By T. Scott Boatright
Louisiana’s prep football playoffs are here, and many high school players still alive in postseason play will be peering into their stands for a quick look at their supportive parents, family and friends.
Cedar Creek senior quarterback Caden “Peanut” Middleton will only have to glance over to the Cougars’ sideline.
Caden will be under center tonight as the 16th-seeded Cougars play at top seed Vermilion Catholic in second-round action of the Division IV Select School playoffs in Abbeville.
Cedar Creek Head Coach Matt Middleton admits the father/son player/coach relationship he has shared with Caden over the past four years has taken on even more significance leading into the playoffs.
“It’s been really fun coaching him,” Coach Middleton said. “He’s such a really smart kid and a really smart player to coach on the field. Getting to watch him grow and mature on the field has been a lot of fun. He’ll be the first one to tell you that I’m harder on him than I am on anybody else. And the other kids know that. There’s a fine line between being Dad and being coach, and he’ll tell you I’m “Coach” when I’m coaching and “Dad” when I’m not, and it’s been a lot of fun.
“Now that we’re at this no guarantee past (Vermilion Catholic) deal, it has changed some. It’s gotten pretty sentimental over the past few weeks and while I know I’ve been hard on him at times, I’ve tried to cherish this year as much as I possibly could. It’s been fun watching him grow up, both as a young man and as a player. He wants to coach one day and I think he’s going to be a really good one.
As the son of a coach, football has always been a part of Caden’s life, but he didn’t catch “the fever” until he was in junior high school
“He started off a couple of years in Pee-Wee ball as a center,” Coach Middleton said of his son’s football beginnings. “But then he didn’t play again until seventh grade. I told him just to go out there and have fun — no pressure, no worries. I told him that I didn’t care if he played a down, but that it was important to me for him to be a part of all of it.
“I was at West Ouachita at the time and got a call from the junior high coach telling me, ‘ Hey, I think we’re going to put Peanut at quarterback,’ and I just thought to myself — quarterback!? He’s always been a big kid but I told the coach that whatever he wanted I was good with.”
Caden said that his relationship with his father as a coach was strengthened during the height of the COVID pandemic.
“It’s pretty much like any father-son relationship,” Caden said. “Sometimes we get along. Sometimes we butt heads. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I think it’s been a great experience for the both of us.”
“During COVID, all that gave me the opportunity to start learning about football as much as I could. We sat at the dinner table every night going over coverages and those kinds of things. I like to think that he trained me in his own way so that we can look at things during a game and look at them in the same way. We just pass feedback back and forth. It’s become that kind of relationship where we just bounce ideas off of each other.”
It was Caden’s intelligence — both football and real-world — that led to him lining up under center.
“Because he’s so smart, after talking about it with his coach we felt him playing quarterback would be really good,” Coach Middleton said. “We knew he’d be able to read defenses and check off plays. I didn’t care what position he played, but he fell in love with playing quarterback. It’s grown on him every year.
“He’s just a kid who loves to play football. He loves practice. You can’t say that about everybody. He loves the game. He’s a film rat. It’s been a joy because our personalities are so different —he’s real cerebral — more laidback, but then fiery when he plays.”
His father said Caden wants to excel in the classroom as much as he does on the field.
“He’s taken so many dual-enrollment e (Advanced Placement) courses,” Coach Middleton said. “He’s a 4.0 student. I never have to tell him to do his homework or study. We had a conversion (on Wednesday) about Calculus. He’s got a B right now in Calculus and he doesn’t make Bs, so he’s worried about that.
“I just told him not to worry about it and do the best he could do and that it will work out. When it comes down to it, he’s a whole lot smarter than me. He’s a smart one.”
Caden’s academic abilities were showcased last spring when he took third place in Advanced Math at the State Literary Rally.
“I got to do it for one of my favorite teachers ever, Ms. (Marilyn) Hyams, and I’m so glad she asked me to do it,” Caden said. “It’s kind of like playing for my dad. I was very happy to do that for her.”
The Middletons nearly didn’t spend the ongoing football season together. Coach Middleton accepted a role as offensive coordinator at Southern Arkansas while Caden was going to remain in Ruston and finish out his senior year at Cedar Creek.
But when Cedar Creek’s coaching job suddenly reopened, Middleton felt that on second thought, returning to retake control of the Cougars’ football program was the move he needed to make.
“It was one of those things where he could have gone to Magnolia (Arkansas) but chose to stay with his team,” Coach Middleton said of Caden’s desire to finish his prep career at Cedar Creek even if his father was no longer head coach. “Then things happened during the summer and Cedar Creek was looking for another coach again, and I felt responsible for the team and for Caden, and I wanted to come back and finish it and build on it.
“A whole lot of it had to do with him and the rest of my family and just Cedar Creek itself, but the bonus was being here to coach him during his senior year, no doubt about it.”
Another bonus was seeing his son become Cedar Creek’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns earlier this season.
“Caden will tell you this, because I’ve raised him that way and just because of the way he is, but we weren’t even watching the numbers,” Coach Middleton said. “We didn’t know where he was numberswise. He just plays ball and I just coach. We didn’t know until someone told me on the sideline that night. And Caden will tell you it’s a team award and not a personal one for him. He couldn’t have done it without his teammates. All he thinks about — worries about — is whether or not we get the win. I’m sure it will be cool looking back on it later, but right now, and throughout the course of his season, but the only thing we’re thinking about now is winning.
“He may not be the best athlete, but he’s always been one of the smartest players on the offensive side of the ball as far as knowing where to go,” Coach Middleton said. “To be honest, he calls a lot of the plays himself. There aren’t many high schools doing that, so I think that says a lot about the kind of quarterback he is.”
Last summer Caden verbally committed to continue his football career on the college level at Arkansas-Monticello and says he will sign with UAM in February.
“My dad coached there for a long time, so it’s a pretty familiar place for me,” Caden said. “The coach there — Hud Jackson — he coached with my dad and is a great coach. I just felt like it was the right place for me to continue my career for four or five years and hopefully get my foot in the door for coaching, so that’s what it came down to — the great relationships I already have there.”
But today, Caden’s focus is on one thing only — trying to win tonight’s playoff game.
“We’re excited to go out and play a team like Vermilion Catholic,” Caden said. “ We’re ready to play.”