What you see is what you get with Cade Jones.
The West Branch senior running back is solidly built, looking almost like he’s cut from a block of granite. He speaks not in the lexicon of today’s teenagers but almost with the authority and gravity of a 35-year-old Wall Street type. He doesn’t talk about rushing for more than 1,800 yards, instead he talks about the offensive line and the other experienced players on the offense who enabled him to accumulate that massive total.
He knows he was a valuable contributor, but he’s not about to define just how valuable he was to his team, which had state champion Regina in a 9-0 hole until he tore the meniscus in his knee and was out for the rest of the game and the season.
You wonder, can this guy be real? Is he really this talented and mature?
“He’s very mature for his tender age that’s for sure,” West Branch coach Butch Pedersen said. “He’s one of the nicest kids we’ve ever had here.”
Jones is the Press-Citizen’s offensive player of the year after racking up 1,867 yards rushing (169.7 per game, 9.3 per carry) and 29 touchdowns in helping lead the Bears to an 8-3 record. Two of those losses came to the state champion Regals.
Jones was fourth in Class 1A in total rushing yards, third in yards per game. He ran for 1,764 yards as a junior in 13 games.
“I definitely had more confidence,” Jones said.
He credited a 10-pound weight loss between his junior and senior seasons with helping with his quickness and endurance. The power still was there. But that’s not all he contributed.
“Cade was real quiet in the past,” Pedersen said. “He was more of a vocal leader this year than he has in the past. He really improved his blocking so he’s a well-rounded back now. He’s got that balance. One guy can’t hardly bring him down. It’s going to take two or three people to knock him down.”
Jones wants to play college football and has had some interest. Pound for pound he’s one of the best football players in the state, yet some schools are wary of his size at 5-foot-10.
“He’s a diamond in the rough. He’s a great football player,” Pedersen said. “If anybody overlooks this kid, it’s a massive mistake. Not only is he a great player, he would be good for a program, too. As the face of a program, he would just be super. He’s a can’t-miss college football player.”
It’s telling that when Jones is asked to list the attributes of a top-level running back, he starts not with speed or vision or elusiveness, but with attitude.
“He’s got to have a great attitude. He’s got to want to come to practice and love carrying the ball,” Jones said. “He’s got to have respect for his coaches and his offensive linemen and everybody else. They have to be smart and have field sense. They have to know when to cut and when to turn on the jets and be patient.”
Jones was the Class 1A 195-pound state wrestling champion a year ago. But it is football that he wants to pursue in college. The combination certainly should enhance his stature in the eyes of college football coaches looking for a back with the rare combination of quickness, strength, balance and toughness.
“Wrestling is a tough sport, and he’s a tough kid,” Pedersen said. “His wrestling improved dramatically as well. The further he went on the tournament trail last year, the tougher he got.”
That’s reflected in his attitude when he takes on a tackler. He prefers to “go through them” rather than around. He believes he gains the psychological advantage every time that happens.
“That was kind of the mentality of our backfield this year,” Jones said, as usual talking team and not about himself. “Our mentality is you’re going to need all 11 guys and not just one.”
Jones just wants a chance. He admires Iowa’s Mark Weisman not only for his power running but for making the most of a chance no one thought he’d ever get.
“My height is a big deal,” he said. “But really, you can’t control height. I try to have the best mindset I can.”
He certainly has that.