Once reluctant, Cade Stover embraces playing tight end for Ohio State, and it's showing

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Cade Stover doesn’t lack confidence. He always knew he could be a standout tight end.

The question for the former Ohio Mr. Football was whether he wanted to be.

The Mansfield native bounced between both sides of the ball his first three seasons at Ohio State. Stover began his Buckeye career as a defensive end as a freshman. He switched to tight end for most of the next two years before finishing at linebacker late last season when Ohio State became short-handed there.

Stover’s heart was on defense. He has a defensive player’s mentality.

Sep 16, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, United States; Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) runs past Toledo Rocket safety Tristen Hoke.   Mandatory Credit: Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch

“Previously, I had some doubt like, ‘Should I even be over here?’ ” Stover said of his first attempt at tight end. “So it's hard to really give everything you have at that point (when wondering), 'I don't know if this is right.' ”

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But after conversations with Ohio State coaches, Stover agreed to switch back to tight end for the 2022 season. New defensive coordinator Jim Knowles uses only two linebackers in his base alignment. With Jeremy Ruckert gone, Ohio State needed help at tight end.

Stover treated the Rose Bowl as a farewell to playing linebacker.

“I needed that to be able to go, ‘I can do it on the other side of the ball,’ ” he said.

Sep 16, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, United States; DUPLICATE***Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8)***Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste (8) gets wrapped up by Toledo Rocket safety Maxen Hook.   Mandatory Credit: Doral Chenoweth/The Columbus Dispatch

Stover has embraced his return to tight end, and he has been a revelation. It’s not surprising the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Stover is an effective blocker. But as Ohio State begins Big Ten play Saturday night against Wisconsin, Stover has emerged as a legitimate threat as a receiver.

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Ruckert was a skilled pass-catcher, but he had only 26 catches last year, none longer than 30 yards. Stover already has three receptions at least that long.

Stover said he’s not surprised that he could have success as a receiver. He worked hard in the offseason with quarterback C.J. Stroud to refine his routes and develop chemistry.

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) is tackled by Toledo Rockets safety Maxen Hook (25) during Saturday's NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

“He was already naturally good at running routes," Stroud said, "but he didn't know the reason why he was running his routes and where he had to be at a certain time. He's really good at man (routes), but in the offseason we really worked on his zone routes, trying to get open in the right time and space."

For Stover, it was a matter of learning the position’s intricacies, not fear that he couldn’t master them.

“If you doubt yourself or you can’t see yourself doing it, you’re never going to do it,” Stover said. “Even when I first came over and I sucked – and I do mean sucked – I always knew in my heart I was talented enough to do it. You’ve just got to figure out how to do it. It took a while, but I think I'm starting to stack them together.”

Sep 17, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) catches a pass in front of Toledo Rockets safety Zachary Ford (7) and linebacker Dallas Gant (19) during the first half of the NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

He said he finally felt like a bona fide tight end after the season opener against Notre Dame. He felt sore and worn out, just like he used to on defense. In other words, he felt the way he should.

It certainly helps to catch balls from a quarterback as talented as Stroud.

“He's the best player with the football in his hands I've ever seen in my life,” Stover said, “and Justin (Fields) came through here. It’s unbelievable touch, too. Sometimes when you catch a ball from people, your hands will sting. Your hands don't sting when he throws the ball. It's soft, but it's got a little zip. It's unbelievable.”

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Ohio State Buckeyes tight end Cade Stover (8) tries to elude tackle by Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Chase Dixon (26) and cornerback Benjamin Morrison (20) during the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports

Stroud is from California and Stover is an Ohio farm boy, but they have bonded. Stroud particularly appreciates Stover’s work ethic and unselfishness.

“He's probably the person I look up to (most) on the team, honestly,” Stroud said. “He always puts confidence in me, just his knack to win and want to dominate people. I definitely appreciate Cade.”

So does Ohio State coach Ryan Day.

“When you're playing tight end, you have to do so many different job descriptions,” he said. “It's such a developmental position. But we saw the skill sets in him.”

Day is glad that Stover was open to going back to tight end despite initial reluctance.

“To his credit,” he said, “he put his faith in us that we're going to try to do everything we could to develop them. No guarantees, but so far, so good. He's going to keep building on it because he can be a weapon for us.”

Stover already is.

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