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Front and Center

Josh VanDyke • Aug 22, 2018 at 5:49 AM

FRUITPORT — The quarterback might get all the glitz and the glamour when it comes to a team’s success on the football field, but without a true leader along the offensive line, that quarterback would be spending most of his time on his backside.

The center is not only the innermost player physically on the offensive line, but he is usually the emotional leader of the group. You won’t find a better example of that in Fruitport senior center David Cadena.

The 5-foot-7 offensive lineman for the Trojans is a big reason why first-year head coach Nate Smith has been able to smoothly transition into a new era of Fruitport football.

"This has been a great group to work with as a new coach," Smith said after the opening day of practice. "David Cadena is the heart and soul of our team. He's a senior and our returning center on offense. He's a little undersized, but he works his tail off in the weight room and in the classroom, and he really believes in what we are trying to build here. He supports his teammates and is a very unselfish kid.

“He already had the respect of the locker room and the kids on the team before I got here, so having him believe in what the new coaching staff is trying to install was a major step toward a change in the culture here.”

Cadena was happy to accept the leadership role in his senior season, a role that wasn’t openly allowed in years past.

“It’s been a really good experience here at Fruitport,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed being a part of the football program and this year I’ve really stepped up into more of a leadership role as a senior. Coach Smith has really helped me embrace that role and allowed me to take that over, whereas, in the past, I felt like I was held back from doing that a little bit.

“I basically just decided that I was going to give every ounce of myself to this team for my senior year of football, because I only have one year left. At the end of the day, I just want to win.”

In 2017, the Trojans didn’t get to enjoy much winning. The team only logged a 2-7 record and failed to make the playoffs for the fifth year in a row. With a new leader and new attitude, Cadena hopes to snap that streak in 2018.

“I really want to make the playoffs this year,” he stated. “Fruitport hasn’t done that since 2012, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get back there. I really believe we have the talent to do it, but we have to believe in ourselves and build some positive momentum early on in the season.”

The Trojans should have plenty of energy to get off to a hot start in 2018 thanks to a change in their workout regimen that has left everyone on the team feeling like they could run through a brick wall.

“We’ve got coach Jeremy Tormala that came in to be our strength and conditioning coach this offseason,” added Cadena. “He’s one of the strength and conditioning coaches for the (Muskegon) Lumberjacks and he came in and completely changed the way we train. We’ve been doing the same exercises that the Northern Michigan (University) men’s hockey team does, so we’ve been training like a Division 1 hockey team, basically.

“When you’re first doing the exercises, you feel like it looks kind of dumb when you’re doing it. Then, once you get a little faster and quicker off the ball and have a little more stamina and strength, you realize, ‘Wow, this really does work’. I feel stronger, faster, more agile and more flexible now.”

Hard work in the weight room has helped the undersized Cadena become a dominant lineman. Although his measurables won’t intimidate the opposition, his work ethic and technique should.

“A big thing for me for me is just hard work,” he said. “There might be bigger and stronger guys that I go up against, but no one is going to outwork me. It does help that I’m a little lower to the ground and have good technique. If I go up against a 300-pound guy with bad technique, I’ll probably win, because I pride myself in always being technically sound and the low man always wins in football.”

Cadena’s drive and desire stems from a family tragedy suffered last summer, when his mother, Nancy Cadena, passed away on June 21 at age 49. The senior student-athlete has dedicated his work on the field and in the classroom to his late mother.

“My drive really comes from my mom,” he said. “She played a really big part in me playing football and she was always very supportive of me. She passed away last year, so I’ve really dedicated everything I do to her. I just know every time that I want to give up or ease up on something, she’s looking down at me and telling me not to quit. Just the thought of that pushes me to be better every day and it pushes me on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom, too.

“I wasn’t the greatest student when she was around, but after she passed away, I really dedicated myself to becoming a better student and this past year, I finished with all A’s and B’s. “It’s pushed me in all aspects of my life, because at the end of the day, I know she’s looking down at me and I want to make her proud.”

The first step toward rebuilding a perennial playoff contender at Fruitport is changing the attitude in the locker room. Cadena has already spearheaded that change.

“Last year, I led more by example,” he said. “This year, I’m much more vocal, because I’ve established a closer bond with all these guys and Coach Smith has really allowed the players to play a bigger role in the leadership of the team. When I was a freshman, the seniors weren’t real nice to me or any of the younger kids, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t continue that trend.

“Instead of tearing people down for making mistakes, I want to build them up. So, I’m constantly encouraging the guys at practice and trying to build a more welcoming atmosphere in the locker room.”

The next step toward the playoffs involves continuing a streak that every Trojan will bring up if you ask them.

“Last year, beating Spring Lake 21-0 at their place was pretty awesome,” he admitted. “That was the first shutout in the rivalry since 2003, and it was one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of it. That game is always a big one for both programs, and we’re excited to go out there and prove ourselves. I know how good this team can be, but I want to show people that and that will be one of our first big games to do that.

“It’ll be at our place, so it’s going to our first home game and Coach Smith’s first game at home, so it’s going to be a special game for us. We haven’t lost to them since 2013, and I want to keep that streak going. It’s going to a crazy atmosphere for that one.”

Despite only being around the problem since February, Coach Smith has already left a mark on the program. Cadena has felt the shift in leadership already.

“He’s been huge for me,” he said of Coach Smith. “He’s been more than coach since he’s gotten here; he’s really been a father figure for me. The way he conducts himself on and off the field and the the way he conducts himself with the athletes on the team, too. I’ve always wanted to go into coaching, and if I can be half the man and half the coach that Coach Smith is, I’d be pretty excited.

“There’s not a lot of people in West Michigan that are going to outsmart or outwork him. He puts in a lot of work and it shows with how he prepared he is. He’s come in here and since Day 1 he has had us all excited about the direction of this program and we all believe in him as our coach.”

Offensive lineman don’t often show up on SportsCenter highlight reels unless they’ve made a huge mistake, but Cadena and the Fruitport offensive line is excited about the potential of the running game for the Trojans this fall.

“As a lineman, you don’t get to look at many stats to show how effective you are individually, so we like to keep track of the amount of pancakes we have in a game,” he said. “I think my personal best is two or three. I’m not the biggest guy, so those aren’t as easy to come by, but I can still get under people and move them.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than knowing that your block is what sprung the running back free for a touchdown. All of us on the line are pretty pumped about this year’s team because we have some great athletes in the backfield this year like Crue Cooper, Dominic Colegrove and Jakob Carlisle at quarterback. We’re hoping to spring a few big plays for them this fall.”

Even if Fruitport doesn’t snap their playoff drought in 2018, a change in the attitude around the program and throughout the community would be an excellent step in the right direction, according to Cadena.

“I think it’ll be a successful season if we play better than last year,” he said. “I want to make the playoffs at the end of the season, but I really don’t care if we go 0-9 or 9-0 and go on to win a state title, I want to be a better football team than we were last year. I want to leave a legacy here, so for years to come, Fruitport is constantly in the hunt for championships.

“We could go 6-3 and make the playoffs, but if we don’t build a winning culture in the process, it won’t amount to anything. So, I want to be able to leave here and say, “Yes, we are on the up and up, and we are moving in the right direction.”

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