As he pursues his dream of playing in the NFL, Eleven Warriors is following along with former Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade to document his journey through the draft process.
Over the next two months, Wade will be checking in with us regularly to keep us updated on the NFL draft process as he works toward getting the call from the league in this year’s NFL draft, which is scheduled for April 29 – May 1.
In this installment of Shaun Wade’s Journey to the NFL, Wade discusses how he’s navigated this year’s unconventional draft process, his ongoing recovery from injuries that plagued him during his final season as a Buckeye and how he’ll be raising money for charity at Ohio State’s pro day.
In a year that’s been full of ups and downs and unexpected challenges, Shaun Wade was hit with another one last month.
When a rare snowstorm hit Dallas in February, Wade’s EXOS training facility had to shut down for a week, and he lost power at the house where he’s staying. That snowstorm coincided with the start of the NFL’s virtual scouting combine, which meant Wade was forced to reschedule multiple interviews with NFL teams because his power and WiFi went out.
During another interview, the former Ohio State defensive back was forced to get creative when he lost power during the call.
“It was definitely stressful,” Wade recalled. “It was a test I was taking, so I had to go hurry up and run to the car, connect to my hotspot, just to take the test and everything. So it was definitely crazy. But at the end of the day, you gotta do what you gotta do to be the best, and you go through a lot of adversity. So you just gotta find a way to get through it, and I did.”
That’s been the theme for the past year for Wade, who underwent groin surgery before his final season at Ohio State and also battled turf toe during the season. Despite those injuries, Wade played in all eight of the Buckeyes’ 2020 games. However, he didn’t play as well as an outside cornerback in 2020 as he did as a slot cornerback in 2019, and he says that’s come up in many of his interviews with NFL teams.
Wade doesn’t dispute that assessment. But the challenges that came through 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help.
“I agree with the teams. I feel like I didn’t play as well, I feel like I definitely could have done better,” Wade told Eleven Warriors. “But there’s things that I went through at the time. Had surgery during the COVID time, so I didn’t get to do treatment and strengthen that groin and everything up like I could. And then them canceling the season, I still didn’t have the time to strengthen that groin up and things like that. Didn’t get to play corner in practice like that. And then having to go back without playing corner and not doing football-specific training, because when I went back home, I was doing combine training, because I was trying to get myself stronger.”
Wade's draft stock is uncertain as a result of his performance this season, but he isn't focused on that. He’s still confident he can play any position in an NFL secondary, and he thinks teams believe that, too.
“At the end of the day, they all know I can still play and things like that. At the end of the day, whatever round I get drafted, I just gotta perform on the field when minicamp and all that stuff comes,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, they all see that I have versatility to play all five positions (both outside cornerback spots, both safety spots and slot cornerback). They’re always asking me what position do I play the best and things like that, but at the end of the day, I just have to perform at pro day and just wait and whatever team picks me up, just perform there so I can get on the field.”
Wade, who said the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans are among the teams with which he has had virtual interviews, wishes he could be meeting with NFL teams in person. Under normal circumstances, Wade would have been at the NFL Scouting Combine this past weekend, but this year’s in-person combine workouts were canceled due to COVID-19. Nonetheless, Wade is trying to put his best foot forward in every opportunity he does have to impress NFL scouts.
“Talking to a screen, it just seems like how it was going through our meetings at Ohio State, trying to get the playbook in with everybody. Just talking to a guy on the screen and not being able to see them in person and shake their hand and visually look at them in the eye, that’s the difference,” Wade said. “But at the end of the day, you have to show out and perform regardless of in person or through the screen, you’ve just gotta be yourself and show out and perform. I’m enjoying the process. You gotta enjoy it. And I’m just happy to be one of the top guys and playing football and being able to get drafted and go to the league.”
While EXOS held a pro day this past weekend in lieu of the combine, Wade did not participate due to his ongoing recovery from the turf toe. But he still plans to go through a full workout at Ohio State’s March 30 pro day.
