COTTONWOOD – The pipeline into Montana is opening for the West Valley Eagles.
West Valley seniors Cade Lambert and Garrett Thibodeau signed Thursday to play football for Rocky Mountain College, an NAIA program in Billings, Mont.
It’s the second straight year two West Valley players accepted scholarships to head to Rocky Mountain with Logan Gonzalez and Devin Low heading there last year.
“This sends a good message to our guys, it can happen from a small town like Cottonwood,” said West Valley coach Greg Grandell. “(Lambert and Thibodeau) carried a lot of things because they are leaders and captains and worked hard to continue our brotherhood. And they carried it at the highest level.”
Both players were first-team All-Shasta County selections on defense this past year with Lambert named the Shasta County Sports Heisman as the Defensive MVP. He was credited with 140 total tackles and was the emotional and on-field leader for the program, who Grandell called the “poster child” for how to be a leader.
For Lambert, Rocky Mountain drew similar comparisons to the North State but different enough to go away from home.
“Billings reminds me of Redding, it’s the biggest city in Montana and only has 100,000 people,” Lambert said. “The way I was treated by the coaches and people who didn’t attend the school and didn’t know who I was or why I was there was so welcoming. It felt like being at West Valley.”
Lambert rushed for 1,090 yards and scored 18 touchdowns to help the Eagles turn in their first undefeated regular season in program history. West Valley ended up 11-1 with a 28-13 loss to Paradise in the Northern Section Division III semifinals. Lambert was also named NAL Defensive MVP and first-team all-section defense.
Both players helped the Eagles to a NSCIF D-III title in 2018, playing in the program’s first state playoff game – a 21-13 loss to eventual D-5AA champion Rio Linda. At the next level, they both plan on continuing that run of playing for championships.
“I hope the competition is as stiff as it can get,” said Lambert, who is undecided on a major but is interested in environmental science with a possibility of being a petroleum engineer. “My dream would be to win a national championship for a college football team so I’m working toward that now.”
Thibodeau ranked third in Shasta County and 10th in the Northern Section with 116 tackles. He expects to play in his same role as a bandit safety, a rover defensive back who primarily plays in man-coverage, he said.
“It feels great, not a lot of kids get to play college football and I’m happy I get to be part of that 1 percent,” said Thibodeau, who plans on majoring in either psychology or sports medicine.
Thibodeau’s instincts and added weight in the offseason helped him perform as one of the top players in Shasta County last fall. As a 5-foot-11, 187-pound defensive back, he’ll have to continue to develop in the same way to see the field. He welcomes that task.
“The speed is going to be a lot faster and there are going to be bigger and taller guys but I can’t wait to hit that challenge,” Thibodeau said.
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