On the Garden City sideline, Jack Cascadden strapped on a coach’s headset and fully embraced his adjusted role. He echoed calls coming from the two coaches in the press box. Pulled aside players to offer nuggets of insight. Celebrated every moment worth celebrating in Garden City’s lopsided win over MacArthur in the Nassau II final last Saturday.
The only indicator that something wasn’t quite right was the brace on the senior running back’s right knee.
Days earlier, that knee injury caused moments in which "I’d just break down and cry," Cascadden said.
One of four captains for the undefeated Garden City (11-0), Cascadden’s status for Saturday’s Long Island Class II championship game against Bellport (10-1) is still firmly up in the air. He’s progressing well in his comeback from the injury he suffered two weeks ago, though he was still not cleared for the 4 p.m. game at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium as of Wednesday, Garden City coach Dave Ettinger said.
But Cascadden will have an impact on the game regardless of whether he plays. That much is clear after the county final.
"I kind of hit a point where my mindset changed," Cascadden said, "and I realized I had to be a leader regardless. It’s what I signed up for. I realized that I still had a role on the sideline and I was going to do whatever it took to win that county championship."
Against MacArthur, that meant donning a coach’s headset.
"I was kind of pointing out some tendencies and a lot of it was me echoing onto the field what the coaches were seeing," Cascadden said.
When Ettinger looked over and saw his star athlete during that game, he caught a glimmer of something more.
"I joked with him that he looked so natural with the headset on that when he goes big time, he better hire this old man just to prop up on the sideline," Ettinger said with a laugh.
It was the continuation of Cascadden’s week-long effort to put the team ahead of himself.
"He’s doing rehab trying to get himself healthy, but he was at practice as much as he could be helping the guys out," Ettinger said. "He was as invested in winning that game as he would have been if he were playing."
Cascadden, who is committed to play lacrosse for Cornell, has led the Garden City offense with 869 rushing yards on 12.2 yards per carry. The 6-3, 215-pound back has 16 total touchdowns this season.
In his absence — and with junior Stevie Finnell also dealing with an injury — junior Robert Votruba led the Garden City rushing attack with 12 carries for 81 yards and a touchdown against MacArthur. Votruba said Cascadden played an important role in helping him to prepare for the game.
"All he cares about is impacting others," Votruba said.
It’s not necessarily some concerted effort by Cascadden.
"It’s something that I guess you could say comes easy to me because of my love for these kids," he said, "and what they’ve done for me and what they've allowed me to do for them."
For all of Garden City’s recent success — it secured its sixth straight county title with the win over MacArthur — Cascadden has never played in a Long Island championship game. An injury prevented him from suiting up when Garden City played Lindenhurst in the 2019 title game, and last season had no LIC amid the pandemic.
"So we’re all really hoping he gets that chance this weekend," Ettinger said.
And if not?
"If not," the Garden City coach said, "you’ll still see him very involved on the sideline. He’s going to try to help his friends and his team win the best he can, however he can."