Moises Medrano and Cade Sakamoto are surrounded by the Highland High School Bag Pipes.
By Kyle Wylie
Coordinator of School Support Services
Kern High School District
In the fall of 2013, Moises Medrano almost decided that he was going to give up competitive running. He spent his entire elementary career and part of his middle school years running on club track teams and by the time 8th grade came around, he was just burnt out from the amount of time that he had already committed to the sport. He had tried his talent in soccer and a few other sports, but he realized that there was one sport that he had never tried - football. “I always wanted to play football,” Medrano recollects, “I convinced my father to let me play and in 8th grade, I played football for the Highland feeder program.”
Football became a less than flattering memory for Medrano. “Everyone on that team was absolutely huge,” laughs Medrano, “I was so tiny compared to the rest of the players. Our entire line looked like a varsity starting line and they were only 8th graders.” One thing that Medrano did possess was speed and with that, he decided to try out for one of the positions that is predicated on having speed - wide receiver. With his commitment to this position, Medrano with his tiny frame and incredible speed took to running routes during practice. The decision quickly turned to be a disastrous one. “I remember running an in route for the first time and this lefty quarterback fired a ball my way and I couldn’t even see it. The next thing you know, the ball hits me in the helmet and I am on the ground.” Wanting to prove that what just happened was a fluke, Medrano tried the same route again, and the same lefty quarterback fired it again. This time Medrano saw the pass coming his way, but the ball went right through his hands, nailing him right on the face mask. “Needless to say, football just wasn’t my sport and I rarely played,” laughs Medrano, “I rarely played in practice and I rarely played in games. I think most people were looking out for my safety.” Oh yeah, the lefty quarterback was none other than Cade Sakamoto. “I absolutely remember Moises playing on our 8th grade football team,” recalls Sakamoto, “We pretty much told him that he better stick to running because this wasn’t his sport.”
Once 8th grade football teammates, Moises Medrano and Cade Sakamoto have left incredible legacies at Highland High School.
Moises Medrano and Cade Sakamoto. Little did either of these two know that on the fields of Scotland Yard, practicing Golden Empire Youth Football, that they would leave a legacy on the athletic landscape of Highland School. For Moises Medrano, with his success in cross country and track and field, has been remarkable to the point that he is recognized as a top talent at the state level. For Cade Sakamoto, his success on the football field and on the baseball diamond have left some of the most memorable moments in the past few years for sports in Kern County. For Highland High School, the success of Medrano and Sakamoto has taken their athletic programs to new heights.
Good thing for Moises Medrano that he decided to return back to the sport in which he had committed so much time and energy. “Playing football gave me perspective and a rejuvenated sense of purpose with regards to racing,” states Medrano. For Medrano, his breakout season as a cross country and track runner, was his sophomore year. In cross country, Medrano finished 5th in the CIF Central Section putting the rest of the valley on notice about the speed that he possessed. When it came to track, Medrano finished in 3rd in the 1600m with a then school record of 4:16:77. But, what really stood out to Medrano during his sophomore campaign was that his team became the first Highland team to win the Southeast Yosemite League outright. “That year, we banded together as a team,” remembers Medrano, “Right before the meet, we all decided that we were going to run and compete for each other.” That moment was critical for the Highland Scots track team because for the next three seasons, the Scots rose to the top of the Southeast Yosemite League. Head Cross Country and Track & Field Coach Rick Mayberry credits Medrano’s presence in Highland’s rise. “We have always had a pretty successful program during the years that I have coached,” states Mayberry, “But Moises has helped us take things to the next level. The camaraderie on the team because of Moises’ leadership brought a new level of joy to things. That kind of joy breeds confidence and confidence creates winning opportunities.”
As is the case in many of his races throughout his high school career, Moises Medrano of Highland High School is a literal leader on the track and for his teammates. (Photo by Nick Ellis)
With the positive momentum at the end of his sophomore year, Medrano took to dominating the Central valley his junior year. Determined, motivated, and possessed with an intensity to win, Medrano took home the CIF Central Section Valley Championship in cross country with a school record time of 15:33.9 and also in track in the 800m with a time of 1:51:47. Medrano would finish in 3rd place in the CIF State Championship in the 800m, further cementing himself as one of the top runners in the entire state. But, beyond the individual accolades that he acquired, Medrano remained humble, valuing his teammate above himself and valuing where he came from even more. “I am proud to be from the east side and I hope that I can encourage others to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” states Medrano, “It matters how you finish the race. My goal is to try to encourage other people and my teammates to be the best that they can be.” Coach Mayberry echoes similar sentiments about Medrano, “Moises helped to raise the bar and show others what is possible when you work hard. He is the epitome of a team player. When he could burn the competition, he often paces his teammates in races where the team is more important than an individual win.”
