Caden Ochoa grew up with a love of Bakersfield High football as much as any kid that has donned the Drillers uniform.
Ochoa said Friday nights as a kid were in the stands at Griffith Field, dreaming of the day he could be a BHS great while sitting with his grandfather in the grandstands watching and wishing for his chance.
“It’s honestly an honor to be a part of everything that the Driller football legacy stands for,” Ochoa said. “To be put in that category as one of the best at BHS is an amazing feeling. It’s what I have been dreaming about since I was a kid. I grew up going to every BHS football game with my grandpa. That was my one dream, to be a part of the legacy. It’s something else.”
Ochoa is part of that category because of his efforts leading BHS to the section Division I semifinals at quarterback and linebacker. And, due to his performance, he's the 2017 BVarsity All-Area Football Player of the Year.
Ochoa, who signed with Cal Poly earlier this month, does not have an imposing size — he stands at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds.
But what he has is a competitive spirit that is rarely seen, according to BHS football coach Paul Golla.
“It’s the competitiveness of him,” Golla said. “It wouldn’t matter where you are or who you play, his demeanor is the same. It wouldn’t matter if it was a tennis match, a basketball game or football. It’s his competitiveness that separates him.”
Thankfully for Golla, it was the football field that Ochoa shined.
Sharing quarterback duties with junior Cameron Williams for most of the first half of the season, Ochoa took over the lion’s share of the signal calling duties while also starting at linebacker.
“You look at how many quarterbacks go both ways,” Golla said. “You don’t get that very often of a kid that doesn’t want off the field. Ever. He never, ever wants off the field. It’s different.”
Ochoa threw for 431 yards and ran for another 600, with 12 total touchdowns. Defensively, he recorded 70 tackles and four forced fumbles. Looking back, Ochoa said he never thought about how much he was playing each game because he was having so much fun doing it.
“When you’re in the game, you don’t really think about it,” Ochoa said. “You just keep playing. I was able to work out hard over the summer and keep my physique, where that when I’m in the game my stamina level was always on 100. I was giving it my all every play I had. When I needed a break, coach Golla did a great job of finding me a sub.”
Being named BVarsity Football Player of the Year is also significant in the Ochoa household.
Since The Californian began compiling All-Area football teams in 1959, there have been 107 Players of the Year.
Yet this is the first father-son combination in the history of All-Area: Caden’s father, Troy — who also was a quarterback and linebacker while playing at South High School in 1993 — was named Co-Back of the Year with his future brother-in-law Steve Wofford, who played at BHS.
“Growing up I was in his shadow,” Ochoa said of his father. “There was a lot of, ‘Do you know how good your dad was? Your dad did this, your dad did that.’ Now for me to accomplish something that he did, and do it just as good as he did is a relief off my back, like I did it to let my family know I can do it as well.”
For dad, it's special to watch his son do something he once did.
“I like to focus on what he is doing, but in 10 years, this is something we can look back at while I put my arm around him and tell him how proud I am of him,” Troy said. “He can show his kids like I was able to show him growing up.”
Both dad and coach enjoyed what Ochoa did off the field as much as on the field because his talents went far beyond his stats.
“He is extremely intelligent,” Golla said. “He’s one of the smartest I’ve ever coached, for sure.”
For dad, who was on the sideline this season as an assistant coach, the intrinsic nature of his leadership was unmatched.
“I am so proud of Caden,” Troy said. “He worked his tail off for four years. But what I am most proud of with Caden is he makes people around him better. He is constantly putting other people in right positions, and coaching, and bringing them up. At the end, that’s why he is Player of the Year. His stats may not be the best, but he makes everyone around him better.”