COTTONWOOD – From an early age, Cade Lambert’s idea of glory on the gridiron was about more than scoring touchdowns and making game-saving tackles.
As a preteen at The Pasture, he mesmerized over West Valley legend Austin Clark leading his team up and down the field on the way to a Northern Section championship season in 2013. Along the way it was Clark who addressed the team in moments of triumph.
Lambert was hooked.
“I remember him scoring touchdown after touchdown,” Lambert said. “I wanted to be that guy. I wanted to be the guy to give the team speech late at night.”
While Lambert envisioned his future, it was his father Dirk — a West Valley player in the early 90s for head coach Greg Grandell — who kept Cade focused on the path to make his goal become a reality. And Cade’s inherent wisdom took shape.
“I look up to my dad more than anyone else,” Lambert said. “He taught me it’s not everything to be the No. 1 guy or being an MVP, it’s being the best you for everyone else and bringing everyone else around you to be their best selves.”
Lambert did exactly that last fall, inspiring his teammates with his on-field play and his vocal leadership. He played with passion, intelligence and athleticism, leading West Valley to its first perfect regular season in program history. For his efforts, Lambert is the 2019 Shasta County Sports Heisman winner and Defensive MVP, presented by Clear View Auto Glass.
As the Preseason No. 1 ranked returner, Lambert never let his desire to be the best overshadow his production. And that constant drive is what led him to be in the position he’s in, Grandell said.
“He’s tenacious and plays with a lot of confidence because he works harder than everybody else,” said Grandell. “We always pointed Cade out – he was our poster child for how to do things right. And he had the athletic ability to go with it – fast, strong, disciplined, coachable – all things together create a Heisman winner.”
Lambert attributes some of his tendencies to playing alongside last year’s Heisman winner Bailey Sulzer where he got to learn first-hand how to not only play with the challenge of high expectations but handle the pressure to execute.
From his inside linebacker spot, Lambert totaled 140 tackles in 2019 as he shifted into Sulzer’s role to be Public Enemy No. 1 opposing offenses.
“The first time I realized I was ‘that’ guy was against Shasta when they started yelling out my number before the snap,” Lambert said. “Two Shasta guys called out my name saying ‘I got Lambert, I got Lambert.’ ”
It was a role he embraced. Lambert never totaled less than eight tackles in a game and registered nine games with double-digit tackle totals with a season-best 20 in a 20-14 comeback win over Foothill in the second game of the year.
“He carried the mindset that if something needed to be done he would make it happen,” said West Valley defensive coordinator Jim Vert. “He was the dude. He had command out there.”
On the offensive side, Lambert was just as dominant, though didn’t get as many chances as he could of mostly due to in large part of all the weapons around him. He still led the team in touches with 123, turning them in to 1,199 total yards – a 9.7-yard per touch average – and 18 touchdowns in 12 games.
With everyone keying on Lambert, that allowed offensive coordinator Frank Fales to use him as the decoy and open up plays for his teammates. Four other players racked up more than 250 yards rushing, proving even with the unselfish attitude, Lambert made a difference.
“A lot of kids would have been mad about spreading the ball around that much and get a bad attitude but he never had anything close to that,” Grandell said. “If he touched it 10 times or not at all it didn’t matter, he would be just has happy watching a teammate score as he was when he scored.”
Lambert’s most notable of his five 100-yard rushing performances came against Anderson in the South County Collision. He ran eight times for 212 yards and three touchdowns and added a 69-yard touchdown catch, later named both the Redding Rancheria Player of the Game and Shasta County Sports Player of the Week.
Despite the efforts – being named to the Cal-Hi Sports small schools first-team defense, first-team all-Northern Section and Northern Athletic League Defensive MVP – the season didn’t end up with a repeat Northern Section title like the Eagles had hoped for. West Valley lost 28-13 in the Division III semifinals to Paradise, a community rallying behind the team after the devastating Camp Fire.
Lambert and the Eagles were experienced with having to navigate a tragedy on the gridiron, using the loss of teammate Tyson Wacker a year earlier to fuel their play.
And When West Valley faced its first defeat of the season at the hands of the Bobcats, it was Lambert who everyone turned to lift them up – the moment he prepared for when he first dreamed of playing for West Valley.
“After the Paradise game, he was very moving,” Grandell said. “He came out and said ‘live good lives, be good kids and seek excellence in everything you do.’ That’s the type of leader he was.
“Even in a loss, he showed everyone how to love each other, showed how to love the program and love something bigger than themselves.”