Kevin Wilson was once forbidden from recruiting the player he now coaches.
Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and tight ends coach had his eye on Cade Stover when he was a multi-position and multi-sport star at Lexington High School, near Mansfield.
But so did the Buckeyes’ defensive coaches, and they essentially called dibs on Stover.
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“I was told when we recruited Cade, I was never allowed to go see him because the recruiters thought he could be a good tight end, and if I walked in the building it would be a bad deal,” Wilson said. “So I was dying to watch him play high school basketball, and I was prohibited from doing so.”
It took awhile, but Wilson eventually got his man. After starting his Ohio State career as a linebacker and then shifting to defensive end, Stover is now a tight end.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound redshirt freshman believes it’s his ideal position.
“I think in the long run, it's a better fit for my body,” Stover said last week after Ohio State’s second practice of the spring.
He likes that the position allows him to be both physical and use his athleticism.
“You get to play a little nasty in blocking people,” Stover said, “and you get to play in space and get the ball. So it's pretty good.”
The irony is that the idea of moving Stover from defense to offense wasn’t his or Wilson’s. It was defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s.
Johnson wanted to have tight end Cormontae Hamilton play for him. Wilson agreed that made sense because Hamilton’s body kept filling out. Even while dieting, Hamilton’s weight reached at least 265 pounds.
“He was kind of outgrowing the spot,” Wilson said.
So Hamilton-for-Stover became a de facto swap.
“It was kind of a mutual kind of thing, like maybe it’d be best for both kids,” Wilson said. “We'll see how it plays out. Short term, it looks good.”
That’s not to suggest Stover isn’t raw at his new position.
“I wouldn't say it's easy,” he said. “It's coming along slowly. Every day is a building process.”
Wilson said that in the winter, Stover looked a bit like a fish out of water in more formal drills. But when they were just “playing ball,” Stover’s innate athleticism came out.
Position changes are not new to Stover. He was recruited as a linebacker, but at Lexington, he played wide receiver his first two years, quarterback as a junior and tailback as a senior.
Stover wants to contribute as soon as he can at his new position and on special teams, but the Buckeyes don’t need to rush him. With proven veterans Luke Farrell, Jeremy Ruckert and Jake Hausmann returning, tight end is among the deepest units on the team.
“They've mentored me a ton,” Stover said. “Those guys are great. They've helped me so much getting a grasp on everything. Having them be like, ‘That’s wrong, your step is wrong here,’ that helps, rather than coach Wilson always have to come and tell me.”
Stover may be unpolished, but he and the Buckeyes believe in his potential. He believes his basketball background — he was second-team all-state as a junior — helps with his ability to catch the ball in space. He also believes his experience on defense will give him an edge.
“I think an offensive guy with a defensive mindset is dangerous,” he said. “That's bred in me, so that's not going anywhere.”
Wilson now hopes that the player he once wasn’t allowed to see won’t be going to any other position.
“He's a good football player,” he said. “I think it's going to be a good move for him. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he's going to be a good one.”