“Still trying to get injury-free, still trying to get healthy all the way, so I haven’t been doing everything yet. But it’s going good. Getting stronger, getting faster, getting more twitchier, so just trying to get back to my old self,” Wade said. “I lost a lot of weight in 2020, due to the surgery I had. Lost a lot of weight, trying to gain all that muscle back, that’s the No. 1 thing I’ve been doing. Just learning my things that I need to work on, which is technique, finishing through the ball, playing every play. Everybody in the draft has something they have to work on, have to critique, so just critiquing myself hard and not just trying to be soft on myself, being friendly with myself. Just being hard on myself so I can be the best Shaun Wade I can be.”
Considering the injuries he played through, some people might have advised Wade not to play this past season to get fully healthy and preserve his NFL draft stock. For Wade, though, the opportunity to chase a national championship and finish what he started at Ohio State – both on and off the field – was more important.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about myself, it’s about the team,” Wade said. “I told the scouts, my goal was to get the team to the national championship. If you go look at my interviews, I said, ‘We’re going to get to the national championship.’ So it’s not about myself, it’s not about how I performed and things like that, it’s about winning the games so we could get to the national championship. We got there, but we didn’t succeed the goal that we wanted to, which is win the national championship.
“I wanted to graduate. I promised my parents and my family I would graduate. And then my teammates, I love The Ohio State University and I love my team. I’m not gonna let them down just because my draft stock was high; that’s selfish, in my opinion. Everybody has their own reasons, but if they were going to have a season, I came back for them to have a season, why not play? So that was the reasons why I came back. It’s not about myself. It’s about just winning games and wanting to win a national championship, and playing with the guys I got to play with. You only get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play with Justin Fields, Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers, Sevyn Banks. You’ve got freshmen that are 6-3 trying to learn from you and they look up to you. You only get once in a lifetime to do that stuff, and that’s just the things I like to do. I like to help people out, it ain’t just about myself.”
Wade, who graduated with a degree in sports industry, said it’s “very special” to be able to call himself an alumnus of The Ohio State University.
“Ohio State’s one of the top schools in academics and in sports, and it’s just an honor just to graduate from there,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of alumni in the world that help out in the workforce, because football will be over one day. So you just gotta know what you want to do outside of sports. A lot of football players are so locked in with sports, sports, football, football, but when football ends, they don’t know what to do with their life. And that’s something I want to do. I want to make sure I have something I know what I want to do after football ends. Because if you really look at statistics, people play only three years and they’re done. And let’s be real. We were just in 2017, it’s 2021 now, and that went by quick. Like a snap of a finger. So you gotta know what you want to do in life after football.”
“At the end of the day, it’s not about myself, it’s about the team.”– Shaun Wade on playing through injuries in 2020
When Wade participates in Ohio State’s pro day, there will be more than just his draft stock on the line, specifically with his performance in the broad jump. Wade is raising money for Warrick Dunn Charities, which provides assistance for single-parent and underprivileged families, through the website PledgeIt, where donors can pledge a donation for every inch he leaps in the broad jump on March 30.
Because his father served in the military for much of his childhood, Wade’s mother often had to take care of him and his siblings on her own, which inspired him to choose the charity he did. Both of Wade’s parents, though, inspired him to give back and think of others beyond himself.
“She inspired me a lot because she took care of me. And my dad always inspired me because he’s the one that really, really pushed us to give back,” Wade said. “I remember there was one time when I was young, he made us go to the homeless shelter, and I was like ‘Man, I don’t want to go there.’ You know me as a kid, ‘I want to go outside.’ He was like, ‘No, you’re coming.’ And that’s just how he is. He gave back. He took care of a lot of my friends, he helped them with getting into school and different things like that. There was this boy in Texas that he was living in his house his high school year, and he ended up getting into a D2 college and my dad got in contact with him, he wanted to go meet him and things like that, and just give him some things, give him encouragement because he had just been working hard. He was living in his car, he was living by himself, trying to grind just to get in school, and a school ended up offering him, so that’s just a blessing. My dad’s a person that loves to give back.
“And my mom, she’s just a caretaker. She loves kids and loves being around kids. She’s always let all of my friends come. We had four or five friends that stayed the night for the whole week, and she’d take care of us. That’s just the type of people my parents are.”
Unfortunately, Wade and his family recently experienced tragedy when one of his cousins was killed. So in a parting message this week, Wade wants to encourage everyone to enjoy the time they have on Earth.
“Life is short,” Wade said. “Just enjoy life and the people you’re around, because it’s just crazy how life is.”