Cape Elizabeth’s Caden McDuffie completed 68 of 123 passes for 1,406 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions. He was Cape’s leading rusher with 1,011 yards and 19 touchdowns on 133 carries, and also started at outside linebacker for the Class C state champs. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

As the son of a military father, Caden McDuffie lived and played football all over the country while growing up. The moves gave him a broad range of knowledge and experiences.

But he had never gotten the chance to be truly home. That is until the McDuffies moved to Cape Elizabeth in late 2019, midway through Caden’s sophomore year of high school.

A little less than two years later – after having to delay his full entry into Maine high school football because of the coronavirus pandemic – McDuffie capped his senior season with a homecoming to remember. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound dual-threat quarterback threw five touchdown passes and ran for two more scores as Cape Elizabeth won its first football state championship with a resounding 53-8 victory against Winslow in the Class C final.

In his first season as a starter, McDuffie completed 68 of 123 passes for 1,406 yards with 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions, operating out of Cape’s run-first spread offense. He was Cape’s leading rusher with 1,011 yards and 19 touchdowns on 133 carries and also started at outside linebacker. He led Cape to a 10-1 record that included a dramatic 25-23 win at No. 1 Leavitt in the C South final, when McDuffie scored on a 3-yard run on fourth down on the game’s final play.

For his performances, leadership and the team’s success, McDuffie is the 2021 Varsity Maine Football Player of the Year. He is also one of three finalists for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, which will be awarded Jan. 16.

“The thing I love about football is it’s the ultimate team sport. You can’t do it without everyone doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” McDuffie said. “It’s great that I’m getting recognition, but I hope people understand there is no individual recognition. This is on the backs of the hard work of a lot of people.”

When Cape won its first football Gold Ball, James McDuffie, a Portland native, was on the sidelines as the Capers’ quarterback coach. Caden’s uncle, John St. Pierre, was Cape’s linebacker coach. In the Fitzpatrick Stadium stands, McDuffie’s mom, Elizabeth, a South Portland native, was surrounded by an extended family of Mainers.

“I’m glad it happened the way it did,” McDuffie said. “Moving all over, no one really understands unless they’re military, but we all come from some place. And for us it’s Maine. To come here and win a state championship with my father and my uncle on the sidelines, that’s something special.”

Starting with youth football in Virginia when he was 5, McDuffie has played in some of the country’s football hot spots, including New Jersey, Texas and Florida. As a sophomore, he was the starting junior varsity quarterback, running a triple-option offense at Shadow Ridge High, a 3,000-student school in Las Vegas. McDuffie said Shadow Ridge typically has 180 players in its football program.

“What people don’t understand, and what I’m most proud of, is I had to transition from the triple option, where you never pass at all and every play you’re under center, to throwing the ball and the air raid concepts,” McDuffie said. “It was all new. I had to work on all my footwork and I put in so much time with my dad and my older brother.”

Cape Coach Sean Green, who took over the program prior to the 2019 season, said McDuffie brought “a little bit of a swagger and edge that we just didn’t have before he arrived. He was our juice guy.”

McDuffie said he made a conscious decision to fill that role.

“I’ve played all over the country, so I have a pretty good gauge on kids of what they need to get ready to play, and that was something Cape didn’t really have,” McDuffie said. “They needed a little more edgy, physical toughness, football style.”

According to Green, McDuffie also brought a deep understanding of football.

“His greatest strength is his football IQ,” Green said. “He sees the game almost through a coach’s lens.”

Still, McDuffie was a first-year starter, so there was a bit of unknown about how his abilities would translate to a different style of offense.

Green said that lasted about three minutes into the season-opening scrimmage against Lisbon.

“Then we felt pretty good about our situation. He made great decisions. He ran hard. It opened our eyes of what was to come,” Green said.

McDuffie plans to continue playing football in college. He said he’s had conversations with NCAA Division II and NAIA programs. He is not stuck on playing quarterback.

“I’m a football player first. Quarterback, running back, tight end. I could play that H-back position. I think I’m a very good linebacker,” he said. “I want to play college football and I’m working with a bunch of schools. It will come down to the financials, really.”

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