Sitting at a table among a long line of Ohio State coaches in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, OSU linebackers coach Al Washington was finishing up some question-and-answering with one reporter when he was asked, “Hey Al, why weren’t you able to hold on to Cade Stover?”
“That’s a good question,” Washington said laughing. “Mother Nature, I suppose?”
Cade Stover came to Ohio State in 2019 as a big linebacker, checking in a year ago as a true freshman around 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. Farm strong, he looked the part almost immediately.
Snaps were not all that available for a freshman linebacker on the 2019 squad, and so Stover and his two other linebacker classmates Craig Young and Tommy Eichenberg redshirted.
Come November, however, the decision was made that it was time to move Stover to defensive end and place him under Larry Johnson’s tutelage.
Even though it was never discussed in recruiting, the move ultimately came as a surprise to no one.
“No, it was straight linebacker in recruiting,” Stover said. “They talked about the Sam Hubbard comparisons and stuff, but inside I thought my body was just going to get too big to play linebacker. It’s not there yet, but it’s coming.”
Washington would probably argue about that latter part.
“He’s a huge, big kid, big athlete and it was maybe around halfway through the season, just looking at him like, ‘Golly!’ He was starting to fill out,” he said. “He’s got a bright future.”
Stover’s future is now his present, and the learning is ongoing.
“I love it. It’s fun. It’s a big learning curve, but I’m learning it slow,” Stover said.
“Coach J was the one who told me. The Sunday before the Rutgers game. He was like, ‘Hey, this week you’re going to be working with me and we’re going to see what you can do at defensive end.’ I went with him all week and then played in the game on Saturday and I’ve been there ever since.”
Stover spent much of the season on scout team, portraying the opponent rather than preparing for it. For some players, this can be a time of frustration, especially with a mid-season move.
For instance, imagine being a linebacker and practicing at linebacker for most of the season, and then one day being told you’re a defensive end and now you’re on scout team and here’s the starting Ohio State offensive line for you to deal with.
It could be too much for some.
“To be honest, you are getting the most quality reps going against the ones every day,” Stover said. “Learning there and getting ready for spring ball, that’s the biggest part right now.”
“I tell guys all the time, and I’ll actually watch the video tape of the guys on scout team, just to reinforce how important it is that you’re going against that offensive lineman,” Johnson said of scout team work. “So every time you win, you take note of it. Go as hard as you can, because that’s going to translate. So he’s done a great job of buying into that.”
There has been no resistance from Stover in any of this, and if there is resistance, there is no position move. Through this entire process, Stover has had an open mind and a eagerness to learn.
He’s also got the physical traits that Larry Johnson likes.
“Well, he’s got the length that we’re looking for,” he said. “He’s got the linebacker instincts. But he walked in with open mind, and we talked. It was a gradual process. We talked about it. I know we spent some time teaching him some pass rush moves, and then he says, ‘Coach, I think I can do this.’ So I think it’s just a matter of transition, to be honest, to get his hands on the ground. He’s getting more comfortable every day.
“I think the summer, and spring football, I think you’re going to see a big change. I can see a difference already in just a little bit of time of working with him.”
That comfort level hasn’t been easy to come by and won’t be found overnight. Now with the season over, Stover can really focus on the fundamentals to the level that Larry Johnson requires.
“It’s completely different,” Stover said. “You have to play a lot faster at defensive end. They’re on you right now, so you have to be fast. It’s getting better. At first it was ‘just go,’ but now I’m trying to get my reads down, what I’ve got to do if I get this or that. I’m really excited for spring. To really get my feet under me and get some action.”
And when he is finally on the field for the Buckeyes in 2020, what should fans expect to see?
“Relentless effort and a relentless finisher,” he said.