It was just days before National Signing Day 2016 and UCLA was hosting a good number of recruits, hoping to finalize their pitches to their main targets in the 2016 class.
Several commits were visiting that weekend and a few more who would eventually commit to the Bruins the week of Signing Day.
But no recruit was bigger that weekend than Cade Spinello.
The five-star quarterback out of Mission Viejo (Calif.), gave the Bruins a very early verbal.
In fact, the 2024 prospect already has signed with the Bruins.
Cade, known affectionately as “Super Cade”, is entering the fifth grade this fall.
But UCLA head coach Jim Mora had been well aware of the lefty from Orange County for a few years, ever since he came to a Bruin practice during Mora’s first season, took a handoff from Brett Hundley and took it to the house.
It didn’t take Super Cade long to jump on the offer from Mora.
He was offered by Mora and accepted it immediately.
The toughness that Super Cade has shown for most of his life wowed Mora and the Bruin staff.
Cade is battling a brain tumor known as pilocytic astrocytoma. Cade also suffered a massive stroke. He has right-side weakness and is legally blind.
But he perseveres.
During the 2012 season, working with the NEGU/The Jessie Rees Foundation, Cade was invited to a UCLA practice, where he met Mora for the first time.
“We met Coach Mora and then after they finished a drill, he said ‘the rest of the practice was about this kid’ and that’s how I got to like UCLA,” said Cade. “We were UCLA fans already but now we’re really UCLA fans more.”
Cade’s father, Michael and mother, Erin, were with him that day, and Michael said instantly, Mora took to Cade.
“Coach Mora was doing drills and he told Brett Hundley to fake the handoff to Cade and he’ll throw it to him. But Cade didn’t know what a fake handoff was,” said Michael.
Cade thought he knew what the play meant so he ran it the way he thought it was supposed to be run.
“I had zero clue,” said Cade. “I thought fake handoff was another word for a handoff.”
So Cade took the ball from Hundley and ran.
“Cade didn’t understand fakes so he just takes it and Brett Hundley is yelling ‘he’s taking the ball, he’s taking the ball’ and Cade takes it and starts running it,” said Michael.
The defense was doing their own drill but heard the commotion and ran over to see Cade in action.
“Everyone was doing their own drill but they were yelling so loud, Coach Mora and Brett Hundley, that the whole practice stopped and they all started yelling, ‘Go Cade’ and they were cheering him on,” said Michael. “It was a good 40 yards.”
“It felt like 100 yards,” Cade interjected. “And I outran Anthony Barr.”
Since his first visit to UCLA, Cade has become a Junior Ambassador for NEGU and has been to the Elite 11 the past few summers.
“Cade is a special guy to us,” said Erik Rees, who runs the Jessie Rees Foundation, in honor of his daughter, Jessie, who battled DIPG. “He and Jess went to chemo together. We’ve known him for over five years. They used to call them chemo buddies. He’s one of our junior ambassadors. He’s the highlight of the Elite 11. He loves sports, so the opportunity to facilitate that is huge. When Scout named him a 5-star, the joy, to be able to feel ‘that’s me’, that’s empowering. To come up and talk to the kids, to share his story, it always inspires us. He’s had a stroke and has limitations and he’s legally blind. But to watch him throw the football, you wouldn’t think that. Everyone gets inspired by him.
This year, he got to meet an quarterback from West Linn (Ore.) who had a lot in common with Super Cade.
“When I got to meet him, I was like ‘is that really him? Am I really seeing the best UCLA quarterback ever,” said Cade.
There was Bruin great Cade McNown, like Super Cade, a lefty. A four-year starter for the Bruins who is Super Cade’s namesake.
“We have a lot in common,” said Super Cade. “Our names are in common, how we throw the football is in common. We both like the same college and we both like football, so that’s in common too.”
McNown and Spinello threw the football around for much of the practice.
It was yet another Bruin that Spinello got to spend time around, like he did on his official visit.
“On my official visit, we got to meet a lot of recruits,” said Cade. “I convinced some of those guys to come. The Rose Bowl was really fun.”
Cade had only been to one game at the Rose Bowl before his official visit, and the Bruins made him a guarantee that night.
“I’ve been to only one game, the Arizona game (in 2014). It was really fun,” said Cade. “Pat Girardi (UCLA's director of player personnel) said that if they won, I’d get to go in the locker room. And they won, so me and my dad went into the locker room and I got to say hi to Brett Hundley and Myles Jack.”
It wasn’t long before his official visit to UCLA that Cade was named a five-star by Scout.
Cade said he still is in shock over the rating.
“Being named a five-star, I was like ‘wow, did they really pick me or am I just dreaming,” said Cade. “Or did they pick the wrong name and say my name on accident. Or did they really pick me. It was like a dream.”
In a tough and often painful road in Cade’s fight against his brain tumor, his family said events like those mean the world to him.
“Days like the Elite 11, at UCLA and at Green Bay, it’s an opportunity for him to feel good,” said Michael. “Its putting pause on all the other stuff. Having fun with the players and seeing him run around. It’s been amazing, so many different things that we’ve been blessed with. There is so much good. So many amazing experiences that serve as wind in our sails. It’s a long road, a lonely road, and these little experiences, big experiences, they’re pats on the back. As parents, to watch these players give him high fives, to say his name, ‘what’s up Cade,’ he feels on the team with these amazing athletes. It’s such a blessing and I know it’s making such an impact on him. His (physical therapy) workouts, he’ll be back at the gym and to his therapies and you see it, the new inspiration he gets from watching these guys. It’s a good thing.”
