MUNCIE – Cade Jones heard a snap, but the push from his teammates kept him going.
Here was Delta’s then-junior quarterback in the opening minutes against Mount Vernon trying to gut his way through a broken fibula in his left leg. He lasted one play. When he planted to throw a corner route, he knew something was wrong. Teammates Trey Bland and Hunter Holbrook helped him off the field, and thus ended Jones’ 2013 season.
And the memory of standing helpless on the sideline for the next two games stuck like a spur jammed into his side since.
“To get hurt like that, not being able to play, it hurt my heart a little bit,” Jones said. “We went into this offseason saying that something like that is not going to happen again.”
One could say Jones arrives at his senior season ready to take on the leadership mantle of a quarterback in his last go-round, but that understates the role he already holds. Jones has run the Eagle offense since he was a sophomore, and comes into 2014 ready for this third year at the helm.
Teammates, coaches and Jones himself admit he’s a different player from the young man who led Delta to an 8-4 record in 2012.
That year, he was getting his feet wet, throwing for 1,049 yards but tossing more interceptions (14) then touchdowns (10). Avoiding mistakes was hammered home the following offseason, and he flipped that ratio to 14 scores and three interceptions (one every 40 attempts).
But that campaign was cut short by the injury, and this offseason Delta coach Grant Zgunda saw a player who appreciated what he had after having it taken away. But eight months later, a focused Jones gives his team something else.
“It’s a great luxury to have a quarterback that’s been a three-year starter,” Delta coach Grant Zgunda said. “Of course the skills are a lot better, but the leadership, the intangible things that we’ve been working on with Cade, you can definitely see.”
Jones contends he’s always gravitated toward leadership, even back when he played QB at age 10 and made his way as a sophomore starter (though he admitted he hardly had a sense for varsity-level play). One can see it out at Delta practice during a passing drill, as Jones is always chatting, cajoling, offering high fives to his backups or rerouting the receivers he’s throwing to.
And that steady hand carries extra weight as Delta moves toward installing a new offense.
Through almost all of Zgunda’s tenure, his squads have deployed a three-back scheme that used more misdirection and got backs going outside. But looking at his larger offensive front, he decided to switch to a more downhill, power-based scheme.
The passing game didn’t change too much, but teammates said Jones was invaluable in terms of quickly mastering it and getting everyone else on board.
“It’s definitely big-time because if anybody has any questions, you know you can go to Cade,” said Bland, who moved from receiver to running back in the switch.
Receiver Tate Stone, who will likely be one of Jones’ top targets, added, “We kind of really put the offense in really quick because of him. He just kind of knew what to do at it.”
Jones said his future could be at a small school like DePauw or Wabash, where he could play baseball and football, but that rests somewhere far off.
Two years ago, Delta’s season ended on a dark, cold field in Fortville, Indiana, ousted by a powerful Mount Vernon squad. Last season, Jones could only watch from the sidelines, unable to help against West Lafayette.
This is his last ride, and while all endings in high school sports are hard, he’s looking ahead to a different sort of conclusion.
“It’s real bittersweet, but we’re all loving it,” Jones said. “We’re excited. It’s a great time here. There’s a lot of energy going through the school and through our players. Everyone’s, I guess, pumped for an awesome season. It’s sad in the fact it’s going to come to an end here, hopefully in four months or five months.
“We’re excited to get going and we’re excited for our team.”
Contact sports writer Ben Breiner at 213-5848. Follow him on Twitter @BenBreinerTSP.
Find video of Delta coaches and players preview the coming season at thestarpress.com.