The redshirt sophomore will be the only returning starter in the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2020

Shaun Wade went with his heart and will return to Ohio State for another season, he announced Saturday.

The redshirt sophomore cornerback could have entered the NFL draft as fellow Class of 2017 recruits Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and J.K. Dobbins did. Wade might have been a first-round pick.

Instead, Wade decided to return. He said he settled on his choice Friday.

“It was a tough decision, but I feel I made the best decision for me,” Wade told The Dispatch from his home in Jacksonville, Florida. “I felt it’s where my heart was.”

Wade’s decision to stay is a huge one for the Buckeyes. Instead of having to replace their entire starting secondary — losing Okudah and seniors Jordan Fuller and Damon Arnette — Ohio State gets a star around which to build.

Wade said the feedback from the NFL indicated that he could go anywhere from the first to third round.

“I just felt this was the best decision no matter what, even if it was first round,” Wade said. “This is what I wanted.”

Wade played slot cornerback this year, but in 2020 will almost certainly move to outside corner, which he considers his natural position. Wade was a crucial player for the Buckeyes this year because of his versatility not only to cover receivers in the slot, but also to make an impact against the run game and as a blitzer.

“I think Shaun might be the best, most critical player in our defense,” Okudah said before Ohio State’s College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson. “I was telling Damon the other day that when Shaun’s not out there, it just feels different.”

That proved painfully prophetic. Ohio State led 16-0 late in the second quarter against Clemson when Wade was ejected for targeting on a third-down sack of Trevor Lawrence.

The Buckeyes’ defense then faltered. Instead of punting, Clemson went on to score on that possession and later added touchdown drives of 83, 99 and 94 yards in the 29-23 victory.

“When I got to the locker room, I was heartbroken,” Wade said. “But I told them to go out and play for us and the university so we could win the (national championship). I know they played their hearts out and did it for each other and the brotherhood.”

Asked what it was like to watch the second half from the locker room, Wade laughed wryly.

“It was different,” he said.

He spent most of the second half on the phone with his girlfriend, Jordan Fields, a track star at the University of South Carolina.

“I was screaming my lungs out, trying to coach in the locker room, but I couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t out there,” Wade said. “No one could hear me.”

As for the targeting call, Wade didn’t stoke the flames.

“They had to make a call, and that’s the call they went with,” he said. “I feel there was more we could have done in that game. I don’t feel my ejection was the reason we lost.”

Wade said the disappointment from the Clemson game was not a major factor in his decision to return. He wants to graduate in the summer with a degree in sports industry and be a leader for younger teammates as they pursue the national championship that eluded them in 2019.

“A lot of people told me that whatever I wanted to do, they’re going to stick by my side,” he said. “Some people were like, go get the money. Some thought I should stay.

“It was my decision. Nobody made it for me. I just went with what my gut and my heart wanted me to do.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch