LEXINGTON — When his football career finally comes to an end, Cade Stover plans to take over the family business. But he may have a few other interests to pursue first. Such is the life of the 2018 Ohio Mr. Football winner.
His father, Trevor, owns a farm just outside of Lexington and Cade couldn’t imagine anything better than inheriting those few hundred acres and 150 or so head of cattle.
“I told him to make his money playing football, first,” Trevor joked Wednesday afternoon, just hours before Cade was introduced as Ohio’s 2018 Mr. Football award winner. “I think one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had is when a friend of mine said, ‘Your son could do anything he wanted athletically, but I’m not so sure he wouldn’t rather just go out and feed the cows and do chores around the farm.’
“That’s just who he is.”
A linebacker and Ohio State football recruit, Stover became the 30th different player to win the award, presented annually to the state’s top high school football player. He joined an exclusive fraternity that includes two-time winner Robert Smith of Euclid (1988, 1989), Charles Woodson of Fremont Ross (1994) and Westerville South’s Andy Katzenmoyer (1995).
Stover finished his senior year with 175 tackles, 11 TFLs, and four interceptions on defense. Offensively, he ran for 1,497 yards, 18 TDs and another 238 yards and a TD on 21 catches.
“Being an Ohio kid, I don’t think it gets any better than this,” Cade said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve got a handful of awards, but this one is definitely the top dog.”
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Stover burst onto the scene in the fall of 2015, registering an area-best 118 tackles as a freshman safety. He followed that up with 195 stops in 2016 as the Minutemen reached the Division III regional championship game before falling to Toledo Central Catholic and 2016 Mr. Football award winner Michael Warren.
“They tackled me in the backfield, which I’m not really used to,” Warrens said on that snowy November night at Tiffin’s Frost-Kalnow Stadium after TCC’s 19-0 win. “Number 8 (Stover) did a great job of tackling me by himself. I’ve never been hit like that.”
The Minutemen lost a wealth of talent to graduation after the 2016 season and staggered to a 2-8 record in 2017, Stover's junior year. Those struggles carried into 2018 as Lex started the season 0-3 and sat at 1-4 halfway through the year.
But fueled by Stover, Lexington won its final five regular season games to earn the No. 7 seed in Region 10 of Division III, then upset second-seeded Tiffin Columbian 31-21 on the road in the opening round of the playoffs. Stover had 23 tackles and two interceptions on defense and rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.
“You guys see that kid. He’s a man,” Lexington coach Taylor Gerhardt said after the win. “You see a talented, hard-nosed player, but what we see is a kid who gets his brothers together and leads them with that never-say-die attitude.
“He’s one of the best players in the nation. He’s going to make plays. But what we see is a kid with high character and a great leader.”
Stover’s high school career came to an end the following week in a 56-12 loss to Sandusky in the regional semifinals. He graduates in the spring with a Lexington record 592 career tackles.
Despite his stratospheric profile — Stover is arguably north central Ohio’s most sought-after football prospect ever — he remains remarkably grounded. He spent Wednesday afternoon helping out in the athletic department during his free period.
“He’s a real humble guy,” said junior teammate Alex Green. “He doesn’t talk much, but he’s always out to help his teammates.”
While his high school football career may be over, Stover’s senior season of basketball will tip Thursday at Clear Fork. Stover led the Minutemen to the Division II Final Four last winter and needs just 58 points to become the tradition-rich program’s career scoring leader.
“I think a lot of people stereotype me as a football player who plays basketball … but I love basketball every bit as much as I do football,” Stover said. “These next couple of months, playing basketball with my best friends, might be the best part of my high school career in my opinion. There’s nothing quite like putting on a Lexington basketball jersey.
“I’m looking forward to that, but I’ll be ready to get to Ohio State after that.”
And, whenever his playing days are over, Stover can’t wait to get back to the village of 5,000 people in southern Richland County.
“I’d love to buy a big old plot of land and build a farm on it,” Stover said. “This is where I grew up and this is what I know.”