Shaun Wade is a self-proclaimed quiet guy, a quiet leader if you will.
He’s an indoor person. He doesn’t really party. He’ll go to the mall in his spare time but he’ll rarely buy anything, content with the clothes and sneakers he already owns. He’s a thinker, a learner, head buried in the book of life and ears open to those that need him, whenever they need him.
“I just help others, communicate with others, watch TV and workout,” he tells Sky Sports.
Simplicity veils complexity. As a student he was forever tuned in to Ohio State’s renowned prestige, maximising every relationship, every interaction, every conversation with friends and strangers, conscious of the implications. He lives to make every second, every breath count.
“You don’t know if you’ll be meeting the CEO of Apple one day or a CEO of a company that’s going to be made in the future,” he adds. “You don’t know what could happen or who you’re going to meet at Ohio State, so you’ve got to take that moment, embrace it and push for greatness off the field and on the field.”
“Life only happens one time”
Wade’s team-mates could count on the latest in a long line of household Ohio State defensive backs to know the playbook religiously. Leave no stone unturned, pull out all the stops, move heaven and earth, call it what you will, he has conditioned his mind to mop up every grain of information possible.
His curiosity translates into life off the football field. How many NFL players or prospects do you hear of being engrossed by water polo? Here’s one of them. And while gridiron continues to touch more corners of the earth, Wade has expanded his studies to one of England’s very own sporting masterstrokes.
“That’s something I learned, especially with the Olympics coming up I’m going to be watching the water polo again this year, I just like learning a lot of sports,” he said.
“Like cricket, that’s something I’m going to probably have to watch and learn, I haven’t read about it but watching it on TV you get to learn a lot of different sports. I wish I’d have played baseball, I wish I’d have played soccer more.
“That’s something I’m going to strive for my son and daughter to do in the future and enjoy that process. Those are things I like to do, learn different sports overseas.”
The cogs in Wade’s mind begin to turn again as the prospect of playing in the United Kingdom courtesy of the NFL International Series arises in conversation.
But why stop there? He ponders the Asian market as another opportunity to spread the game he loves, before forwarding the potential of an even vaster global stage.
“I wish we could make it an Olympic sport in the future, it’s one of the only sports that’s not an Olympic sport, it’s just crazy how it is,” he explains. “I think we need to get people around the world more interested in football, and people in the United States more interested in water polo, cricket and different things because you don’t know what you really love.
“Sometimes you’re just forced to play a sport because that’s all you know, at the same time you just need to learn. Life only happens one time.”
Inquisitive, innovative, progressive, all of the above. Watching his mind work is fascinating, and an insight into the forward-thinking, day-seizing mentality he promises to bring to an NFL locker room.
That itching desire to attack and exploit each opportunity was suppressed to an uneasy spectator role on December 28, 2019, a day Wade remembers for less than welcome reasons.
With under five minutes to play in the first half and Ohio State leading Clemson 16-0 in their play-off semi-final, an unguarded Wade surged through the gaping lane to deliver a thumping hit on quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Buckeyes fans rose to their feet rejoicing over what they believed to be a foiled Clemson drive on third-and-five, only to see Wade ejected from the game for targeting. His night was over, Lawrence and co eventually coming from behind to win 29-23 and book a National Championship Game showdown with LSU.
A yearning to be alongside his team-mates was matched by the emotional agony of having to watch the remainder of the game on a split-second delay on the locker room TV.
“I’m in the locker room yelling out plays trying to make sure this person is doing the right thing because this play is coming up and things like that,” he recalls. “It was just crazy because the crowd would yell and then the TV would play the play and I’m thinking it’s for us sometimes and it would be for them.
“The last play where Chris Olave slipped, I thought we scored but it was Clemson catching a pick. It was just crazy I would hear the crowd, I knew the play was about to happen but I wouldn’t know what that play is. It was definitely difficult.
