Caden Parlett went through a major position change on the football field that made him Justin-Siena’s go-to player — all while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to not let his best friends down, keeping his grades up, and being involved in student leadership.
Transitioning from slot receiver to running back, the spritely 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior rushed for 1,434 yards on 193 carries (7.4 per carry) and caught eight passes for 216 yards, scoring 15 touchdowns in all. Also starting at free safety, the Napa resident amassed 44 tackles, blocked three extra points and a punt, tackled a ball carrier for a safety, and recovered a fumble.
The All-Vine Valley Athletic League First Team selection then helped the Braves advance to a North Coast Section championship game for the first time in seven seasons — with a 31-13 win over the program they beat in the 2014 title game, Saint Mary’s, and a forfeit against Arcata in the semifinals because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the Tigers’ ranks. Justin-Siena traveled to Richmond to play Salesian in the title game and lost an absolute thriller, 28-26, after trailing 21-0 at halftime.
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For his efforts on and off the field, Parlett was selected from a field of four Napa County “Back” nominees — all seniors — by Napa Valley sports media to receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Northern California Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame.
Parlett carried a 3.64 GPA — 4.18 weighted, factoring in Advanced Placement classes — and was involved in other extracurricular activities. He has been a student ambassador for three years and in student leadership, planning events, cleaning the school, creating fundraisers for the school and people in need, and creating informative videos and slideshows on important social justice topics to present to the school.
He also spent a day visiting homeless people in San Francisco with his religion class, and coached a flag football team.
Parlett was also selected to play in two All-Star football games — an O-D (Offense-Defense) All-American Bowl Game at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium, site of this year’s Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, and this past Saturday’s Tri-County All-Star Game at Santa Rosa Junior College.
He was named Offensive Most Valuable Player of the O-D All-American Bowl, which invited players from across the country to play in two games at the Southern California showcase. Parlett’s team practiced Dec. 26-28 in Irvine and played Dec. 29. He finished with eight carries for 124 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 10 yards on offense, and gave up no catches at the free safety position on defense, leading his team to a 38-0 rout.
“My team had like 25 guys, so I played most of the game both ways, just like I did in all of high school,” he said.
He said his parents, Jeanine and Ryan Parlett, heard the name “Caden” while she was carrying him and they were dining at a pizza parlor in their native Marin County. Ryan was a running back at Novato’s San Marin High but didn’t play college ball because he underwent three knee surgeries after his senior season. Their older son, Austin, is a 2018 Justin-Siena graduate who played soccer for the Braves and ran the 200, 400 and 4x400 relay in track. Their daughter, Ashlyn, is in her first year of wrestling for the Braves after competing for many years as a gymnast.
Caden grew in Sonoma, where he started running the ball at age 6 for the Sonoma Junior Dragons; there are highlight videos of it on YouTube. But when he made the varsity at Justin-Siena as a sophomore, he played mostly on defense. As a junior last spring, he was a slot receiver in the second of then-quarterback Hudson Beers’ two prolific passing seasons.
This year, offensive coordinator Tyler Streblow still had Parlett at slot during summer practices and in passing camps. But when quarterback Zach Zurowski had to miss the season opener at Fortuna because of COVID-19 exposure, Parlett got to run the ball again.
“We started the game with me at slot and couldn’t get the ball moving, so in the second quarter they moved me to running back and I just went off and had an insane game,” he recalled.
The Braves lost a 27-20 heartbreaker, but not before Parlett broke off 279 yards on 16 carries, including three touchdowns.
“I never went back to playing slot,” he said. “We had enough guys at receiver where I could play running back and not hurt the pass game. It was an amazing season. It ended sadly, but it was a great ride.
"My friend group for the last four years all played football. We’re just a close group of guys. We were out there for each other every day. I think that was part of our success. We weren’t just playing because we enjoyed the game. We were playing because our best friends relied on us and we needed each other. You’ve got to be able to trust that the guys next to you will put their bodies on the line every play just like you will.”