Cade went to Green Bay not long after his first visit to UCLA and also went to the Super Bowl following that season in New Orleans, seeing the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers.
“We call that season, Cade’s Dream Season,” said Michael.
From the first visit to UCLA in 2012, Michael and Cade saw the heart of Jim Mora.
“I didn’t know what to expect when we first went up there that first time,” said Michael. “I figured we’d probably stand to the side, watch practice, then maybe they let Cade give high-fives. As the players start coming on to the field, the players were coming in and saying ‘hey Cade, what’s up Cade?’ They knew his name and his story. Coach Mora, I found out, put his picture up and said “this day is about him.” It just speaks of his character. They have a huge game coming up and it showed just how much he gets it. It was such a blessing.”
Mora has four children of his own, and was no stranger to being around kids.
“Cade has vision issues and right side weakness, and Coach Mora starts leading him out, and I’m trying to give him an idea of how to walk with him, and he’s like ‘I got this,’ said Michael.
Cade laughs at that first moment of panic from his dad.
“Coach Mora is walking me out and has my hand and my dad is like, ‘Wait, Coach…’ and Coach Mora says to him, ‘don’t worry, I got this. I have kids,’ said Cade.
Michael said the genuine care that Mora showed that day has been evident every time they’ve been around him.
“I have pictures of it, Coach Mora holding him by the hand, taking him out. I always know when he’s with him, he’s always caring for him,” said Michael. “Coach Mora has been amazing since day one. He’s sending emails, wanting updates on how Cade is doing. Each time it seems like there couldn’t be more he does, that’s got to be it. And then he does something else. God has blessed us so many times. That’s the encouragement and we’re back to the grind.”
Enter the official visit.
“This last January, the recruiting trip, being in the locker room, it was unlike anything else,” said Michael. “Coach Mora got everyone’s attention. All the other five-star recruits. And I had no idea it was going to happen. And he says ‘guys, we have our first recruit, our first signing, and pulled out the scholarship and Cade accepted it. All the guys were taking pictures. That was an amazing moment.”
Cade said being flanked by his dad on all of his adventures has been one of the biggest highlights
“Experiencing it with my dad is really fun,” said Cade. “He always says thanks for taking him on all my adventures.”
His father said it’s a true treasure to him.
“There have been so many great moments. He’s taken me along on these incredible things. Honestly, the time in the hotel room is awesome. Having fun, so many memories being made on these road trips. We take a step back and are like ‘look where we are’. They get better. I remember after being in the locker room after Arizona at the UCLA game. I’m thinking, what else is there? It’s fun though and I sit back and watch Cade get to know them and these athletes talk to him. And he’s just being himself. The beauty of it is, he doesn’t totally get it, and I think it’s a blessing. He’s starting to get it though. When he was meeting Aaron Rodgers, it was just a quarterback. Now he’s like “this is Aaron Rodgers!”
Despite all of the memorable moments, the road hasn’t been easy for the Spinello family. But they treasure the good times.
"We’ve been going through this for five years, walking this journey, and there is a lot of good we’ve seen in the hard stuff,” said Michael. “You have to get through the hard stuff to get to the good stuff.”
And NEGU and The Jessie Rees Foundation have made the tough road easier to travel.
“I could not imagine this road without the foundation,” said Michael. “Jessie was diagnosed two months after Cade. We have been walking this road with them. We watched NEGU become what it is. And we have been fortunate to be with it. Everything we look at in this entire journey, they’ve been right beside us. Cade has had a team of cheerleaders and encouragement right from the beginning. There are so many kids who don’t have it, that are just walking it alone. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like walking this alone.”
At the Elite 11 this year, Michael was able to talk to other families of kids fighting cancer part of NEGU’s Courageous Kids event.
“I know what they’re feeling,” said Michael. “I love being there and I feel a little ownership and see the purpose in it. This isn’t just something bad that happened. There is a purpose and we can be an encouragement to other parents. It was great to talk to them and meet some of them. I look forward to those times and those conversations with the parents. We speak a common language that some don’t get. It’s a lonely road and to have others walk it along with you is important.”
With his commitment to UCLA already locked up, Cade said he’ll be watching the Bruins this fall, but he’s also watching Clemson and his friend DeShaun Watson too.
“Clemson is my second favorite team,” said Cade. “I think I had the biggest impact on DeShaun throwing a spiral.”
One of the many impacts that Cade is having on players.
“As much as the players talking to him and throwing the ball around with him, guys like DeShaun Watson or Cade McNown playing catch with him, I’d like to think that he’s having a little bit of an impact on them,” said Michael. “Cade doesn’t view this as something bad that’s happened to him. He owns it. He loves to share his story. And I think that impacts others.”
For more information, check the Team Supercade Facebook page.
To make a donation to the family, a fund has been set up by friends. Write a check to "Caring for Cade" and send to: Wells Fargo, Attention Patty Riddle or Shaun Allen, 30622 Santa Margarita Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688.