Ohio State freshman Cade Stover couldn’t help but laugh.
That was the immediate, almost instinctive response in mid-November when Stover was asked if he’d need a new backpack as he walked down the quarter-mile-long ramp from the visiting locker room to the playing surface at Rutgers.
Stover had just played the fourth and final game of his freshman season, but every snap he took that afternoon in New Jersey was at defensive end. His current team-issued Nike backpack had linebacker emblazoned on it.
Those game reps against the Scarlet Knights were the final moments of a two-week crash course in playing on the defensive line, something Stover never planned on doing. As a talented two-way player at Lexington High School, Stover played more of roving linebacker role, though some would cut through the semantics and just say he played safety for the Minutemen.
“I’d kind of been playing defensive end on the scout team,” Stover told Lettermen Row. “And then doing some work with [Ohio State defensive line coach] Larry Johnson after practice. Then the next week it was like, ‘OK, let’s see what you can do.'”
Sam Hubbard, who just completed his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals, remembers being in that situation.
In his prep years, Hubbard primarily lined up at safety for Cincinnati Moeller High School. As a college freshman at Ohio State, he started his career at linebacker. Then he moved to tight end. Then finally, to defensive end.
“It’s pretty insane,” Hubbard joked with Lettermen Row. “From what I’ve heard, Stover is on the exact same path that I was on.”
Stover has heard the stories about Hubbard, of course. As a kid growing up in rural Ohio who watched the Buckeyes every weekend, he saw how the move to defensive end worked out for him. That is one of the reasons why the Ohio State freshman didn’t fight the switch to a position he knew nothing about until two months ago. After meeting Hubbard at the Buckeyes spring game last April, Stover said he and Hubbard have maintained semi-regular conversations about what to expect in Columbus, and that was never more important than when the discussion about moving to the defensive line ramped up.
“When I moved to defensive end, I reached out to him,” Stover told Lettermen Row. “We probably talk once a month, once every two months or so.”
The advice from Hubbard was simple: Trust Larry Johnson and trust Buckeyes strength coach Mick Marotti.
As the best athlete on the football team in high school and a dual-sport star who is also Lexington’s all-time scorer in basketball, the goal was to allow the 6-foot-5, 240-pound athlete to make plays from all over. He’s being tasked now with learning to play in one spot — where he’s never played before.
The men preparing Stover for that change have the utmost confidence from Hubbard, and that’s been the crux of his message to the new defensive end.
“He hit me up when he was thinking about making the switch,” Hubbard said. “He told me the path Coach Mick had him on was pretty much the one I took. Basically, I just told him that whatever the coaches ask you to do, take it and run with it. Use the scout team reps that you’re going to get to get better as a player. Go hard at all times.
“My message, really, was to trust Coach Mick and Coach Johnson. Do everything in your power to allow them to develop you, because that only happens if you’re giving everything you got and embracing it. I’m excited to visit with Cade when I go back this offseason.”
Stover had no inclination that his career path would so closely mirror Hubbard’s. But along with Buckeyes senior Jonathon Cooper, the tutelage and advice have kept him positive in the face of uncertainty.
“It was good to have a mentor like that,” Stover said. “He and Jonathon Cooper have really been helping with this.”
And that could pay off in a big way down the road. For highly-ranked recruits who are used to suiting up and being counted on by his teammates, this position switch and the time it takes to learn it can be frustrating.
“I told him about how crushed I was, watching all my classmates playing when we are up by 60 on Kent State and they kept me on the sideline,” Hubbard said. “I told him pretty much told him everything I did to end up starting a few months later as a redshirt freshman.”
Cade Stover is ready to embark on his own redshirt freshman campaign. There’s no word if he’s received his new backpack yet.