Of the three phases in a football game, Cade Otton considers the fourth to be most important.
More than the game-winning catches and more than the game-saving fumbles he’s caused in the past four years playing football at Tumwater High School, Otton takes pride in what happens on the sidelines.
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Being a great teammate. Respecting others. Growing as a leader.
“You can sure tell that is from the Otton lineage,” Centralia coach Matt Whitmire said.
It’s all part of the creed Sid Otton, Cade’s grandfather and Washington state’s all-time winningest high school football coach, taught for 43 years at Tumwater.
And the guiding principles Cade; his father, Tim, an assistant coach and former player at Tumwater; his uncle, Brad, a former player; and so many others who have cycled through the T-Birds’ program have faithfully followed.
“I think the last name Otton comes with great expectations to be a respectful person, a person with honor,” Cade Otton said.
“That’s something I knew was associated with the name, obviously with my grandpa and my dad and my uncle. I think that’s kind of what the name represents around here.”
Those intangibles, and the athletic prowess that for years has left so many local coaches mystified, are why Cade Otton, who has orally committed to the University of Washington, is The Olympian’s 2016 All-Area Football Player of the Year.
Sid Otton describes Cade as a “sideline-to-sideline, whistle-to-whistle” type of player.
In his four years playing for Tumwater, Cade Otton, a tight end, linebacker and the T-Birds’ long snapper, has set a flurry of program records.
His 95 receptions, 1,705 yards and 33 touchdowns are No. 1 all time. He also collected 284 tackles.
“He’s got the attributes you want,” Sid Otton said. “He’s got the height, and he’s got the athletic ability. He’s going to get better and better. He’s coachable, and he’s a smart kid.”
He’s a playmaker.
Cade Otton has been likened to Mark Bruener, who was an all-state tight end and linebacker for Aberdeen in the early 1990s, went on to play for UW and spent most of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whitmire ventures Cade Otton is the most dominant player he’s seen in the area since Jonathan Stewart’s days at Timberline.
“He’s just one of those kids,” Whitmire said. “He’s going to block, he’s going to catch the ball, and he’s going to make a play at a crucial time.”
He’s done that several times during the course of his career. He nearly created a déjà vu effect when he caused a fumble that led to Tumwater’s thrilling win over Archbishop Murphy in the Class 2A state semifinals last season.
He did the same the following week against Prosser in the state championship game.
“He was the guy, when you had to have it, he would make the play,” Tumwater defensive coordinator Pat Alexander said. “Whether it was catching a pass or causing a fumble. Our last two games last year, to win in the semis and have a chance to win in the final, were because he caused fumbles.
“When the game should have been over, when the other team, all they had to do was run the clock out, he made plays that gave us a chance.”
The big highlights continued to pile up this season. When the T-Birds traveled to Bellevue — which won 11 state championships from 2001-13 — he snared the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired.
Flutie Left was the play call. Cade Otton bolted toward the end zone, and Noah Andrews hurled the ball through the air. Then, as Sid Otton said:
“The big guy latched it out of the sky.”
The following week against 4A Union? Same thing. He caught a dart from Andrews in the final two minutes to lift the T-Birds again.
The bigger the moment, the better Cade Otton is, W.F. West coach Bob Wollan said.
“They were down here and had fourth-and-long a couple times,” Wollan said. “We know where the ball is going. Everybody in the stadium knows where it’s going, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.
“He scores touchdowns on those plays. He’s a special player, and a really great example for other kids.”
Quite consistently, Cade Otton’s athleticism has stunned opponents.
“He just had a great ability to play the run and the pass,” Black Hills coach Kirk Stevens said. “When you thought he was overcommitting to the run, and you thought you could take advantage of it, with his height and athleticism, he’d go take the pass away.
“When you thought he was cheating on the pass, that same aggressiveness would take him into the run.”
But, as much of a playmaker as he is, Cade Otton said he is more motivated by the buildup.
“It’s the things that lead up to those plays that get me going more,” he said. “You see the product on the field, but what goes into it is so much more than that, and it’s everyone, it’s a collective effort.”
That selflessness is why Alexander thinks Cade Otton is a perfect fit for Chris Petersen’s program at UW.
“He’s all about character,” Alexander said. “I don’t think there’s a player that has more character than Cade.”
Cade Otton had 13 offers before orally committing to UW in August, and he passed up offers from schools such as Nebraska and Oregon State in favor of the Huskies.
There was something familiar about Petersen, Cade Otton said.
“His message was similar to my grandpa’s,” he said. “The principles they base their program on, and staying true to those principles, and being about more than football.
“That’s something that is unique in a college program, and is really special. That’s something I really fell in love with when I visited there.”
Perhaps that will make the transition from spending his foundational football years playing for his grandfather and father, to a burgeoning Division I program, a bit easier.
But Cade Otton said he still plans to wear green, in some capacity, beneath the purple when he joins the Huskies — something to always keep Tumwater with him.
“This has been a part of me,” Cade Otton said. “My family is everything to me. It’s going to be tough to move on, but I’m excited for the next chapter, and they’re excited for me.
“I’ll miss it, but these are going to be memories that I’ll always look back on and cherish.”