Big man on campus

Blugold offensive lineman Isiah Cage walked the road less traveled to reach where he is today

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Photo by Austin Mai

Monster. Dominant. Size and strength. Unreal. Hands down best player on the field.

These are a few of the words used to describe UW-Eau Claire football’s senior captain and tackle Isiah Cage by coaches and teammates. They know him to be a force on the left side of the field.

But there is more to Cage’s story than blocking and protecting.

Cage described himself as a hard worker and attributed that trait to his father and grandfather.

“My grandfather worked hard for everything he got,” Cage said. “I knew that’s what I’d have to do get what I want.”


High School

Cage originally planned on going to a two-year school, getting an associate’s degree and becoming a police officer or firefighter as soon as possible, but a goal had yet to surface in his life.

He hadn’t played organized football until his junior year at Chicago’s Percy L. Julian high school. In fact, he hadn’t played any organized sport before then.

“I wasn’t the biggest player (when I started playing),” Cage said. “I wasn’t even 6-foot yet, probably less than 250 (pounds). I got beat up during the first half of the season and fight or flight kind of kicked in. Right after the end of that season, I started working out and returned next season as the strongest guy on the team.”

Cage said he hit major growth spurts between his junior and senior years of high school and during the summer after graduation.

He said he gained one or two inches before his senior season and added on about 20 pounds of muscle. After the newly-hired head coach at Julian slid him outside to the tackle position, he had a successful year and received opportunities to continue playing football at the collegiate level.


Life as a Golden Bear

“I signed my letter of intent to Concordia College-St. Paul (Minn.) … it ended up not being the best fit for me,” Cage said. “If I would’ve understood the recruiting process better I could’ve decommitted from the school after the head coach was fired. At some points, I felt like the coaching staff didn’t really care about the players.”

Cage was redshirted upon arrival to Concordia and received offensive scout player of the week honors in 2011. In 2012, he started four games at left tackle and played in 10 games for the Golden Bears.

After that season, he wanted to move on.

Once he decided to transfer, he educated himself about the process and looked into an offer from a NCAA Division II school in North Carolina. He said they offered him a full scholarship and a starting spot at right tackle

“It wasn’t the safest campus,” Cage said. “A person got shot before I got there and someone was shot on campus after I arrived.”

This pummeled Cage’s interest and he returned to the midwest to check out NCAA Division III schools including conference rival UW-Whitewater and University of St. Thomas (Minn.).

Then a former Concordia teammate pitched Cage to check out a school that wasn’t on his radar. He knew nothing about the city other than its name “sounded french.”


Becoming a Blugold

Cage said the high-level education for the low tuition cost at UW-Eau Claire was “a good bang for (my) buck.” He said his interaction with the football coaching staff helped him decide.

“The coaches seemed so up front with me,” Cage said. “No games, no beating around the bush. That pretty much sold me.”

Nick Smallwood, a senior criminal justice student and former football player, talked Cage into checking out the school and at least considering it among the other NCAA III powerhouses he was communicating with.

“We weren’t close (at Concordia) at first,” Smallwood said. “Over the years we grew fond of eachother and I think I got him to come here. He has a personality that people gravitate toward. I thought he’d be good for the program.”

Eau Claire head football coach Todd Glaser agreed.

Nearly three seasons later, Cage, a preseason All-American, has the respect and admiration of his peers and coaches. This is not only because of his play on the field.

Cage is a member of the Student Senate and the Black Student Alliance.

“He’s a really smart guy,” Glaser said. “He’s been a great leader off and on the field and when he plays, he’s like having another coach on the field.”

Glaser attested to Cage’s know withal to assess exactly what the defense is trying to do to penetrate the line.

He said Cage has different traits that make him a great player, but they show differently throughout games.

“His speed is showcased in pass protection,” Glaser said. “But then you see his strength and power in run blocking. He is well balanced.”

Senior defensive end Jayden Dobbs said getting to practice against Cage has made him a better player. He said lining up and trying his moves against Cage makes it easier when he uses them on Saturdays.

Dobbs referred to a moment during the team’s fall training camp when Cage’s dominance and leadership flourished.

“This freshman tried to bull rush (using power and explosion to push the lineman back) Cage,” Dobbs said. “It didn’t work out for the freshman, Cage threw him and the team went nuts. After the commotion, Cage went over to the guy and told him he did a good job and the team needed guys like him. That’s the kind of leadership Cage has.”

Freshman running back Toure Wallace rushed 33 times for 235 yards and two touchdowns behind Cage-anchored offensive line this past Saturday against UW-La Crosse.

He said he wasn’t sure if he could have had the success he had this year with Cage in the lineup.

“He makes an impact in the game,” Wallace said. “We’re always told to do our job, and it’s easier to do my job when he is doing his so well.”

Now, Cage is known by his teammates, coaches and many students as the best player on the football team. That hasn’t only earned him credit on campus, but looks from professional scouts, Cage said.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he could play on Sundays,” Dobbs said. “He’s insane, he should have went to school for free somewhere.”

While whatever future Cage may have in the NFL is still unclear, he’s happy to have had his family’s approval throughout college. Isiah Cage’s father, Kenneth Cage, said he has witnessed the work ethic Isiah himself described as gained from his father and grandfather.

Above all else, Kenneth Cage made two things clear.

“I’m very proud of him,” Kenneth Cage said. “He’s a hard worker.”