Moises Medrano competing at the 2017 CIF State Championship where he finished in 3rd in the 800m. (Photo provided by Nick Ellis)
This school year, Medrano is sprinting full speed ahead. Medrano won the CIF Central Section Valley Championship in Cross Country with a time of 15:35.1 while also medaling for the first time in his career with a 9th place finish at the CIF State Championships. “Coming into high school, my goal with cross country was to use the sport as a vehicle to get better for track,” said Medrano, “But as the success started coming in, my confidence, my training, and my competitiveness in cross country continued to grow.” In track, Medrano has been focused as evident in the fact that he has won every 800m race that he has competed in while getting another school record with a 1:54:59 at the West Coast Relays on April 14. Medrano won the CIF Central Section South Area Championship in both the 800m and 1600m as he heads into the CIF Central Section Masters Championship this week. Humbly, he is training hard at both in order to be the best that he can be. “More than any other athlete I have coached, Moises loves to compete,” states Mayberry, “He doesn’t just love to win like one would think. He loves the process. He is methodic in his preparations and genuinely is trying to see just how good he can be.” When asked what his ultimate goal is, his response was quick, “To win state.”
Moises Medrano is poised and focused to win a state title this year in track - he is still trying to decide if its in the 800m or 1600m. Photo taken at the 2018 SYC League Championships (Photo taken and provided by Nick Ellis)
As Medrano decided after 8th grade that football was not his sport, that lefty quarterback Cade Sakamoto went a different path than that of his back up receiver as he entered high school at Highland. Sakamoto decided that football and baseball would be the sports that he would play. Little did Sakamoto know that he would be instrumental in some of the most memorable moments in school history in both sports.
From 2004-2015, the Highland Scots football team only accumulated two seasons in which they finished at or above .500. (2008: 6-5; 2011: 6-6) The Scots had always hovered around the middle or bottom of the Southeast Yosemite League and to be frank, they were never really taken very seriously during that 10 year stretch. In 2016, Sakamoto started a majority of his games at safety earning 1 interception and 3 pass deflections. Sakamoto also saw limited time at quarterback as he was a lefty that could really sling the ball around. Yet, what separated Sakamoto from others was his willingness to be unselfish and work hard. “Cade was a perfect example of hard work and selflessness,” states Head Football Coach Mike Gutierrez, “He was always working to get better and preparing to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way.”
This past fall, Sakamoto was inserted as the starting safety for the Scots and split reps with Zeke Arambulo at quarterback. Despite having to split time, Sakamoto continued to work hard with every drill that came his way, even when he wasn’t actively participating. Gutierrez recalls, “Cade says very little, but is always listening and one of the hardest workers. His ability to pick things up has been impressive. There’s times you see him not getting a rep in the drill and he’s off to the side working on a technique or taking mental reps.” Eventually the hard work paid off for Sakamoto as he was named the permanent quarterback on offense and safety on defense. As a result of this move, the Highland Scots finished the season 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the Southeast Yosemite League. The 3-1 league record allowed for the Scots to share the title with North and South, but this was the first SEYL title for the Scots in school history. Sakamoto finished the season with 994 yards passing, 14 TD passes, 432 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns, 62 tackles, and 2 interceptions. He won numerous post season awards including being selected as the Kern High Network Team of Excellence at quarterback.
Hard work and selfless behavior led to Cade Sakamoto starting at quarterback for the Scots. (Photo by Miguel Garcia of the Kern High School District)
Beyond all of his accolade, Sakamoto is perhaps remembered for one of the plays of the year in Kern County. Down by one point to South High with 20 seconds left in the game, the Scots decided to go for two and the win, but failed as they were stopped short by a tough South High defense. As expected, the Scots then kicked an onside kick that was recovered by Matthew Miranda of Highland to give them a chance at the famous “Hail Mary” pass. With time expiring, Sakamoto chucked a 40 yard “Hail Mary” pass into the air that was tipped and then landed right into the hands of Matthew Miranda to win the game and defeat South High for the first time as a member of the Southeast Yosemite League. The response was euphoric, leaving many that witnessed this moment in shock, amazement, joy, and defeat. I was fortunate to call that game on the Kern High Network and witness this monumental moment. “It was definitely one of the biggest moments of my life,” smiles Sakamoto, “That game will always be remembered by me and my teammates.”
