When Shaun Wade returned to Columbus last month for the first of two Ohio State pro days, he wanted to present himself to NFL teams as a new man.
But first, those teams had to find him.
Unbeknownst to the coaches and scouts who had been watching his 2019 and 2020 cornerback film, Wade had cut off all his hair. Without his long dreadlocks, which he had worn for years and had dyed blond, with a mask covering half his face, and out of his No. 24 jersey, Wade was largely unrecognizable. It wasn’t a rash decision, to cut his hair, but something he had been considering for months, even before his final season in Columbus.
And yet it was fitting that as Wade prepares for the next phase of his football life, he’s leaving part of his college self behind. As teams finish their evaluation of Wade, one of the more complicated defensive players in the 2021 NFL Draft class, maybe they’ll see something different in him, too.
“I just felt like it was time,” Wade said. “I just wanted something new.”
A fresh cut and, maybe, a fresh start after a frustrating 2020 season that turned Wade into one of this year’s more interesting draft prospects.
He entered the season with first-round buzz, and ended it with a cloudy draft forecast. What happens to Wade during the April 29-May 1 draft could serve as a case study in the challenges prospects faced in deciding whether to play during a pandemic-shortened season.
Wade was nearly one of the opt-outs. In an alternate universe, he would have spent last fall fully recovering from offseason surgery on his groin and lower abdomen and this spring prepping for pro day and the draft. We might be talking about him in the same conversation as Patrick Surtain II, Greg Newsome II and Jaycee Horn.
Instead, he came back, switched positions, played hurt and saw his draft stock plummet.
“He should have come out last year,” an NFL scout who evaluated Ohio State players told The Athletic. “He played a different position than what he usually plays. He just didn’t have a good year.”
And yet, Wade regrets nothing.