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NFL Draft

Shaun Wade On Journey To Ohio State, Possibility Of Being 1st-Round Pick

  • The Draft Network
  • September 11, 2020
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Spanning back to 1991, Ohio State has become widely known as a cornerback factory. While LSU may rightfully take home the title as “D.B.U.”, the Buckeyes have a lasting streak of cornerbacks who went on to become first-round draft picks in the NFL Draft. While names such as Bradley Roby and Eli Apple started the running streak that has lasted since 2014, the program had plenty of notable athletes prior to that point. With the likes of Antoine Winfield Sr., Malcolm Jenkins, Shawn Springs, Nate Clements, and even Chris Gamble, the standout NFL players at the position have helped create a legendary lineage for the program. 

With Jeffrey Okudah and Damon Arnette being the latest pupils to join the illustrious list, it should be a surprise to no one that the outlook of the streak remains strongly intact heading into next season. Even though the cancellation of the Big Ten season (for now) was a disappointment for many, it doesn’t seem to have a bearing on what the program projects to produce.

In the same secondary as the latest two first-round selections, Shaun Wade manned the nickel corner spot. Sandwiched in between one of the better tandems in school history, the 2020 season was supposed to be a coming out party for the redshirt junior. 

At 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, Wade has the size, speed, and instincts that scouts covet at the position. A standout basketball player growing up, he gravitated toward football for many reasons, but that hasn’t stripped any credence away from his first love. Now, as the next man up in an impressive streak, he has managed to stay on track and keep his status the same despite the unique set of circumstances surrounding college football. 

With that in mind, I spent the past few days getting to know Wade as we discussed his upbringing in Italy, Alabama, and Florida as well as his winning pedigree, playing outside cornerback, and what the future may hold for him.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Question: Your childhood growing up... how did Shaun Wade fall in love with the game of football?

Wade: Really, I’m from Alabama. Grew up in Alabama and was born here. Moved to Italy and was overseas for a little while. I actually started school and sports in Italy, then came back to the states, and then moved to Jacksonville, Florida. There, it was a great thing for me just to be around different people and getting to know myself, to grow up to different people that I had to adjust to. My whole life I’ve been a winner. Pop Warner, I won a national championship. In high school I won four consecutive state championships, and I have a lot of other accolades that I don’t like to talk about, but I just really take it day by day, grinding and just learning from my parents.

Q: I heard that you were a standout basketball player. So, tell me a little bit about that.

W: Basketball is my first love. I grew up playing basketball. Allen Iverson is my favorite athlete overall. I was ranked in middle school and even in high school, I played with a lot of top players–Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). There are a lot of players that I’ve played with and played against. I really miss it. I watch it every day with the NBA playoffs going on right now. 

Q: What steered you away from pursuing your first love of basketball and what really persuaded you to pursue football instead?

W: Nothing really steered me away from basketball, it’s just football, I was getting more offers. Talent-wise, I didn’t know I was that talented. I was really talented, but I just never knew until my coaches sat me down and told me. I got my first offer my ninth-grade year off of doing nothing, and just based on size. Basketball, I didn’t have the same amount of offers. My ninth-grade year was the first year that I played corner.

Q: At Trinity Christian High School, you won four consecutive state championships. What all went behind that to make it happen year after year?

W: It was a lot of hard work, but it was really the older people that led the way. We looked up to all of those guys and we were all about the grind 24/7. After school we were lifting weights and that was all day, every day. This wasn’t just during football season, though. Even when I went to basketball practice, I was doing football stuff before that. 

Q: You’re a down south guy for the most part, but you committed to Ohio State as a sophomore and remained loyal to them throughout your high school career following that point. What made it so appealing to you?

W: The day of one of the championship games that we played in, my coaches came up to me and said that they felt that I should commit. I didn’t know much about the school, the rivalry, or nothing, but at the end of the day, I trusted my coaches. They know what they’re doing. I ended up committing and did some research. They had a whole lot of first-rounders that I really didn’t know about, but when I took that first visit by myself, it was really a home for me. I loved coach Coombs (defensive coordinator), his demeanor, he’s a father figure, and how he’s going to treat you like his son, but he will get on you when needed. He’s not going to sugarcoat anything. I just fell in love when I walked in that stadium.