The Highland vs South football game was an instant classic because of Cade Sakamoto's Hail Mary to Matthew Miranda. (Photos provided by Nick Ellis)
The Play Heard Around Kern County. Cade Sakamoto's Hail Mary to Matthew Miranda
Not only did Sakamoto leave his impact on the gridiron, but on the baseball diamond as well. In 2017, Sakamoto began his first year on varsity baseball for a program that had already seen some success, but hadn’t figured out how to get to the next level of winning a Valley Championship. Sakamoto was the missing piece. He batted fourth for a deep Scots team and was known absolutely mashing the ball. (A homerun that he hit off of North High is still landing somewhere by Tehachapi) Moreover, Sakamoto humbly and quietly approached the game and his role, letting his bat, arm, and glove do the talking. “Cade Sakamoto was a quite player that led through example, very coachable, dedicated and humble,” recalls Sakamoto’s 2017 Head Coach, Rick Sawyer, “He was a natural athlete and very baseball smart. His head was always in the game and did not let his emotions get the best of him.”
As a junior, Cade Sakamoto led the Highland Scots to their first CIF Central Section Championship in school history. (Photo provided by Nick Ellis)
The Scots finished the regular season 24-3 and 11-1 in the SEYL with two of their losses coming from top baseball programs like Liberty High School and Ventura High School. However, it was during playoffs in which the Scots played their best baseball. Catching fire at the right time, Scots defeated Madera South, Kerman, and Porterville to win the CIF Central Section Division III Valley Championship - the first baseball valley championship in school history. Moreover, it was the play of Sakamoto that elevated the Scots to such a historic victory. “Cade was MVP of a team that was the best baseball team in Highland High School history,” recalls Sawyer, “The team went 27-3 with a league title and most importantly, a Valley Championship in which he was the winning pitcher. During our playoff run he was 10-14 at the plate and won two games as a pitcher. The 2017 baseball season was special and Cade Sakamoto was the most important part of our team.” For the season Sakamoto had a .505 avg, 4 HRs, and 35 RBIs at the plate and on the mound, he went 8-1 with a 3.43 ERA and 46 strikeouts.
In 2017, the Highland Scots Baseball Program celebrated their first ever CIF Central Section Valley Championship. (Photo provided by Nick Ellis)
This year, the Scots finished the regular season at 19-7-2 and 11-1 in the SEYL - winning back to back league title. The Scots received the 5 seed in Division III and look to make a deep run again thanks to the seasoned leadership of Sakamoto. “Cade has been a huge impact on our baseball program,” states current Head Coach Mike Garza, “He helped solidify the missing pieces that we needed for our baseball program. His knowledge of the game and leadership was big time for us. His skill level helped set the bar higher for all of his teammates. They all started to put the extra work in to reach his level of success.” For Sakamoto, he absolutely loves baseball. “One of things I pride myself in is putting in extra work to get better,” humbly states Sakamoto, “After practice and on the weekends, I enjoy going getting better. I spend a lot of time at the batting cages getting in extra cuts. I love the game of baseball and can’t get enough of it.” Mike Garza brags about his star athlete, “His leadership role, big bat, and command on the mound will definitely be a lasting impact. The things that Cade does on and off the field has been passed on to the younger guys of how to conduct yourself as a winner.”
This year, Cade Sakamoto is focused on winning another Valley Championship for Highland High School. (Photo provided by Nick Ellis)
So, what is the overall impact of Moises Medrano and Cade Sakamoto on the athletic landscape of Highland High School? “Together, they have been on 10 SEYL Championship teams, have each one a CIF Central Section Valley Championship, and have accounted for some unbelievably memorable moments,” states a proud Athletic Director, Steve Matney, “Through their success they have definitely helped to steer our culture into an expectation of success of our programs. Our athletic teams go out expect to win at almost any contest and these two have been a big part of this across the board.”
As Moises Medrano head to the University of California at Berkeley to run and Cade Sakamoto tries to figure out what junior college he is going to play baseball at, they reflect on the importance of leading Highland High School to athletic success. “It’s awesome to be a Scot,” says Medrano, “I am surrounded by great friends, teachers, administrators and an overall great school.” For Sakamoto, the value of leaving a legacy is important to him. “Moises and I have been part of leaving a positive and lasting legacy for Highland High School. Really cool.”
Two teammates on an 8th grade football team took different paths, but left their mark as legendary athletes at Highland High School.