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Cade Klubnik was introduced to football as a preschooler, where he began to foster a passion for the sport that has yielded the quarterback a myriad of awards and offers as he heads into his senior year at Texas' Westlake High School.
In August, Klubnik became the first winner of the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards Offensive Football Player of the Year, but he remains mindful the win would not have been possible without his team.
"I started playing flag football when I was 4 years old," the Clemson University commit said. "And I've been playing quarterback since the start. This is one of the biggest honors I've received, and it was awesome. To be one of the finalists was such an honor, but to go on and win it was crazy and I knew it couldn't have happened without my team."
Klubnik considered it a privilege to represent his family, school and community during the on-demand show, adding "I wouldn't be where I am without any of them, for sure. I wouldn't be who I am without growing up in Westlake."
The five-star signal caller led undefeated Austin Westlake to the Texas 6A Division I state championship this past season, guiding the Chaparrals to a 14-0 mark, passing for 3,495 yards and 35 touchdowns to pair with 583 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns during his junior campaign. But Klubnik said Westlake, which is looking for a title three-peat, is still hungry.
"I think we've got a really good team this year," he said. "The offense is solid — we really don't have a missing piece. And our defense is really going to be good, which makes the offense's job even easier, because they'll get us the ball back. I think we've got a really good shot, but we're just taking it one game at a time."
Westlake Head Football Coach Todd Dodge announced earlier this year he would be retiring at the end of the 2021 season. He has known Klubnik since elementary school.
"I've known him since he was in fourth grade and you couldn't have a better representative of our team and our school than Cade Klubnik," he said. "His work ethic, his passion for the game of football, his leadership, not only on our team, but in our school and community, is just unparalleled."
Klubnik calls his relationship with Dodge "special," and notes the bond has expanded to include lessons both on and off the field.
"One of the biggest (lessons) is respecting your opponent," Klubnik said. "If we're 7-0 and our opponent is 0-7, we're not entering the game thinking we're about to win. But we are entering the game thinking they have just as much motivation as we do to win. By respecting them it's us putting all of our effort into beating that team. It's understanding any team can walk into Westlake and beat us if we let our guard down."
To that end, during the season, the Chaparrals routinely gather in the training room at 4:45 a.m., readying themselves for their 5:30 a.m. practice sessions.
"You've got to be a pretty special person to be ready to go every morning at 5:30," Dodge said. "It really helps when your quarterback is that guy. He's just one of those rare people that refuses to have a bad day. He's a strong Christian young man with great faith and he's got a whole lot of things in perspective. He's got an infectious, positive attitude — not just about football, but about life."
Klubnik, who models his game after former Clemson University standout and current Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, also competes in track and field as part of Austin Westlake's 4x200-meter relay tram and runs the open 200m and 400m races.
"I think it helps with overall mental toughness," he said. "Running is pretty tough sometimes, especially that 400. It's a grind. So being able to push through helps so much. You can't win a relay by yourself, and you can't win a football game by yourself, either. You've got to have great teammates."
Dodge said he is proud of the manner in which Klubnik has kept the awards in perspective and even uses them as opportunities to improve.
"You never know what 30 (Power 5 college scholarship) offers are going to do to the psyche of a football player that gets all of those before his junior year ever starts," he said. "He's never let it get in the way of our football team. Not one time has the recruiting process or the camp circuit gotten in the way of what's most important — his teammates."
With regard to recruiting, once all was said and done, Klubnik decided he would take his academic and athletic pursuits to South Carolina next season.
"Clemson is home for me," he said. "They're truly family. Coach (Dabo) Sweeney and that coaching staff....I don't think I've ever met a group of people quite like them. They're all such amazing people that love the game and serving others. I'm super excited to be able to go there and build new relationships."
Dodge said he is also enthused about the next chapter.
"Over my next two to three years of retirement, I'm going to look forward to road tripping to Clemson, South Carolina, watching him play," he said. "I'm definitely going to miss my coaching staff, the kids. And I will absolutely miss the Cade Klubnik's of the world."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Westlake High School quarterback Cade Klubnik is Clemson bound