For years, John Cacace IV stood on the sideline watching his father, John Cacace III, dial up plays for Watertown High’s football team.
In December 2017, Cacace’s father steered the Raiders to their first Division 5 North title with a dramatic 38-34 win over Lynnfield. It culminated with a late touchdown pass from Nick McDermott to John Korte, on a play Cacace’s father had drawn up a few days prior.
Since he was 4 years old, Cacace IV was a constant presence at Watertown football practices, so much so he was dubbed “LJ” or “Little John.” Now he will look to make his own imprint on the program when the ninth-seeded Raiders (5-3) open play in the D5 statewide tournament Friday night at No. 8 Dover-Sherborn (8-0).
“Since I was little, I witnessed the passion my dad has towards the team,” said Cacace IV. “Now I want to play with that same passion.”
“I’ve been waiting for my turn for a long time and I’ve seen a lot of mistakes made. Now I know how to avoid those mistakes. I think I can use that experience to my advantage.”
As a sophomore, Cacace IV was competing for the starting quarterback job during the Fall II season when he led Watertown on a last-minute drive to beat Wakefield, cementing his status.
Now a senior who has grown from 5-foot-8-inches, 110 pounds, to 6-2, 165 pounds, LJ is a dual-threat quarterback with over 400 rushing yards, just under 1,000 passing yards, and 16 total touchdowns.
Yet that isn’t his only role. With a vacancy at inside linebacker, LJ volunteered to shift from defensive back to the interior and he immediately thrived with four interceptions during a 3-0 start. He leads Watertown with 48 tackles, and plays key roles on special teams, including at long snapper, so he never takes a play off.
“The thing I’m most proud about is that [LJ is] such a good kid,” said Cacace III, the Globe’s Division 5 Coach of the Year in 2017.
“He’s a leader on our team. He’s respected, and he helps the younger kids learn and understand the game. He’s going to make a great coach someday. He’s really a selfless young man and the kind of kid you would love to have on your football team.”
Cacace IV is in line to start for Watertown’s excellent basketball program this winter and to start at catcher for a third straight year next spring. A top student in Watertown’s class of 2023, LJ aced AP Physics as a sophomore and BC Calculus as a junior. He plans to apply early to the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering, where both of his parents attended before becoming math teachers.
Watching Michigan football games with his son, Cacace III has always asked LJ to think critically, and the math whiz has blown him away with his intuitive sense of football strategy.
“He just gets it,” said Cacace III, now in his 16th year as Watertown coach. “He knows how to think of a football game as a chess match. How to think about what the opponent is doing, and what’re we going to do to combat that. He’s always been on the sideline, always wanted to know the game plan, and he’s watched more film than some of the coaches over the years.”
At Holliston, Todd Joseph Kiley Jr. has also been a staple at practices since he could walk.
His father, Todd Kiley Sr., now in his 20th year as head coach, quipped that those practices were essentially free day care for his son. For Kiley Jr., or “TJ” as he’s known around the program, they were an opportunity to get a head start on his football career.
“Going to those practices were some of my earliest memories,” said TJ, who committed to play football and baseball at Westfield State in September. “It was great to soak it all in. I knew I would be in those players’ position one day.”
After quarterbacking Holliston’s freshman team to a 10-1 season, TJ got his shot on varsity during the Fall II season when the incumbent starter got injured. He ran Holliston’s spread attack the rest of the season, stepping out when the Panthers went to their double-wing package in necessary situations.
Last fall, TJ passed for over 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns, as Holliston won five straight to end the season. And this year the Panthers (7-1) have rolled the competition to secure the fourth seed in Division 4, earning a home game against 2019 Super Bowl champion Melrose (6-2) t Friday.
As one of 17 returning starters, TJ is trying to lead Holliston back to the standard that saw the program win consecutive state titles in 2014 and 2015. As the son of the head coach, he was prepared to run Holliston’s complex spread scheme when his time came, and he’s well suited to adjusting on the fly.
“Our offense is extremely complex, but [the father-son dynamic] does give us an advantage in being more prepared for what that defense is going to give us,” said Kiley, also Holliston’s quarterbacks coach.
“We’re kind of both on the same page with each other. I know his strengths and his weaknesses because I’ve seen every game he’s played since second grade. And with him being such a student of the game, we’re on the same page a lot.”
TJ enters the playoffs with 1,454 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. The 5-foot-7, 140-pound senior plans to play quarterback at Westfield State and line up at shortstop in the spring. Juggling multiple sports will be nothing new to the coaches’ son, who has grown up studying football strategy.
“I’m the type of kid that soaks it all in when it comes to sports,” TJ said. “My IQ with sports is better than other stuff. It’s just easier for me to understand. Our offense is pretty complicated, but I’ve seen a lot of guys ahead of me running the system, plus learning from my dad kind of gives me an edge.”