Cade Stover caught five passes last season as the Buckeyes’ second tight end and then also notched a career-high six tackles as a starting linebacker in Ohio State’s Rose Bowl matchup against Utah.
Stover was a man for all seasons last year in one single season alone.
After arriving at Ohio State as one of the top high school linebackers in the country, Stover’s size eventually saw him get moved to defensive end by the end of the 2019 season. Then, prior to the 2020 season, he was moved to tight end, where he stayed until this past November when the defense needed his help.
After the Rose Bowl, it sure seemed like his days on offense were over. He played well against the Utes and gave the Buckeyes a physical presence that they had been missing. Coaches were happy with him — and they saw how happy he was to be back on defense.
Soon after spring ball started, however, Stover was back at tight end.
“I’m just a ballplayer,” Stover said of his move. “I’m just trying to play ball.”
After evaluating the situation at both tight end and linebacker, as well as seeing what new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense needs and wants, Stover decided his best chance to help this team would be on offense.
He talked to the coaches and the move was made.
“I didn’t talk to him for like a day or so,” said linebacker teammate and roommate Steele Chambers, who was looking forward to playing next to one of his best friends this season.
“At the end of the day, it was really up to him,” said head coach Ryan Day. “We want guys to own it. And I think he saw just moving forward, he’s got a huge ceiling at tight end. I think when you look at the work he’s put in the past year and his skill set, he’s got a chance to be a really good tight end. And I think the thing he would tell you is he wants to bring that same defensive mentality to the offense, and he could do that. He’s strong, he’s powerful, he’s really athletic, got really good ball skills, was a really good high school basketball player.”
Given what the tight end does in this Ohio State offense, there will still certainly be the need for physicality that Stover likes to bring.
And when you hear him talk about playing tight end, it’s one of the reasons why moving to offense isn’t all that much of a sacrifice for him.
“Just trying to maul people really,” Stover said of his mentality on offense. “Who’s ever in front of you, you’re trying really flat out to put him on his back. It’s just like in a street fight when you’re trying to put whatever’s in front of you on his back.”
The first time Stover moved to tight end, the learning curve was steep. Fortunately for him, he had veterans in front of him that allowed him to learn at a reasonable pace and then help when he was ready. Now, however, the job is wide open and Stover is the most experienced true tight end on the roster.
This time around the learning curve has flattened, which will also allow him to bring the aggression and mentality that a physical offense needs.
“It’s awesome. In my mind that’s the only way you can play this game,” Stover said. “I think when I first moved over to tight end, it was really more or less a learning curve. I’d never played it. So more or less learning how to take that energy and passion, but also keep your technique with you. And now I know the scheme enough to where I can just go, and I can play and be that on that side of the ball.”
People on the outside may look back at how happy Stover was after the Rose Bowl to finally be playing defense again and view this move once again to offense as a step back. Stover, on the other hand, only sees it as another step forward for what he will ultimately become.
“I don’t know really, I just I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I mean down the road, you look at tight ends, you look at my body, the way I move. I mean, really, that’s what I do. I don’t know how many people love a 6-foot-4 260-pound middle backer anymore. So, over there I had a good time on defense. I love playing defense, but I mean, I’m just trying to bring what I did on defense over to the offense, and so far I’ve done it and I’m a lot happier.”