Shaun Wade looked like he was shot out of a canon.

The setting was last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal, the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson. The Buckeyes were leading 16-0 as the half wound down, and Clemson had possession, desperately trying to put together a drive to cut into the lead. On 3rd-and-5 from the Buckeyes 46, Wade — who was set up in the left slot — crept up to the line, showing his intent to blitz.

Clemson’s all-everything quarterback Trevor Lawrence took the snap and dropped back to pass.


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He had little time.

Wade, who backed off his intended blitz at the last minute, recommitted, and at full speed, reached the quarterback. He collided with Lawrence helmet-first in a massive hit that sent the Tigers QB falling into another hit by Chase Young.

Young landed on Lawrence, who writhed on the ground for a few moments as the Ohio State fans cheered.

That didn’t last very long.

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Officials ruled that Wade’s hit was illegal — targeting, because it was helmet-to-helmet — and by rule, Wade was ejected from the biggest game of his life. Family members and fans cried foul, convinced the call was bad. Even the television broadcast’s rules expert was conflicted by it.

But Wade was out. And a few minutes later, Clemson had cut the lead to 16-14. They would go on to win 29-23, and Ohio State’s national title hope — and possibly Wade’s college career — was over.

‘We’ve gotta beat them’

“I feel like it did give Clemson an edge, it did change momentum,” Wade admitted to reporters this week. “But at the end of the day it’s not just that one play — there’s a lot of plays we could’ve made. We shot ourselves in the foot to lose that game.”

And it is because of all of those reasons — the play, the loss, the fact that he felt like Ohio State gave the game away — that Wade decided to come back to Columbus. Twice.

When he had his own personal decision to make after that loss, he decided to come back for a fourth season at Ohio State. He wanted to win. He wanted to beat Clemson on the way to a national championship.

“He couldn’t go out like that,” quarterback Justin Fields told ESPN. “That did not sit right with him at all.”

So he didn’t. Wade’s plans were to come back for another shot. But, as it so often does, life got in the way.

The B1G called off the season due to COVID-19 precautions, and Wade decided to prepare for his NFL career. Then the rumors started to rumble. Led by Fields and, yes, that quarterback at Clemson, players began to insist the season be played. When it became clear it would, Wade decided to come back. Again.

“We’ve never beaten Clemson. So we’ve gotta beat them,” Wade told the media. “In our past history, we’ve never beat them, so that’s our goal and we’ll go from there.”

‘New team, new day, new us’

So, in many ways, this is a redemption game for Wade.

Not only is there the ejection and the loss to Clemson. But this season has been an uneven one for the corner. There have been canceled games and no fans. And after switching positions — Wade primarily played in the slot last season, before moving outside in 2020 — his performance has been inconsistent. He’s given up record-setting days to two receivers — Penn State’s Jahan Dotson caught 8 passes for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle went for 7 catches for 218 yards and another 3 scores. Analysts began to question his draft prospects.

Still, when his team needed him the most, Wade stepped up. He got his first pick-six in Ohio State’s seesaw win over Indiana, when he ran an interception back 36 yards for the points that provided the winning margin.

Now, it’s a different season. The Playoff season. And the opponent is the same one Wade has been dreaming about for a year. Once again, it’s Clemson and Lawrence — who has accurately been nicknamed “Sunshine” by fans and the media, based on his resemblance to Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass, the quarterback in “Remember the Titans.”

For Wade, the entire season — the stops and starts, the uneven performances, the criticism, everything — would be redeemed with a victory over Clemson and Sunshine.

But after being named a first-team Associated Press All-American this week, the corner says he doesn’t want to make this year’s rematch all about him.

“At the end of the day, it’s a team sport not a me sport,” he said. “It’s a new team, new day, new us. I’m just looking forward to getting a chance to play.”

Defensive Coordinator Kerry Coombs said he knows the Clemson game “means a lot” to Wade, and that there’s “no question” being ejected last year affected him. “It was really hard on him,” he noted.

Wade says it was hard on all of his teammates.

“Everybody just has that taste in their mouths,” he said. “They know what’s at stake. Everybody’s really laser-focused.”

Of course, Wade’s had that focus since he heard the B1G was going to play this strange, abbreviated 2020 season. For him and all of his Buckeyes teammates, it’s always been about getting back to this very spot. This game.

Here’s the proof: Look at how he announced, back in September, that he’d again be suiting up for the Buckeyes for one more season. It was a simple tweet message — just three words and a hashtag.

“I’m back Sunshine,” he wrote. “#GoBucks.”