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Football: Shaun Wade becomes utility player for Ohio State secondary

Ohio State sophomore cornerback Shaun Wade (24) runs on the field during the game against Rutgers on Sept. 8. Credit: Amal Saeed | Assistant Photo Editor

Shaun Wade is willing to do whatever it takes to help the Ohio State defense prosper.

After sitting out his first season following an abdominal injury in 2017, the redshirt freshman has done anything he can to get on the field while teammates and fellow 2017 recruiting class members, such as cornerback Jeffrey Okudah and safety Isaiah Pryor, receive regular playing time.

Wade did not want to get lost in the shuffle.

To make sure of this, he became the ultimate utility man for the Ohio State secondary, extending his ability from his original position of cornerback to the nickel and safety spots, allowing him to find playing time at positions for which he was not recruited.

For Wade, position did not matter. He just wanted to make a contribution.

“I just wanted to be on the field to help the team,” Wade said. “That’s all.”

Ohio State safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch noticed Wade’s drive. In the Sunday practice after Ohio State’s season-opening win against Oregon State, Grinch asked Wade if he was willing to play some reps at safety. Wade agreed and, ever since, has been in Grinch’s position room.

Even though safety is Wade’s newest position, Grinch said he has shown signs of progress.

“He’s flashed for us a little bit,” Grinch said. “That’s a guy, when you do those things, you kind of make a determination as a staff is what’s the best position for him on the current roster to help us in 2018.”

For Wade, the major difference between playing corner and playing safety is playing off the ball; he was used to playing man-on-man and on the ball as a corner his entire career.

Even though nickel is closer to his normal position, Wade said it has been a transition, having to guard the slot against smaller, quicker receivers.

“Nickel actually is a fun position to play,” Wade said. “It’s just like corner, but you can’t back up at all and you have to get hands-on definitely. If you don’t, it’s going to be a long day for you.”

However, there have been moments when Wade has shown he is still learning.

Playing nickel against Penn State’s redshirt freshman wide receiver KJ Hamler, Wade did what he was not supposed to do: back up.

Instead of doing what he was supposed to — get up on Hamler at the line of scrimmage and put his hands on him to force a deflection or a catch and quick tackle — Wade backed up after the receiver did a quick stutter step. This allowed enough space, after getting the reception from Penn State redshirt senior quarterback Trace McSorley, for Hamler to outrun Wade for 93 yards, tying the longest touchdown reception allowed in Ohio State history.

Grinch said a successful defense does not give up explosive plays such as the Hamler touchdown or the 93-yard run by TCU junior running back Darius Anderson on Sept. 15. He said it’s going to take the combination of improving scheme, execution and personnel to fix the issue.

Even with the mistake during the Penn State game, the coaching staff views Wade as a significant part of the game plan moving forward.

For defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, it can be hit or miss when a younger player enters the lineup. In Wade’s case, his recent playing time is because of consistent production on the practice field.

“More reps, you either have more chances to make a mistake or more chances to make a play,” Schiano said. “And the guys that are ready, they had more chances to make a play. Shaun did that because he kept making more plays.”

With Pryor suspended for the first half of the Indiana game on Saturday after recording a targeting call in the fourth quarter against Penn State, Wade could see increased playing time at safety, even if redshirt sophomore Jahsen Wint gets the start.

Grinch said there is nothing settled in the secondary, but he has been pleased with the progress Wade has made, especially at safety.

However, Grinch said a decision regarding Wade will need to be made: What position does the redshirt sophomore focus on?

“Ultimately, you have to zero in somewhere,” Grinch said. “Otherwise, you stunt the growth of the individual.”

Wade doesn’t care where he plays. He said it’s up to the coaches. As long as he is on the field on Saturdays, he will be satisfied.

“I just needed to go hard, that was the only thing,” Wade said. “I got the skill set and I know how to do it in my mind. I just have to go hard every time.”

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