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Ohio State Tight End Cade Stover plays through knee injury in final game as Buckeye

Before the team’s trip to Texas, there was question whether the two-time Ohio State captain would play in the Buckeyes’ season finale due to that injury, which he battled throughout the second half of the season. He was not initially on the list of offensive players scheduled to meet with the media on Wednesday, sparking speculation that he might sit out the game to prioritize his health ahead of the 2024 NFL Draft.

But Stover practiced with the Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium this week, and he said during his interview session Wednesday that he will be on the field for his final game as a Buckeye on Friday when Ohio State takes on the Missouri (8 p.m., ESPN).

“I signed up for a full year, I got to play a full year,” Stover said. “Am I going to play every snap? I doubt. But I will definitely be in the game on Friday. So I want to hang out with these guys on the right terms.

Stover, who still wore a bulky brace on his injured knee during practices partially open to the media Tuesday and Wednesday, said only that his knee was “fine” when asked how he felt Wednesday, although he had replied that he felt good. better than at the end of the regular season, when he missed Ohio State’s November opener against Rutgers due to injury before sitting out the final three games of the month.

Although Stover has yet to officially declare for the 2024 NFL Draft, he gave no indication Wednesday that he plans to use his sixth year of eligibility to remain at Ohio State. He said he hasn’t spent much time thinking about the finality of this week as he prepares to wrap up his Ohio State career, but he is motivated to finish his career with a win and felt it was important for him to be on the field with his teammates for one more game.

“There’s been a lot of back and forth about what’s smart and what’s not.” You have a lot of different opinions, but again, at the end of the day, it kind of comes down to what you can morally live with and what you morally stand on,” Stover said. “And that’s what I thought was the best decision was to be out there with the guys.”

“I signed up for a full year, I have to play a full year.”– Cade Stover on playing in the Cotton Bowl

Stover thought about entering the 2023 NFL Draft after four years as a Buckeye, but he’s glad he chose to stay at Ohio State for another year. He capitalized on his return by putting together one of the most productive seasons ever for an Ohio State tight end, catching 41 passes for 576 yards and five touchdowns, leaving him just 65 yards short of the record. single season for tight end receiving yards and tied for third in school history among tight ends with 10 career touchdowns.

“It was one of the best decisions of my life, coming back for one more year,” Stover said.

The Ohio State coaches are certainly happy that Stover stayed for a fifth season with the Buckeyes.

“Cade is the backbone of this offense at times,” offensive coordinator Brian Hartline said Wednesday. ” He is hard. He plays hard. He wants his teammates to play hard. And he sets that standard offensively.

“Having Cade in the lineup and playing the way he’s played and as productive as he’s been, how consistent he’s been, has been a huge role for our offense. And that says a lot about what Cade has done in the offseason to prepare for this year. Everyone has seen his growth and he is a heck of a player. We are lucky and happy to have him for this bowl game.

Although it appears Marvin Harrison Jr. is the only Ohio State player (aside from the Buckeyes who entered the transfer portal) to withdraw from the Cotton Bowl, Stover said he doesn’t hadn’t tried to persuade anyone else to make the same decision as him, knowing everyone. has its own factors to consider. He certainly won’t blame his close friend Tommy Eichenberg, whose availability for Friday’s game is “uncertain” due to the arm injury he suffered in November, if Eichenberg ends up sitting out the Cotton Bowl in what will also be his final game as a Buckeye.

“Whatever Tommy decides to do Friday night, it doesn’t hinder or help what he did,” Stover said. “In my opinion, he’s one of the best linebackers to ever play here. And without him, I don’t think I’ll be here this long. They `re my best friend. He is the best man at my wedding. I’ll go to war with this guy any day of the week, no matter what he needs. For what he did, for keeping his mouth shut and for the way he handled things, he’s a special, special guy.

But Stover is grateful that the majority of his teammates, even those who might join him in the 2024 NFL Draft, will join him on the field for his final game as a Buckeye. While a win in the Cotton Bowl wouldn’t make up for the disappointment of losing his last three games to Michigan and not making this year’s College Football Playoff, it’s still an opportunity to finish his career in Ohio State on a high note.

“I think it’s kind of a testament to what we have as a team and as people. We have a lot of really good guys here,” Stover said. “And no, not everything went the way you wanted, but seeing everyone stay locked in and do what’s best for the team, not just themselves, it’s special. ”

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