Perhaps there’s no position in any team sport more unheralded than an offensive lineman in football. Especially when considering their contributions to the success of the team. Without them, there is no offense. The running game starts with them as does the passing game. Even a measly PAT attempt requires blocking up front to be executed correctly.
The lack of recognition has never bothered Heritage High School (Wash.) senior offensive lineman Cade Gardner, nor has it ever been a motivating factor for his play on the field. He’s driven to do his job to the best of his ability and help the team win, period. But whether Gardner likes it or not, the long-time unsung hero of the gridiron is starting to turn heads for his work in the community.
When Heritage announced a six-week shut down on March 13 that later evolved into a rest-of-year closure, Gardner immediately thought of the community that had supported him and the Timberwolves over the past four years.
He immediately took to social media to offer a lending hand. Be it getting groceries, mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, or even washing cars, it didn’t matter to Gardner. He simply wanted to help.
“There’s a lot of people who are down or upset, and I’m a kid that has everything I could want – my health, a great family – and a lot of people don’t have that same thing,” Gardner said. “I love seeing people smile and helping out.”
Though magnified by the pandemic and shutdowns across his hometown, serving the community is nothing new for Gardner. He’s amassed more than 200 hours of community service during his time at Heritage, including work with Relay for Life, The Water Project and organizing a blanket drive. His desire to give back to the community even precludes high school and traces back to his time playing in the Clark County (Wash.) Youth Football League.
“At the time I didn’t understand why, but at end of practice our coach would have my teammates and I pick up trash around the field even if it wasn’t left by us because it was our high school’s and they were letting us use it,” Gardner said. “I never thought anything of it more than just having more time to hang out and talk with my friends, but as I moved through middle school I noticed more and more opportunities to help outside of football and it just grew from there.”
It’s more than just putting smiles on the faces of those he helps. Another factor fueling Gardner’s servant leadership is his community’s contributions to the Heritage football program.
“I’m one of two kids who go to Heritage in my neighborhood, so it’s the main place I’d resort to for any fundraising we did,” Gardner said. “I’d describe it as a lower-income community, so it was tough, but even when they couldn’t purchase a whole coupon card or whatever it was we were selling, they’d find some way to donate money. I was more thankful in that respect because they weren’t getting anything in return and just genuinely wanted to support us.”
Gardner is currently in the midst of finishing finals online and graduating virtually before heading east to continue his football career at the University of Jamestown, a NAIA school in North Dakota. He’s already begun researching local businesses in the school’s backyard and talked with university representatives about community service opportunities that exist.
But his work in Orchards, Wash., a town just 20 miles north of Portland and the Washington-Oregon border, isn’t finished. Before leaving for Jamestown, Gardner is working on starting a podcast that would feature local businesses and promote how they plan to reopen. Additionally, he’s contacted retirement centers, grocery stores, gas stations, and others to see if they’d be interested in displaying small homemade signs (made in accordance with local health guidelines, of course) with notecards full of inspirational quotes that recipients could then share on social media to spread positivity.
Though the scene may change, one thing for certain is Cade Gardner is committed to leaving anything he comes into contact with better than he found it.
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