254 And Counting: SoWal’s Roberts Breaks Florida Career Receptions Mark – The Northwest Florida Daily News

SANTA ROSA BEACH — 254 receptions.  3,427 receiving yards. 25 touchdowns.

These high school numbers don’t belong to Michael Irvin, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Brown or Andre Johnson — all lauded NFL greats that played Friday Night Lights in the Sunshine State.

Nope, they belong to a 5-foot-11 slot receiver by the name of Cade Roberts.

The South Walton senior’s 11-yard reception from Kemper Hodges on the cold, windy night of Nov. 5, 2021, will be forever remembered as the grab that set the career receptions mark for Florida high school football.

“It’s a testament to his work ethic and ability as a route runner and just wanting it,” South Walton head coach Phil Tisa said. “He’s a heckuva player.”

And he’s not done, folks.

After posting nine receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns with nary a drop in Friday’s 41-6 win over Lighthouse to close out a 9-1 regular season, South Walton is set up to be either the 1 or 2 seed in Region 1-4A. With that comes home-field advantage for the top-ranked aerial attack in the state.

But Kemper Hodges’ 54 touchdowns (five Friday night on the shoulders of 292 passing yards and another 58 rushing) are a discussion for another day. The WR1 talents of Georgia commitment Pearce Spurlin (16 TDs, 1,200 yards) are a discussion for another day. The resurgence of South Walton’s bend-but-don’t-break defense too.

After all, this was Cade’s night.

‘A tiny freshman’Cade’s first catch of his high school career came in a 43-9 loss to Arnold.

“I ran a hitch route and just got killed,” he laughed.

That year the slot receiver hauled in 38 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns, Cade serving as the third option for Drake Roberts in an offense that featured JM Allen and Jaden Page. 

A season later and gaining comfort with Drake, Cade caught 55 balls for 798 yards and three scores.

Another receiver caught fire that year. His name was Cooper Kupp, a slot guy for the Los Angeles Rams who exploded for 94 catches for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“Cooper Kupp, Cole Beasley, Julian Edelman, those are guys that aren’t that fast but create great separation with their route running,” said Cade, who’s toughness can’t be questioned as he’s played through broken fingers and shoulder injuries. “Those three guys, that’s who I model my game after.

“Every route I’m making a move with my head, feet or eyes to gain separation like those guys do.” 

Come his junior year, Hodges moved to the area. The two met as fifth-graders and played together in their formative years in Georgia. Now, through serendipity, the two met back up to celebrate a career year that witnessed Cade post a career-best 88 receptions for 1,350 and 10 receptions.

But something was missing. A year after losing 62-6 to Bolles in the first round of the playoffs, the Seahawks finished 4-6.

“Last year I had a great year too, but we finished 4-6,” Cade said. “The stats mean nothing without winning.”

Seven straight winsThe Seahawks have outscored foes 422-208 this season.

Spurlin is healthy. Hodges is the best dual-threat signal caller in the state numbers-wise. No longer is South Walton’s defense porous or a liability.

Adversity came early in the season in a 49-48 loss to 1A defending state champion Baker. Ever since, South Walton has won seven straight and proven it can play with anyone in 4A.

Bolles included.

“Anything can happen,” Cade said of the wide-open region. “We’re not the same team from two years ago. We’re not the same team from last year.”

“We’re playing our best football and we got bigger things to focus on,” Hodges added. “We’re gonna give it our all. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We’re gonna give our best effort and prepare and come ready.”

With Hodges spreading the love to Spurlin and Cade, life is good.

Spurlin is the type of transcendent talent that changes opponents’ game plans. Cade, who now has 73 receptions for 979 yards and 10 scores in his swan song, is the type of talent that terrorizing defenses over the middle and picks up first downs.

While he’ll always be a deep threat, it was fitting how Cade garnered the record Friday.

Toe-tapping to historyUp 28-6 before the half and tied with the receptions record, Cade ran the left sideline on what looked to be a fly pattern. But he abruptly took a sharp 90-degree turn left, locked eyes with Hodges and sat in the route for what looked to be an easy first down and the record catch.

Hodges’ throw, though, was a bit off and forced Cade to the sideline. Unaffected, the senior dove to his right, hauled in the reception and dragged his toes as he went to the ground.

As soon as the ref signaled completion, the Hawks Nest erupted.

“Just get my feet down,” Cade said on what raced through his mind as the ball spiraled his way. “I had to come back and at first I didn’t feel I got my feet down, but the ref signaled a catch.”

A play later he caught a 50-yard reception to give the Seahawks a 35-6 lead and end his night with the record.

“It’s amazing. It’s a true honor,” Cade said. “I give all the glory to God. But most importantly, I’m glad my team is winning.”

“This record goes to everyone.”

A bright futureCade’s days at South Walton is numbered. After all, the University of South Florida awaits after Christmas break.

“I enroll early in January, sometime around Jan. 6th or 7th I’m pretty sure,” he said. “I’ll be there for spring practice and I should be able to get a feel for what’s going on.

“It should be awesome. They recruited me as a slot receiver to make all those tough catches over the middle. Hopefully I can find playing time right away.”

That urgency is a good thing for South Walton. Just keep padding that receptions record Seahawks, and the rest should take care of itself.

Follow sports editor Seth Stringer on twitter at @SethSnwfdn.