“Just not being on the field with my brothers at the end of the day, Jeff (Okudah), Damon (Arnette), Jordan Fuller, we poured our hearts out that season, it’s just hard to get by because I just feel that year we should have won. I felt we were the best team in the nation.”
That might well have been how it ended for Wade at Ohio State as the prospect of declaring for the 2020 NFL Draft gathered momentum. But something didn’t quite feel right and very quickly he confirmed his intentions to return for his junior year.
“It was definitely unfinished business, but at the same time I wanted to graduate too. When football is over you’ve got to have a degree and know what you want to do and have different connections as well. Football is not forever.”
Wade on his decision to return with Ohio State in 2020
Again, though, there came uncertainty over his immediate future in the summer as Wade opted out of the 2020 season amid concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, which had initially seen the Big 10 campaign cancelled. But much like before, the decision didn’t quite sit with him, and while celebrating his birthday back home with his family Wade had a change of heart. The Big 10 was back on and he was back in.
“I don’t play for myself, I don’t play for the money, I play for the team and to win games and a National Championship,” he said. “That’s what we did, we got to the National Championship and lost but we got there and that was our goal. I just came back for my team and not myself.”
“Clemson game all we talked about”
Wade recalls being reassured by team-mates that they would not have made it as far as they in 2019 without his experience patrolling the secondary. They were excited to have him back, he was excited to be back, and there was one thing on their mind.
Fast forward to January 2, 2021, and Ohio State are up against, you guessed it, Trevor Lawrence’s Clemson, playing for a place in the National Championship game, again. Almost exactly a year on from Wade’s early exit.
This time there was no such turmoil, no such heartbreak, quite the opposite, in fact, Wade tallying a team-high nine tackles as the Buckeyes won 49-28 to set up a winner-takes-all meeting with Alabama.
“Before COVID happened that’s all we talked about, that Clemson game,” said Wade. “We knew we were going to get our redemption and we knew we had to win that. That’s all we talked about. The game came and we won that game by a good margin so it was definitely a great feeling.”
Awaiting Wade was Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, a match-up the Ohio State cornerback publicly welcomed. “You already know who I want to go up against,” he said ahead of the game.
Smith went on to register 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns as Alabama claimed a 52-24 win. But one difficult day at the office that won’t deter Wade from pitting himself against the best in the future. It’s just who he is.
“You never shy away from a challenge no matter what the results are,” he said. “You go challenge anybody, in any sport, whether it be football or water polo. I’m going to challenge anybody and I’m never going to back down.
“It was definitely a great challenge, they’ve got great receivers. Mac Jones played good. I definitely enjoyed that game, I just wish the outcome was different. That’s all I care about, playing the best and winning games.”
“I can do everything”
Wade has learned to shoulder the burden of rocketing expectations that have come with emerging as a five-star recruit out of Trinity Christian Academy, landing with a DB-rich Ohio State programme and embracing the university’s ‘BIA’ (Best in America) mentality.
A 2019 season in which he recorded 25 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and eight pass defenses fuelled first-round Draft projections amid suggestions Wade could declare in 2020.
In his first two seasons he had asserted himself as one of the nation’s most promising slot corners, displaying high-level toughness, awareness and dynamism while spreading his responsibilities between nickel, free safety and practically every position in the secondary as a potential ultimate chess piece.
His transition to the NFL in mind, all eyes turned to Wade’s development as an outside corner upon his return in 2020, preparations for which were disrupted by both COVID and offseason surgery.
Wade eventually posted 34 tackles, two interceptions and four pass defenses in eight games and by the end of the campaign had seen his Draft stock fall somewhat, with analysts unconvinced by his expertise as a perimeter cover defender. But despite suggestions he belongs predominantly to a nickel role, Wade remains intent on contributing in all areas.
“I’ve definitely got a lot of things to work on, with me I’m just so versatile and I can play multiple positions and that’s the positive for me,” he explained. “I know I’ve got to work on my corner stuff, at nickel I’ve still got things to work on, safety I’ve still got things to work on, but that’s the thing about me, I don’t play one position, I play multiple positions. That’s just the type of athlete I am, I can do everything.