Q: You enrolled in January of 2017 and you really faced some trials and tribulations that season. You end up suffering an injury to the abdomen that resulted in season-ending surgery, but what are some things that you learned from the injury and how you now apply it moving forward? 

W: I learned a lot. I ended up tearing my abdomen and had surgery. That helped show me that redshirting isn’t the worst thing. It helped me develop as a man, my body, and with putting it in the frame that it needed to be put in. After that, it was really hard because now I have to work my way back up with many new freshmen coming in. I had to get that mindset of whatever you want in life, you have to go get it. So, I had to go get it. Eventually that next season, they just threw me in at nickel. The Illinois game is the one that helped me. It’s where I caught my first interception. Really that’s where it all went uphill for me. 

Q: You come back in 2018 and led the team in interceptions (three), then followed that up in 2019 and even though you primarily played nickel, you stood out. What goes into playing nickel and why is it so special to you?

W: I love it so much because you can do so much. You can blitz and play zone. Really, that nickel corner has to be very smart because you have to play with the quarterback. That’s something that I like to do. Show zone and play man. It’s just different. Then at nickel corner, I feel like you get a lot of best players that they try to hide. It’s usually people that’s off of the ball and they’re the quickest. Also, I learned a lot because I had to learn safety for a while because we needed someone there. It really is a team thing. My goal is to win national championships and win football games. It’s not about Shaun Wade, it’s about the football team at the end of the day. I just really wanted to help the team.

Q: My favorite game of yours was against Cincinnati (2019). You were so active in that game and you had plenty of big plays. You’re going to hear this question a million times over the next few months–you’re projection on the outside at corner. It’s that something that you have experience with?

W: The Rutgers game, I played outside a little bit because Damon Arnette was hurt, but I really didn’t practice it in practice. But during game week I had to learn it and my duties at the nickel spot and sometimes safety. Let’s be real. We were deep at corner, so I had to learn other positions. At the nickel spot though, you have to be in the box. You have to know box reads when the guard pulls, I have to go to this hole. I had to learn other things, but I know that I can play any position really. The nickel spot is fun though. I love to blitz. I love to take on blocks. I’m not scared of any offensive lineman. You’re going to take it to me, so I’m going to take it to you. At the end of the day, you better be prepared because I’m not just a regular corner.

Q: Of course, we have to talk about some bad news. The cancellation of the Big Ten season was shocking to a lot of people, but what was your first reaction when you heard about it?

W: Be patient. Anything can happen. That’s just what they chose at the beginning. Really just taking it day by day because with me choosing to come back to school, I got my degree (Sports Industry). I don’t have to worry about coming back after a pro career like some people do. I listen to the coaches, keep on training, and enjoy my brothers. At the end of the day God’s going to place me in good hands

Q: Seeing guys like Marshon Lattimore, Denzel Ward, and even Okudah and Arnette, what’s something that you took away from being around all of them?

W: I took away a lot of things from different people. Denzel was a quicker guy, so he was more of an “inch technique” guy because he’s not long like everybody else. Damon is a technician, just like Jeff is a technician, so I learned technique from both of them. Marshon was more of an athletic corner that could be a technician, but he was very physical at the line. I take different things from different corners, but it’s not even just our corners, it’s our receivers too. We’ve always had great receives at Ohio State with Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Chris Olave–that’s a speed guy. You get everything that you would get at any other program.

Q: So, like those corners that we just talked about. All of those guys ended up being first-round picks. I’m sure you read some of the things floating out there. You have a strong chance of being that next guy from Ohio State to fall into the same category. If that ends up coming to fruition, what would that mean to you?

W: It would be a great feeling. I tell my family that I won’t cry, but every day I think about it, I know that I’m going to cry, but it’s definitely going to be a great feeling. That’s the goal. That’s why I came to Ohio State and that’s to be a first-rounder because that’s what me and coach Coombs talked about when he recruited me. 

