Leaving his own mark
The wait may be over. Finally.
Barring any slips or falls at home, or unpredictable injuries at school before Friday night, Caden Pelan will start his first game under center for Scotus Central Catholic.
The senior has been waiting three years to make the same kind of impact his father Jay had at David City Aquinas in the early 1990s.
A broken hand the week before the first game forced him out of the running for the starting spot as a sophomore. He returned to the field later in the season but only as a sometimes backup when the game was out of reach.
A year ago as a junior, he dislocated his shoulder in Game 2 against Wahoo Neumann. He returned again near the end of the schedule but only as a punter and place kicker.
Those dreams, aspirations and desires to match dad’s accomplishments were slipping away.
There, the whole time, painfully witnessing it up close whether on the practice field during the week or between the lines on Friday night, was Jay - the offensive coordinator for the Shamrocks for the past five years.
The father/son, coach/player relationship is one the Pelans have had in place almost since Caden first threw a football.
“Since he was a little tike, we’ve been in the back yard throwing passes, teaching him how to throw a football at a young age. I was always thinking someday I’ll be a coach and maybe he’ll be a quarterback,” Jay said Wednesday after practice. “For Caden, his skill set is perfect for a quarterback and perfect for a quarterback in our system.”
Jay won two state championships as a Monarch, played in three title games and was a three year starter for Aquinas at quarterback.
He played at Wayne State in college, coached some as a volunteer assistant afterwards then gave it up for a long stretch as he went to physical therapy school.
His career eventually landed him in Columbus where he currently serves as a therapist at the hospital. Jay has been a part of the coaching staff at Scotus for 11 years and the architect of the offense each of the past five seasons under the leadership of head coach Tyler Linder.
“We’ve had a lot of adventures when it comes to coaching different sports,” Jay said Wednesday evening after practice. “We’ve had a lot of success, it’s been a lot of fun and now, this is really the icing on the cake.”
Jay estimates he began taking on roles as some kind of head or assistant coach when Caden was six. The two have spent seasons together in football, basketball and baseball.
All the while, Caden learned of his dad’s place in Aquinas lore.
“Hearing all the stories as a young kid you think, ‘Wow! I want to do that,’ ” Caden said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to compete for a state title. That’s what I’m hoping to do this year – get this team to the playoffs and see what we can do after that. I try to mimic myself in some ways and be a great leader like he was.”
This will be the first year, without any further bad luck, Caden will have the opportunity to do just that.
Scotus was 4-6 last year with him mostly on the sidelines.
He jumps up to a starting lineup that brings back 14 players including playmakers Eric Mustard and Tyler Palmer.
Those teammates and friends will look to Caden to guide a version of the same attack Jay orchestrated nearly 30 years ago.
Ironically enough, it starts Friday against Aquinas. Just another installment of former Shamrocks or Monarchs crossing over and coaching their former rival.
Current Aquinas coach Ron Mimick graduated from Scotus. Legendary Shamrocks coach Jim Puetz went to St. Mary’s – Aquinas’ name before the change. Jim’s brother, assistant and former Scotus Athletic Director Gary Puetz, was once a Monarch as well.
“We’ve done some different things this year to try and exploit Caden a little more with his arm. We’re going to be a little different than we have been in the past, but that’s what we want to be,” Jay said. “We think we have the right combination of players to be unique. In order to do that you have to have somebody at the controls who’s not necessarily making plays but getting the ball where it needs to be to move it down the field.”
Despite Jay’s faith in his own son, Caden, due to the injuries, is a mostly unproven signal caller.
While some of his friends and teammates have 12, 15, 18 or more varsity games of experience under their belt, the Shamrocks starting quarterback has only seen a handful of quarters with little chance to leave his mark.
“I try to channel that frustration into relaxation. I try and be relaxed and use it as some anger in a relaxed manner so when I go out there on the field I can compete and compete hard, do the best for my team and try and use that frustration in a positive way,” Caden said.
“My teammates definitely expect a lot out of me, and I expect a lot out of myself. My dad expects a lot out of me because they all know what I’m capable of. I just try and meet those expectations if not surpass those expectations.”
No one, not even Jay, will probably truly ever know the internal struggle Caden has fought the past few years. While he says he uses it for motivation during rehab, it’s difficult for any player, no matter how upbeat, to stay positive after dealing with what must sometimes feel like a curse.
Then there’s living in dad’s shadow. Though Jay never forced his son into becoming a quarterback, or even playing football for that matter, there are always voices, critics and opinions aplenty for the branches of a successful family tree.
Does he seek validation? Does he have to come somewhere near the exploits of his father to feel like it was all worth it?
Caden doesn’t leave that sort of impression. If anything, he makes it sound more like a blessing.
“My teammates are always teasing me and bugging me about it having dad as a coach, but I enjoy it,” he says. “I’m so happy that my dad can be my coach. He’s a great role model. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.