school history among tight ends with 10 career touchdown catches.

“That was one of the best decisions of my life was coming back for one more year,” Stover said.

Ohio State’s coaches are certainly glad that Stover stuck around for a fifth season with the Buckeyes.

“Cade is the backbone of this offense at times,” offensive coordinator Brian Hartline said Wednesday. “He's tough. He plays tough. He wants his teammates to play tough. And he sets that standard offensively.

“Having Cade in the lineup and playing the way he's played and as productive as he's been, how consistent he's been, has been a huge part for our offense. And that says a lot about what Cade has done in the offseason to prepare for this year. Everyone has seen the growth, and he's one heck of a player. We're lucky and glad to have him for this bowl game.”

Although it appears Marvin Harrison Jr. is the only Ohio State player (excluding Buckeyes who entered the transfer portal) opting out of the Cotton Bowl, Stover said he didn’t try to persuade anyone else to make the same decision he’s making, knowing everyone has their own factors to consider. He certainly won’t hold it against his close friend Tommy Eichenberg, whose availability for Friday’s game is “up in the air” due to the arm injury he suffered in November, if Eichenberg ends up sitting out the Cotton Bowl in what will also be his final game as a Buckeye.

“Whatever Tommy decides to do on Friday night doesn't hinder nor help what he's done,” Stover said. “He's one of the best linebackers in my opinion to ever play through here. And without him, I don't think I'm still here this long. That's my best friend. That's the best man in my wedding. I’ll go to war with that dude any day of the week, whatever he needs. For what he's done, to keep his mouth shut about it and how he handled stuff, that’s a special, special dude.”

But Stover is grateful that the majority of his teammates, even those who could join him in the 2024 NFL draft, will be joining him on the field for his final game as a Buckeye. While a Cotton Bowl win wouldn’t make up for the disappointment of losing his final three games against Michigan and failing to make this year’s College Football Playoff, it’s still an opportunity to end his Ohio State career on a high note.

“I think it kind of speaks to who we got as a team, as people. We got a lot of really, really good guys over here,” Stover said. “And no, it didn’t all go the way you wanted it to go, but to see everybody stay locked in and do what’s best for the team, not all just for themselves, it’s special.”

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