Q: I always like glorifying the positive, but I always enjoy players talking me through negative plays as well. There was a 3rd-and-15 during the second quarter against Indiana. You were in the slot manned up against a receiver that got past you cleanly. He had you beat downfield, but you managed to stick with it, recover, and knock the ball down. Talk me through that play and what initially went wrong. 

W: So, I was playing inside technique. I crossed over so that put me in trail mode. From high school, you’re taught, if you’re in trail mode, don’t ever look back for the ball. Play through the hands. At the end of the day, at defensive back, you have to be fast or have some type of speed to you. I knew that all quarterbacks don’t throw perfect balls. I just played through his hands and made a play. I knew that the safety was still over the top and I wish I would’ve deflected the ball up so he could’ve gotten a pick, but that’s something that I know that I need to work on and that’s making extra plays. I crossed over though. If I never crossed over and kick stepped then I would’ve been fine.

Q: When we’re talking about Shaun Wade the player, what would you say is your biggest strengths and also weaknesses?

W: Biggest strength: I definitely would say that I can play all five positions, and understand playbooks, and schemes. My weakness is my crossover. I have to get my press technique more efficient. 

Q: Last question. I had no idea that this was even true about you. This WWE internship that you did. Tell me about that experience.

W: Oh yeah. That was one of the funniest internships that I just did. It was good to meet some of the old time wrestlers that we used to have back in the day and to see how the acting happened with it. There’s a lot of things that people don’t know about it. The referee has a mic in his ear that is connected to people backstage. They are talking to him. At the beginning they have a script of who’s supposed to win. Sometimes the script gets messed up, so you think the ref is counting, but he’s talking to the wrestlers to tell them that they’re changing the script and telling them who’s supposed to win now. A lot of people wouldn’t notice that. It was cool. Really cool. 

The Scouts Eye View

Size: 6-foot-1, 194 pounds

Positives (+): Because of the experience ahead of him on the depth chart during his first two seasons, he was relegated to playing mostly nickel cornerback. Wade has the technique, instincts, and athleticism to thrive from either side on the inside. He also possesses high-end ball skills and catches the ball comfortably out of the air. Because of the diverse defensive scheme at Ohio State, he has experience in both zone and man coverage. The redshirt junior looks to be fully comfortable in either, but his skill set is best utilized in man-to-man. Because of his frame, he’s forced to play a little bit higher than normal, but it doesn’t have a negative effect on his technique when challenging receivers at the line. In man coverage, he plays the through the body of wideouts, and aware with getting his head around to find the ball out of the air in order to deflect or attack it if within reach. 

Wade is very quick to diagnose and trigger on plays. There’s very little wasted motion with his body and his body movements matchup near perfectly when attacking plays downhill. He shows minimal signs of hesitancy as he fully trusts what his eyes see by aggressively attacking and jumping routes. He contains the high football I.Q. levels necessary in order to experiment with different plans of attack. Wade also shows up in a big way in run support. The Buckeye corner routinely was forced to fight through contact and he showed to be capable of doing that on his way to making tackles. Once arriving at the tackle point, he has a unique understanding of being able to come to balance while also still maintaining his control. Wade's frame is somewhat linear, but he packs plenty of power behind his body when initiating contact. 

Negatives (–): Wade stays relaxed at the line of scrimmage and lets the receiver dictate the tempo and starting point of routes, but he can be caught with being a bit of a guesser after his initial jam attempts. The accuracy and timing of his technique can be hit or miss and wideouts have had success with getting past him cleanly as a result. Once getting past him, his transitions exiting phase lack polish and it has helped matchups create separation in the intermediate and deep areas against him.

Wade has only played 56 snaps (2019) as an outside corner. Serving as the teams nickel defender while Okudah and Arnette manned the perimeter, projecting Wade to be a successful outside player is a mere projection that is questionable at this point. Without starting a full season on the outside, his transition to that spot remains unpredictable and strictly a bet or risk that will be made based on the small sample size and current traits shown to this point. 

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