A couple of players had transferred out of the Eatonville High School football program before the 2019 season, including a player who was the front-runner to be the team’s starting quarterback.
The situation left Cruisers coach Gavin Kralik in the lurch at the position. So he turned to his best athlete, Caden Jumper, who played receiver, tight end and running back in his first two high school seasons.
Kralik posed the question: “Can we try it?”
Jumper, who is considered a three-star recruiting prospect by 247sports.com, didn’t hesitate.
“Whatever you need,” Jumper said to his coach. “I’ve always just been that type of utility player. If you need me on the line, I’ll go play on the line. It’s just wherever the coach wants me.”
That kind of unselfishness is a big reason why the 6-foot-3, 240-pound athlete, who plays middle linebacker on defense, has endeared himself to the coaching staff and his teammates.
“He’s made it clear from the get-go that he’ll do whatever is best for the team,” Kralik said. “He’s not a college quarterback. He’s a great college prospect, but he knows he’s not a college quarterback. So for him, it’d be better for him to not play quarterback, from a college exposure standpoint. But he’s just willing to do whatever we ask.”
Jumper certainly doesn’t look like a prototypical high school quarterback. With broad shoulders and a thick build, he looks, well, like a tight end or a linebacker.
But there’s a sneaky athleticism that doesn’t often accompany that type of sheer size.
In the six halves Jumper has played in this year — he missed the second half of the team’s first game with injury, the entirety of the second and third games of the season and didn’t play in the second half of the team’s week four game — Jumper has completed 29-of-42 passes for 425 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. On the ground, he has rushed 43 times for 446 yards and seven touchdowns.
“To have a kid that big and be that athletic, you don’t see that very often,” said Eatonville quarterbacks coach Bobby Lucht, who quarterbacked Eatonville to a Class 1A state title against Zillah in 1992 in the Kingdome.
Lucht played for then-Eatonville coach Steve Gervais, who led the Cruisers to three 1A state titles (1985, 1990 and 1992).
Gervais went on to several coaching stops afterward, including Gig Harbor, Rogers and Skyline, where he led the Spartans to three state titles in 2000, 2005 and 2007. He also spent time as the University of Washington running backs coach beginning in 2008. Gervais now runs the Steve Gervais Academy, offering clinics, open training sessions and private QB training.
So when Jumper knew he’d be the team’s starting quarterback this season, he started working with Gervais, who also coached Jumper’s dad, Brandon, at Eatonville back in the day.
“At the beginning of the season, throwing with my buddies, I didn’t really have any form throwing the football. It was just kind of, just throwing it to throw it,” Jumper said.
“Obviously, he told me I had a lot to work on,” Jumper said, laughing.
Mainly, they focused on some small technique adjustments. Gervais felt Jumper was standing too tall, and with his strength, ought to be able to sling the football around.
“He did two things: He made me step off my back foot and push my elbow through as I’m coming in,” Jumper said. “It felt natural. A couple mechanical things.”
Lucht knows the kind of impact Gervais can have on a young quarterback.
“I think a lot of it is the mental aspect of the game,” Lucht said. “Caden is a tremendous athlete; I was a good athlete. Just to be able to break down the game mentally, it slows the game down for some of the players I’ve worked with. Mentally, (Gervais) instilled that mental toughness with me day one. I think that’s helping out with Caden — just the mental part of the game, not letting the position be bigger than it is.”
To Kralik, the improvement Jumper has shown at the quarterback position has been clear and obvious.
“He’s really improved his mechanics,” Kralik said. “He really makes good decisions.”
While some minor mechanical adjustments and fine-tuning were important to making him a more complete high school quarterback, reading a defense is something that wasn’t as big of an adjustment for Jumper, who has a good understanding of defensive football, having played linebacker for the Cruisers.
“(Jumper’s experience playing defense) has been huge for him to be able to sit back and read the defense, read the fronts,” Lucht said. “He’s not only helping himself, he’s helping our line with reading the defense, our wide receivers, whether it’s Cover 2, Zero, Four, whatever. Defensively, he’s our brains of the operation back there when we need to identify what offenses are doing. So that just helps him on the offensive side.”
While Jumper has grown as a passer as the season has progressed, it’s his running ability that has made him a nightmare for opposing defenses to game plan against. In Eatonville’s 42-40 Class 2A SPSL win over River Ridge in week five, Jumper rushed 26 times for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
“When we see Caden run someone over, it gets you going,” said sophomore center Julian Evans. “You’re ready to go. That really fires us up. He’s one of those guys you want to play your butt off for every play.”
It’s a not a dream scenario for, say, a 5-foot-10 corner, when they see Jumper barreling down on them with the football.
“Some of the teams we play, their cornerbacks are kind of unsure whether to take on a big train like Jumper when he’s coming around the corner,” Lucht said.
It’s not a secret; the fact that he’s a mismatch for smaller defenders is something Jumper is aware of.
“The only way they’re going to tackle me is if they can somehow manage to swipe my legs away,” he said. “They aren’t going to pull me down. I’m going to hit it full speed. … It’s hard to stop someone coming at you downhill.”
The offers haven’t rolled in yet, but Jumper is talking with several Pac-12 schools, including Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State and others. The consensus among Jumper and the Eatonville coaching staff is that he projects as a tight end at the next level.
“He’s got such good ball skills,” Kralik said. “He can play defense and play it well, but his ball skills are somewhat wasted if he’s playing on the defensive side of the ball. So yes, I think tight end would be a great fit. But he could excel in a lot of different positions.”
One thing is certain: Jumper will be out there, week in and week out, representing the Cruisers. The temptation to leave Eatonville and play for a big-time program somewhere else in the state has never crossed Jumper’s mind. To him, Eatonville is a special place, and the grass isn’t always greener.
“Something about the atmosphere in Eatonville is crazy,” he said. “It’s just family. It’s awesome playing here.”
And that’s just fine with Kralik, who can’t think of enough positive things to say about his star quarterback.
“He’s an old-school kid,” Kralik said. “He has the mindset people had many years ago. As times change, he’s humble; his family is humble. Obviously, they could go take him to a bigger program. But he cares about his teammates and has great relationships with them. Obviously, we’re really happy to have him here.”