When Ohio State starting tight end Cade Stover went down with a back injury against Georgia last season in the College Football Playoff Semifinals, the Buckeyes had to turn to a number of options to help them get through such a significant loss of their game plan. One of those options was third-year sophomore Joe Royer.
Royer played in 28 snaps on offense in that game, catching one pass for nine yards. The catch was the third of his career, as that was just the fifth time in his career that he had seen any actual time on offense.
The stage was the biggest of Royer’s career, by a sizable margin.
“That was my real, first time playing a lot,” Royer said this spring. “And it was a kind of surreal moment, obviously. I wasn’t trying to think about it too much without going ‘holy s—’ or whatever. I was trying to just keep my head on and pay attention to detail and do what I had to do to try to do my job.”
The circumstances weren’t how Joe Royer would have asked to get on the field, and it’s not something that he would have predicted. Despite the unlikelihood, Royer was ready when his name was called.
“You’ve got to be ready for every moment, you’ve got to prepare mentally, physically,” Royer explained. “And if you’re not getting physical reps, you’ve got to make sure you’re staying ready with mental reps. And I was lucky to have been doing that.”
A Difficult Year
It was a lot to ask, but Royer was happy to be on the field with his teammates because he’d not been able to be there for much of the year.
Royer was one of the major topics of discussion during spring a year ago. He was impressing coaches and teammates, and excitement grew. A groin injury early in the season sidelined him, and that was then followed by the passing of his mother Micki in late September.
Obviously, that’s more than anybody should have to deal with.
“Yeah, last year was probably one of the hardest years of my life dealing with injury, and then my mom passed, so yeah, it was a tough year,” he said. “But right now I’m in a good spot mentally and physically. When I look back and think about my mom, I’m glad I got to spend that time with her. That’s what I bank on, the good memories we had. And I know she’d want me to keep doing this. I’m just trying to make her proud still.”
That motivation led to a strong winter offseason, as well as a solid performance throughout the spring.
“This version of Joe Royer is the best that I’ve seen,” said tight ends coach Keenan Bailey. “And I think it goes back to eight weeks before spring ball, he’s added 12 pounds. I mean, he was bragging that he was the heaviest tight end in the room. I think those extra 10 pounds of muscle have been helping out Joe. He’s doing some things now in the blocking game, and in the route-running game that maybe he didn’t even do a year ago because he was lighter. So yeah, he’s definitely playing well.”
Readying For Everything
With the depth at tight end, the Buckeyes would like to be able employ a “12 personnel” package (two tight ends on the field at the same time) whenever they see fit. The usage of two tight ends allows the offense to disguise the run versus the pass, and then stay up-tempo and move between a run-heavy look and a pass-heavy look. All while the defense has to stay on the field with whatever mismatch the offense is giving them because there isn’t enough time to substitute.
Cade Stover is returning, so the Buckeyes have their starting tight end, but they’re still looking to find that second guy to use when the offense goes with two tight ends. Joe Royer got a taste of the action late last season, but he’s ready for much more in 2023.
“Obviously, I’m super excited Cade’s coming back,” Royer said. “Hell of a player and really close friend of mine, so it’s always good to have him around. But yeah, hoping and trying to be that second guy to complement him when we go 12. And maybe if he needs a breather or something, I’ll go in and be fine if we’re in 11 personnel as well.”
This is Keenan Bailey’s first year as the Buckeyes’ tight ends coach, but he has already been effective in developing a tight end room that may be one of the deepest in the nation.
And so far, Joe Royer likes what he’s seen from Bailey.
“So he kind of came up with this new thing,” Royer explained. “With blocking, he said he wants us to strike and finish. Just two simple sound bites. Then with receiving, be fast and physical. So just try to do those four things best as I can. You can’t just excel at one job. You’ve got to be able to do [each] one because let’s say I’m only good at receiving, defenses will catch on if I’m only going in for receiving plays, so I’ve got to be able to block as well and vice versa.”
Ohio State currently has six scholarship tight ends. Royer and fellow fourth-year junior Gee Scott, Jr. will compete this fall to be the No. 2 tight end. They will be pushed by each other and those behind them.
And regardless of who wins the competition, it will be the job of every single player to prepare for their moment, just as Joe Royer did a year ago when he was called upon against Georgia in the playoffs.
After all, as long as you stay ready, you never have to get ready.