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Football: ‘Quintessential tight end’ Stover getting more involved in Buckeyes passing game

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Through three games, Ohio State fourth-year tight end Cade Stover (8) has amassed 137 rec. yards on eight receptions. Credit: Katie Good | Asst. Photo Editor

Last week, C.J. Stroud called Cade Stover a “little Gronk,” likening his brute strength to that of future NFL Hall of Fame tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The Buckeyes’ fourth-year tight end said he loves Gronkowski but has a different tight end in mind to compare himself to.

“I’m a huge Jeremy Shockey guy,” Stover said. “That’s my favorite tight end of all time.”

Stover mirrors the longtime New York Giants and New Orleans Saints tight end in a way. Both have similar frames, good for run blocking with the Buckeyes tight end standing 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and Shockey at 6-foot-5, 251 pounds. They also can go up and get the ball when needed — something Stover can thank his high school basketball days for.

It hasn’t been until recently that Stover has been getting more looks in the passing game, and head coach Ryan Day said his versatility pays dividends in the Buckeye offense.

“You saw his versatility. You know, firstly, how tough he is and how physical he is at the line of scrimmage,” Day said. “Now you’re starting to see what he can be: a weapon in the passing game.”

Stover’s first position wasn’t tight end, though.

The Mansfield, Ohio, native was recruited as a linebacker out of Lexington High School. Once Stover arrived in Columbus, he was shuffling back and forth between defensive end and linebacker.

Last season, he logged his first snaps at tight end, catching five passes for 76 yards while still getting some run at linebacker.

Stover filled in at linebacker — a position at which the Buckeyes were thin — in the 2022 Rose Bowl. Stover supported then-third-year linebacker Tommy Eichenberg’s 17-tackle performance with six of his own.

Stover said playing linebacker in the Rose Bowl was the “one last goodbye” he needed to convert to tight end full time.

“I mean, previously, I had some doubt, like, should I even be over here? So, it’s hard to really give everything you have at that point, be like, ‘I don’t know if all this is right,’” Stover said. “I think after going and playing linebacker in the Rose Bowl, that was kind of, I needed that to be able to be like, ‘OK, I need one more stamp over there to be like I can do it on this side of the ball, too.’”

Stover worked in the offseason with Ohio State senior advisor to the head coach Keenan Bailey to improve his route-running abilities and what “leverage you’re attacking.” Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said he has seen how Stover has “grown as a pass catcher.”

Stover said in his transition to tight end, a big factor in his success and growth at the position was remaining confident in himself.

“I think if you doubt yourself and 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, in my heart I knew, ‘You’re talented enough to do it. You just have to figure out how to do it.’”

Despite the wealth of options the Buckeyes have on the perimeter, Stover is the team’s third-leading receiver, hauling in eight passes for 137 yards.

Stover backed up Stroud’s Gronkowski comparison by catching three passes for 83 yards against Toledo — the most yards by an Ohio State tight end since Jeff Heuerman caught 116 against Purdue in 2013. He nearly came down with his first-career collegiate touchdown, but an overthrow Stroud was “shooting himself in the foot” put that on hold for the moment.

Stroud said it’s “exciting” seeing the work Stover put in during the offseason being acknowledged on a wider scale.

“He’s probably the person I look up to on the team honestly. He always puts confidence in me — just his knack just to win and want to just dominate people,” Stroud said. “He’s a great leader, a great man of God. And then, of course, he works on the farm, which you can see in his work ethic, and it’s starting to pay off for him.”

Ohio State tight ends have mainly been instructed to be run blockers first and then pass catchers second. However, Stover is shifting that mantra, as his 45.7 yards per game puts him on pace for the most receiving yards for a Buckeye tight end since Rickey Dudley’s 575-yard season in 1995.

Wilson thinks Stover has more in the tank.

“I think he’s the quintessential tight end because he’s got size, he’s got toughness, he’s not flashy, he’s a little bit dirty, but he’s got some ball skills,” Wilson said. “Our team loves him, I love him. I think he’s a special player — long way to go, we’re just starting. Long way to go with him, I’m counting on a big year out of that kid.”

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