Nearly three quarters into their win over North Dakota last week in Seattle, the Washington Huskies held a two-touchdown lead, with their starters approaching the goal-line again.
Cade Otton, a redshirt freshman tight end out of Tumwater High School, started a play from the 1-yard line in motion, and seemingly settled behind the left tackle before cutting back abruptly to the right sideline when the ball was snapped.
Quarterback Jake Browning faked a pitch to Myles Gaskin, rolled to his right under pressure and tossed a short pass to Otton in the flat.
“The ball was in the air for a long time — eyes wide open — but I caught it, and turned the corner as quick as I could and saw the end zone right there,” Otton said. “I got in, and wanted to celebrate with my teammates. It was a cool moment.”
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That was the first catch of Otton’s college career, and it resulted in a second-half touchdown that helped UW put away North Dakota, 45-3, at Husky Stadium.
Otton curled into the end zone as teammate Drew Sample flung his hands into the air signaling touchdown. The two tight ends celebrated as Otton handed the ball off to a referee, and several more teammates offered him congratulations as he made his way back to the UW sideline.
“It couldn’t happen to a better kid,” Huskies tight ends coach Jordan Paopao said. “He doesn’t say a whole bunch, he just works hard and plays really physical.
“It shouldn’t be surprising, coming from the football family that he’s from, how he’s able to have a lot of success and how he continues to work at the game.”
Otton was named the Class 2A player of the year following his senior season in 2016, during which he led Tumwater with 46 receptions for 820 yards and 14 total touchdowns at tight end, and added 123 tackles as a middle linebacker.
He still holds school records for career receiving yards (1,705) and touchdown receptions (33), and helped the T-Birds reach the state playoffs all four of his high school seasons, including two trips to the state title game.
After rarely missing a snap during his high school career, Otton said redshirting his first season in college was a different experience, but one that helped him grow as a player.
“Even when I was redshirting, I felt like I was contributing to the team,” he said. “The coaches really make a point to acknowledge the scout team, which is really cool.
“It’s a little bit different, but you just find ways to contribute and help the team, and in the end that’s really rewarding when you see the team win. We had a really good year last year. The wins felt really good, and the losses really hurt still, even if I wasn’t playing.”
Paopao said Otton — who spent his redshirt season practicing alongside veterans like Sample and current Seattle Seahawks tight end Will Dissly — has consistently improved.
“He’s made leaps and bounds,” Paopao said. “The biggest difference I think from year one to year two is just the understanding of the offense, and being able to operate a lot of the nuances and everything we ask out of the tight ends.”
Otton has also packed on weight and is now listed at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds — 25 pounds heavier than he was his senior year in high school — and continues to play with physicality as a blocker.
“One of the cool things about Cade was how much he played linebacker in high school, and how productive he was,” Paopao said. “Even his junior year in the playoffs, making plays in the Tacoma Dome to change a game and win a game, you just saw the playmaking ability regardless of what side of the ball he was going to be on.”
Paopao said Otton was arguably the Huskies’ offensive MVP during spring practices, and his ability to make plays down the field and block made him stand out. He said it was clear early on this year that Otton would be a part of UW’s plan at tight end.
Otton made his debut in the Huskies’ opener against Auburn in Atlanta two weeks ago, and was on the field for the opening kick return. He played the first offensive series, and several more snaps throughout the game.
He said he soaked in the surroundings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and was nervous for his first college game.
“I’ve always been nervous before games, but once you get on the field it’s just football,” Otton said. “You lock into your assignment and your technique and trust your preparation. That’s pretty much what takes over.
“You don’t really think about the stage you’re on once you’re in that moment. Looking back on it, it’s super surreal that I was able to play in that game and be here now.”
The end of that game was disappointing, Otton said, but he was glad for a bounce-back win against North Dakota, and to have his family and friends cheering from the stands in Seattle.
His grandfather, Sid Otton — who retired after Cade’s final high school game but remains the winningest high school football coach in state history (394-131 record and six state championships in 49 seasons) — was one of the proud onlookers in the crowd.
“I was up there as a grandpa, and it was a great experience,” Sid Otton said. “Same for Grandma, Mom, Dad and family and friends. That was a very exciting moment.”
Sid Otton and wife Marjean plan to travel to UW’s away games to watch Cade’s career unfold, much like they did for sons Brad (Weber State, USC) and Tim (Weber State) when they played in college.
They’ll also travel to watch Cade’s cousin Kennedy Croft, another Tumwater product who is starting for Gonzaga volleyball as a freshman, and on Fridays they’ll continue to watch Tumwater football.
Sid Otton offered his grandson compliments on his run blocking — a part of football Sid and Cade’s father Tim take pride in after so many years running the wing-T.
And, of course, there was plenty of excitement surrounding Cade’s first touchdown.
Beyond reaching the end zone for the first time, the younger Otton said the moment meant a lot to him because he got to share it with teammates, family and friends.
“It just shows the bond we’ve built through hard work in the offseason, fall camp and even practices now,” Otton said. “We’re all excited for each other when we do well. The love I felt when I came off the field is super cool.
“Especially when I left the stadium, and got to see my friends and family, that felt really good. This is for them.”