“I’m smart enough to grasp it quickly, it would take me two days to learn a position and that’s just the work ethic and time I put into the playbook and knowing football and everybody’s position. I want to know the d-lineman’s job, and what the linebackers are doing. That’s just the person I am.”
He admits he doesn’t pay too much attention to criticism on social media. When he does come across his ability being questioned, he only uses it as added motivation.
As a man who always strives to refine himself, there is nobody more critical of Wade than Wade.
“I’m very hard on myself, I get myself down more than the people who criticise me,” he said. “That’s the person I am, I want to strive to be the best I can be.”
The 22-year-old pricked ears at his Pro Day as he ran an impressive 4.43 in the 40-yard dash as well as recording a 37.5in vertical jump and 10ft 3in broad jump, all while still working his way back to full health.
“I feel like if I would have had a summer without quarantine where I could work out and work on my technique and things like that I’d be way better at corner for sure,” he adds.
Wade’s version of greatness
When it comes to chasing greatness, Wade has his own personalised perception of what it is to be great. For him, that means being ready to put those around him first.
“I’m a quiet leader, I do things by example, I stay true to myself but I still talk to my friends, I make sure they’re straight For a lot of my friends it’s not all about football, it’s about life things and I make sure their life is good and I’ll send money to people. I’m always checking on people. I’m a quiet leader.”
Wade on being a ‘quiet leader’
Throughout the pre-Draft process Wade has been raising money for Warwick Dunn charities in aid of supporting single-parent and underprivileged families, having often seen his mother look after the family on her own while his father would be away with the military.
The circumstances of Wade’s childhood have also inspired him to move into real estate further down the line, with a view to renovating the houses of less fortunate families and helping out with living situations.
While football is the unrivalled priority at present, he remains attentive to his humanitarian side.
“Right now I’m focused on my process because at the end of the day you’ve got to focus on yourself and that’s something I have to do better at,” he said. “I’m always going to help others regardless, whether I’m in the league or not.
“In the future I want to build a school with my friend if we get enough money and that’s something we’ve both dreamed of since we was little. I want to get my own AE programme, basketball seven-on-seven, there’s a lot of things I want to do just to help out.”
He is a product of his environment.
His mother Gwen would open her house to Wade’s friends and cook them dinner, even if there were as many as six or seven of them. She was insistent on never sugar-coating anything while teaching them about the risks of alcohol, smoking and drugs, and would instruct meaningless fallouts and scraps between kids to be taken outside in hope of them amounting to a learning curve, or in some cases just to highlight the futility of them.
Wade’s father Randy was of a similar influence, his 20-year military background coincided by a will to help people.
“My father took a lot of people in, paid for a lot of peoples’ SATs, ACTs, he got people off the street, he went and got people into college but he never bragged about that stuff,” said Wade. “That’s just the type of person he is.
“He got teams to get looked at by colleges. That’s where I can that team mentality from, helping out others. My dad had a hard lifetime when he was young.
“There’s a boy who is living down here in Texas, my dad got in contact with him because he’d worked so hard and was living in his car just to get a D2 offer, those are the little things you don’t see on ESPN or on the news.”
In the wake of the season’s cancellation last year Randy brought fellow parents together and led a protest against the Big 10 in a bid to bring back football once safe to do so, not even just for his son but for all in his position.
“He finds new people and he just wants me to meet new people to get motivation like ‘you can do anything in life’ and that’s just the type of person he is,” added Wade.
Sound like somebody?
Wade hopes he doesn’t tear up when he gets the call from an NFL team in Draft week. But for what it means, he just might.
“It’s going to be very special,” he says. “I think I’m the first in my family to do something like this and do some greatness like this so it’s definitely emotional and exciting.
“It’s been stressful making sure everybody is good at the same time because I put others before me but it’s going to be good.”
By now he’s earned the right to put himself first. Not that he’ll do so.