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Player to Watch: Cade Stover is a modern tight end with an old school mentality

Stover finally found a home (position) in 2022, but saw his breakout season come to an unfortunate and untimely end in the CFP. Now back as a proven and unselfish veteran leader, he is looking to finish his Ohio State career on a high note.

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Cade Stover was a multi-sport star and two-way football standout at Lexington High School in Mansfield, Ohio, about an hour north of Ohio State’s Columbus campus. After breaking school records on the hardwood (basketball) and winning Ohio’s Mr. Football on the gridiron, he committed to OSU as part of the team’s 2019 football recruiting class.

Ranked by 247Sports as the No. 5 outside linebacker and No. 67 player overall, he was expected to transition from running back and hybrid safety (in HS) to OLB or edge for the Buckeyes, thanks in part to his big, athletic frame and willingness to hit people.

But as is often the case with two-way players and/or tweeners making the transition from high school to college, Stover became a guy without a position in Columbus. He practiced and played primarily as a defensive end in 2019, which was probably a mistake given his prior experience. Big and athletic or not, one does not simply move from off-the-line hybrid defender to edge rusher with ease.

Perhaps Ohio State coaches saw the future – and the team’s lack of a pass rush – and attempted to convert Stover anyway. However, this experiment was short-lived and unsuccessful, leading to multiple new experiments in the years that followed.

Photo by George Fleiner/Special to the News Journal, Mansfield News Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Stover was moved to tight end in 2020... and then ‘back’ to LB, where he was initially recruited to play in the first place. The same process played out again in 2021, although he did earn legitimate reps at TE this time, reeling in five catches for 76 yards. But Stover’s ’21 season ended at LB, when he totaled six tackles in the Buckeyes’ (2022) Rose Bowl victory over Utah. So yes, if you’re keeping track at home, he racked up more tackles than receptions despite being listed as a TE on the season-long depth chart. Got all that?

Great. Now we can discuss the fact that Stover was finally kept at one position last season and found success as a result. The former Ohio Mr. Football was named OSU’s starting TE heading into the 2022 season – taking over for the talented but underutilized Jeremy Ruckert – and proceeded to crush it. Stover totaled 36 catches for 406 and 5 TD, in addition to his work at the line of scrimmage.

Was his ’22 campaign a prime Gronk or Travis Kelce performance? No. But he became a dependable target for C.J. Stroud, had two multi-TD games, improved as a blocker, and enjoyed the most productive season by a Buckeye TE in nearly 30 years. That ain’t nothin’, folks.

Unfortunately, Stover suffered a back injury during the first quarter of Ohio State’s CFP game against Georgia, robbing him of a potential storybook ending (season or collegiate career). But if there is/was any sort of silver lining, it is that he will be motivated by unfinished business. And the fact that he gets another opportunity to write his own ending. Stover now enters the 2023 season as a Buckeye captain, a Mackey Award candidate, and a potential 2024 NFL Draft pick.

Listed at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Stover certainly looks the part of a modern TE. He is somehow both compact and stretched out, all at the same time. If you told me he measured in at 6-foot-2 I would not be surprised. Then you see him extend for a ball thrown high, and he looks like he is 6-foot-6 with ‘go go gadget’ arms. Stover has everything coaches and talent evaluators look for in a high-level TE, even if his game is admittedly a work in progress.

Because there are drops. There are missed blocks and/or assignments. But Stover’s effort, skill, toughness, and potential are all on display consistently. And his athleticism is slept on, in my humble opinion. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who has played three different positions – on both sides of the ball – for the freaking Ohio State Buckeyes.

Heading into the 2023 season, Stover’s position is (finally!) no longer in question. Nor is his role or status. He is TE1 and a trusted leader. That is part of the reason he was voted captain and also co-represented OSU at Big Ten Media Days, where he dropped a heater of quote regarding NIL and tractors... To paraphrase Terrell Owens: “That’s my tight end.”

Of course, Stover will still have to ‘fight’ with the Buckeyes’ cavalcade of WRs to earn targets. But a dependable TE can often be a new QB’s best friend. He will likely do much of his damage underneath, providing a safety valve of sorts for Kyle McCord, Devin Brown, or Lincoln Kienholz. And I expect Stover to be productive again in this role. But there is also nothing preventing him from being a downfield or catch-and-run threat, which is something we saw glimpses of last season.

For all the reasons above and more that I am probably missing, I think Stover could enjoy an even better season in 2023. And my fellow Ohio State fans should be excited for his continued growth. That certainly makes him a player to watch.