Parlett said he was working on college applications, not watching college football, when he was contacted on Dec. 31 about winning the NFF scholarship.
“I have opportunities all over the country, but I’m not really leaning toward anywhere right now,” he said. “I’ve been accepted into some schools where I could play, but I don’t know which direction I want to go in yet. Playing college football has always been my goal and now I’m actually going to get the opportunity to do it, which is amazing. It’s everything I could have ever wanted, honestly. But as a coach told me once, it’s not about the next four years, it’s about the next 40. So I want to go to a school where I can play football but also earn a high-level degree that will secure my future. I’m interested in investing, financial banking, stuff in that realm.”
He thanks both his parents and head coach Brandon LaRocco making his football career so memorable.
“I’d have to give the biggest shout-out to my dad,” he said. “He was my youth football coach until my eighth-grade year. Before my games in high school, I swear he watched more film on the other teams than I did. He’d tell me ‘This is what they’re doing. This is what you need to watch out for.’ He’s been the best role model and he’s helped me exponentially in the recruiting process. My mom is my biggest fan. She’s always cheering me on. My parents have been such big supporters. All summer we went on recruiting trips and they put so much money into flights and hotels. I’m so very appreciative of what they’ve done for me.
“I also want to thank Coach LaRocco. We have a super-close relationship. I met him in about sixth grade at a Braves camp. No one has believed in me at the high school level more than he has. He never doubted me because of my size. He’s such a great guy and he really loves all of his players; he puts his players before everything. When stuff goes down at school, he’ll defend us. Everything you could want in a coach is Coach LaRocco. He’s the epitome of the perfect high school football coach.”
Parlett said he owes his impressive GPA to having attended Presentation School in Sonoma until his family moved to Napa before his freshman year.
“That school really helped me prepare me for a college prep school like Justin, and my parents have always put emphasis on how important my grades were,” he said. “They always held me to a certain high standard, so I always felt the need to get good grades. If I got a bad grade they would say ‘We’re not mad at you, but we know you can do better than that.’ That helped me develop good study habits, so my expectation for my myself is to get A’s.
“If you get in a routine, it’s really not as hard as people make it out to be to get A’s, but a lot of people turn in assignments late. But if you do the bare minimum and at least study up for the test a little bit, it’s not the hardest thing in the world.”
But one doesn’t take classes or play sports their whole life. They may eventually want to include others in their brotherhood and use their knowledge to improve the world. Parlett got a sense of that when he visited the St. Anthony’s Foundation in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
“We served food all day and cleaned up for people and had conversations with people. That was a really cool experience,” he said. “The stereotype around homeless people is that they’re dirty, they’re bad, they’re drug addicts, all that stuff. But when you get in there and work with those people and have conversations with them, you realize a lot of times they’re really good people who are just in bad situations.”
He also coached a flag football team of elementary schoolers at last year’s Next Level league at Justin-Siena.
“That was really fun,” he said. “We were scheduled for the championship game and then got shut down for COVID and that was the last of it. I think we would have won. We were stacked. I had some nasty second-graders. My dad helped me put together a really nice playbook with easy visuals for them to understand.”
LaRocco, in a letter of recommendation for colleges, said Parlett is good about asking for help when he’s lost in the AP Economics and Statistics courses he teaches.
“One thing I appreciate about him is his willingness to work with other students,” the coach wrote. “He truly is a hard-working, determined and disciplined young man.”
The other NFF scholarship nominees for Back were St. Helena’s Ivan Robledo, American Canyon’s George Konoval and Vintage’s Bryce Powers.
Napa High’s Thomas Hatton was the county’s Lineman recipient of the scholarship. The other nominees were Vintage’s Preston Gullum, American Canyon’s Tobyn Bunch, St. Helena’s Cal Lehman and Justin-Siena’s Giancarlo Guerrero.
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