When Caden Young was a freshman, Emmett High football coach Rich Hargitt bestowed him the nickname ‘Baby Giraffe.’
At 5-foot-9, 130-pounds, Young had yet to develop into the build that has helped him become the quarterback that he is today. Hargitt told Young that if he was going to develop into the player that he wanted to be, he would need to work hard in the weight room.
In the two years since, Young has taken those words to heart. Through his weight room routine, coupled with a growth spurt, his nickname has upgraded from ‘Baby Giraffe’ to ‘Iron Giraffe.’
On Saturday, the Iron Giraffe will try and lead the Huskies to one of the most improbable championships in the Treasure Valley in recent memory. Young will be under center as Emmett faces off against Skyline for the 4A State Football title. Kickoff is at 3 p.m. at Middleton High.
“We’re just going to have to play our game and not be super intimidated,” said Young. “They’re good and we’re not super good. But we’re going to work our hardest to get what we want.”
It’s that mentality that has the Huskies (10-2) at the door of the school’s first-ever 4A state title, just one year after going 3-6. Through his weight room workout, Young has put on 50 pounds since his freshman season and is now listed as 6-foot-3, 180-pounds. Going into his sophomore season, he was named the Huskies’ Offseason Lifter of the Year. He says he currently maxes out at 360 pounds on squats and 225 on the power clean.
“I was really small and I really couldn’t run or anything,” said Young. “But by pushing the weights, I’m stronger, I’m faster, I’m basically just improved overall. My physique is better, I’m able to throw the ball better, I’m able to run better. It’s an improvement for my whole body.”
That improvement has paid dividends for the Huskies this season. Young enters Saturday’s game having thrown for 1,705 yards and 20 touchdowns while running for 1,488 yards and 15 more touchdowns becoming a dynamic part of Emmett’s Surface to Air offensive system, a system created by Hargitt, himself.
“He’s just a kid that’s a throwback,” Hargitt says about Young’s work ethic. “He’s willing to put all that pain, suffering and time in the weight room to be good. And he’s very cerebral. I tell people all the time, he’s a college quarterback that we’re renting to play high school football.”
Hargitt says as a downhill runner, often times Young is laying out hits harder than he is getting hit. But in addition to his physical toughness, there is a mental fortitude that the quarterback has shown throughout the season.
Five of Emmett’s ten wins this season have been by less than a touchdown, including a 28-27 win against Blackfoot in the quarterfinals and a 27-22 win last week against Century in the semifinals. In the semifinal win against the Diamondbacks, Young had a 61-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that put the Huskies ahead.
“You better score, that’s kind of all that goes through your mind,” said Young. “You don’t really worry about what could go bad, you worry about what could go right. Then you try your best to get that.”
Hargitt points to an early season game against Bishop Kelly as a perfect example of the cool, calm and collected nature of his quarterback. After stressing to Young the importance of not committing turnovers against the Knights, Young fumbled away the ball on the first play of the game, leading to a Bishop Kelly touchdown.
Hargitt said he was “losing my freaking mind” yelling at Young as he walked up and down the sidelines. Before going back into the game, Young patted Hargitt on the shoulder and said “oh coach, it’s okay. I’ll take good care of it.” Hargitt then got on his headset and said that the Huskies were about to find out what Young was made of.
“Either he’s blasé, or he’s an assassin,” Hargitt remembers telling his assistant coaches. “We’re going to find out which one here in the next two hours.”
He ended up leading the Huskies to a 40-34 victory, one of the first signs of just how special this season could be for Emmett.
“He just doesn’t get rattled, things don’t make him nervous,” Hargitt said. “So when people say ‘how do you keep winning these games,’ a big part of it is he’s unflappable. You don’t come out and rattle his cage, it just doesn’t happen. As long as he continues to play that we’re we’re going to continue to have a chance to win.”
The Huskies will be looking for that calmness one more time this weekend, this time against the Grizzles (11-1), who are the top-ranked team in the state. Emmett won a state title at the 3A classification in 2015. But a win on Saturday would give Emmett a state title that seems even more unlikely than the one it claimed five years ago.
“I hasn’t really been a dream season, because we haven’t won anything yet,” said Young. “But maybe if we win on Saturday, it will be a dream come true.”