COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State’s tight end room is far from normal. It’s headlined by a guy who’s played linebacker and defensive end as well as two receivers who were flipped to the position after high school.
Cade Stover is Ohio State’s first starting tight end to return since 2019. The fifth-year senior is a more than capable blocker and much-improved pass catcher and route runner. He had 36 catches for five touchdowns in the 2022 season and is capable of much more in 2023.
“I’ve just grown up,” Stover said. “I’m older, I understand things better, I see things quicker, and that allows the game to really slow down for me.”
Stover’s season ended prematurely after leaving the Peach Bowl against Georgia because of back spasms in a 42-41 loss. He’s back in no small part because of his relationship with first-year tight ends coach Keenan Bailey.
“There’s things that I’ve never done before that he constantly puts me in positions to do, way more than the comfortable positions,” Stover said. “I run way more one-on-ones with the safeties now … just little things like that just trying to make me uncomfortable and get better at those things to broaden my basis for what I can do.”
Bailey said he had one message for Stover when they had a conversation about whether he should stay in Columbus or leave for the NFL after his fourth year with the Buckeyes.
“Two words: get uncomfortable. I text [Cade] that all the time. I printed it out and put it on his desk. Get uncomfortable,” Bailey said. “If I put Cade in a drill where he can exhale because he knows he’s good at it, shame on me. He should’ve went to the NFL. … I said I’m going to make you uncomfortable because that’s where you grow.”
Bailey is getting his first crack at leading a position group after being a part of the OSU coaching staff for seven years. The promotion is a culmination of a decade in college football.
Bailey began his OSU career as an offensive intern coaching running backs, before moving to receivers in 2017 and quarterbacks in 2019, followed by three years as a quality control coach.
Named to 247Sports’ 30 Under 30 list, Bailey began at Missouri in 2014 as an undergraduate assistant, where he spent one year before joining his alma mater, Notre Dame, working as a recruiting analyst. That led to his position at Ohio State, and it’s been an upward trajectory ever since, with the tight end room being his next responsibility, where he’s already taking a different approach.
“I tell my guys and my future Buckeyes I don’t have tight end drills,” Bailey said. “I’ve got receiver drills, and I’m going to coach you like I would coach Jaxon [Smith-Njigba] and Chris [Olave] and Garrett [Wilson]. And I don’t have o-line drills because when it’s time to block, I’m going to coach you like coach [Justin] Frye coaches Paris [Johnson Jr.] and Dawand [Jones], period. Because one play you’ve got to be him and another play you’ve got to be him.”
Bailey said he also believes in the depth of the tight end room, which features graduate Gee Scott, senior Joe Royer and freshman Jelani Thurman.
“We’ve got enough depth that I can put guys out there to [give Cade a break]. Cade deserves, and his team deserves and his team needs Cade at his best later in the year and that’s what we’re going to do,” Bailey said.
Royer experienced what he called the hardest year of his life after his mother died last September. He missed most of the 2022 season because of a groin injury.
“When I lost my mom and I came back there were times I was like, ‘Man I don’t really know if I even want to be playing the rest of the season,'” Royer said. “It was a rough year. … Honestly, I don’t really think there’s anything that can go on in my life that would get me to that point again. When things get tough I feel like I’m a little scarred from things like that, calloused in a good way. Obviously, what happened wasn’t good but I kind of built up my mental toughness being able to fight through certain things.”
The Buckeyes return to the field on Sept. 2 for the season opener at Indiana.