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NFL Draft: Ohio State tight end Cade Stover comes from sturdy stock, expects to flourish in pros

In the final weeks before the NFL Draft, Cade Stover has joined Ohio State tights end coach Keenan Bailey for daily 6 a.m. workouts. Early to rise is a way of life for someone who grew up on a farm in Mansfield.

“I don’t think it’s a cheap figure of speech to use farming as a metaphor,” Bailey told The Chronicle-Telegram last week. “Cade’s success did not happen overnight. And I just think that it’s pretty symbolic. He just goes to work every day and then at the end of it all, out comes this great end result.

“I don’t know the first thing about freaking farming, I’m from South Florida, but isn’t that what they say about farming is you just kind of work the land over and over and over and you plant it, you water it, you soil it and then here comes harvest and out of nowhere it kind of sprouts up. And that’s kind of what Cade’s journey in football was.”

Stover, 23, is one of the top tight ends in the draft and could come off the board Friday in the second or third round. In his interview at the scouting combine, he spoke with an intensity and conviction Bailey preferred to label passion.

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Many things elicit emotion from Stover — Ohio State, teammates, losses to Michigan, criticism of his blocking — but nothing inspires his love like the family farm. You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.

And don’t dare try with the one nicknamed “Farmer Gronk.”

“That’s my life, that’s who I am, through and through,” Stover said at the combine. “That’s where I came from. No matter where you take me or where you shake me, you’re not going to take that away.”

He loves baling hay and objects when someone suggests that’s not normal. He reminisces about nightly family dinners through high school. He glows with pride when discussing the farm and city he’ll always call home and leading the local public school (Lexington) to glory on the football field and basketball court.

For many professional athletes, sports is a way out. For Stover, the NFL is an opportunity to guarantee a way back — and that the farm will go on and remain in the family. He majored in agricultural systems management.

“It’s hard to get to know or to talk about Cade without agriculture just because that was the means, that was everything growing up,” Bailey said. “That was the beginning of Cade. It made him who he is, but that’s also the end goal. He wants to be able to provide for his future family like his dad did and his grandpa did and his great-grandpa did via the farm.”

As much as Stover missed the farm while he trained for the combine in Dallas — he FaceTimed his family every day — he’s driven to succeed in the NFL. He played defensive end and linebacker for the Buckeyes — including starting at linebacker in the 2022 Rose Bowl — before making the permanent switch to tight end for the final two seasons. He sustained a hairline fracture in his back during a playoff loss to Georgia, then returned for his fifth and final season to get another shot at Michigan. He played in the Cotton Bowl in December despite a lingering knee injury and his agents’ recommendation to sit out.

“The obligation to the team is that obligation to myself,” said Stover, a two-time captain who screamed at teammates as short-handed Ohio State struggled in the loss to Missouri.

There’s that passion again.

Stover (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) feels he’s just getting started as a tight end after catching 77 passes for 982 yards and 10 touchdowns, with only two drops, in the two full-time years at the position. The Big Ten Tight End of the Year ran a solid 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Bailey said NFL teams want to know about Stover’s route running, and he’s happy to talk about every facet of the receiving skills.

“He catches everything to begin with,” Bailey said. “He uses his size and his speed to get open.

“I think it’s kind of cheap for some people to say he’s not a great route runner. He was our second-leading receiver at Ohio State with the best receiver room in the country. So I kind of get defensive when I hear that. He was our leading receiver in several games and Marvin Harrison’s on the other side of him. So I love his ball skills, but I love that he uses route-running tools.”

Some draft analysts have focused on Stover’s blocking. Pro Football Focus gave him a run-blocking grade of 54.4 for last season and a pass-blocking grade of 68.6. His eyes went to another level of seriousness when responding to the criticism.

“I’m here to tell you, old PPF or PFF, whatever the hell it is, they don’t know my scheme, they don’t know what the hell I’m doing out there,” he said. “But that seems to be a common theme going on here. If you’re afraid to miss, you’re not going to get nothing done, you’re going to play passive.

“I think it’s a misconception. I can think of f—— a million blocks, but that’s life, that’s how it goes. Always 100 percent effort, always full tilt.”

Bailey also doesn’t understand the criticism. When the coaches put together the game plans to face their best opponents, they did so with Stover as their No. 1 blocker.

“If you look across his career how many times he was asked to block the defense’s best block-destruction guy, which is a defensive end, it was over and over and over again,” Bailey said. “And this is no offense to any other tight end in the draft, but I think if you take (Georgia’s Brock) Bowers and (Texas’ Ja’Tavion) Sanders and all these other guys combined, I don’t know if they were asked to block a premier edge rusher as many times as we asked Cade in the run game and pass protection.”

The Browns could use a young No. 2 tight end behind Pro Bowler David Njoku. Bailey crossed paths with new tight ends coach Tommy Rees at Notre Dame and said he’s spoken plenty with the Browns about Stover.

Getting drafted by Cleveland would make life simpler for Stover. I-71 is a few minutes from Browns headquarters, and Mansfield and the farm an hour south.

“I don’t think you can measure what’s inside of me,” he said. “I don’t think you can measure the kind of person I am. I don’t think you can measure how good of a football player I’m just scratching the surface to really be.

“I’m going to do everything you want me to do exactly how it should be done every single time with everything I’ve got.”

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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