Bradenton, Florida — Caden Whitfield won’t make any tackles for Manatee High School in the 8A state semifinals Friday night. He won’t even wear a uniform, but the 8-year-old will definitely have an impact on the Hurricanes players.
“I was just born with a tumor in my hand and it was one of the rare ones and the doctor had only seen 58 of those,” he said at Manatee practice Wednesday afternoon.
Caden needed two surgeries to remove the tumor. He still has lingering effects. The middle and ring fingers on his right hand are numb and the others are very painful. His mom decided to ask the local high school football team, Caden’s favorite, for a glove to cheer him up.
They got him one but didn’t stop there.
Manatee gave Caden an open invitation, according to head coach John Booth, to come out to practice with the team on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since Caden started showing up to watch, Manatee hasn’t lost a game.
“I don’t want to necessarily look at him as a good luck charm because he’s more than that but it certainly good to have him around,” said Booth.
At first, Caden tried to throw and catch the ball, but even with the glove on, it still hurt his hand. So, the kickers had an idea. They invited him to kick field goals with them and Caden instantly fell in love with the foot-side of football.
During this week’s practice, Caden spent nearly 45 minutes with the kickers, including Nick Null, who booted the game-winning 39-yard field goal last weekend against Dr. Phillips in the state quarterfinals. The two have sparked a tight bond.
“If this kid beat what he did then I can kick the ball through the uprights,” said Null. “It puts my job into perspective.”
If Manatee beats Apopka Friday night, they will play for the state championship. The Hurricanes last won the title in 2011.