Cade Fortin: Faith through adversity

After a shoulder injury cut his 2020 season short, coach Jeff Scott has praised Fortin for his improvement during the offseason. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

Consistency and adversity — these words have defined Cade Fortin’s career up until now. 

The 6-foot-3-inch quarterback has been faced with struggles at nearly every point of his football journey, but he’s consistently found a way to rise above and continue to follow his dream. From season-ending injuries to coaching changes and being overlooked by other college programs, he never gave up.

Now, Fortin said he hopes to define a new chapter of his career as starting quarterback for the USF Bulls.

“I’m a huge guy of faith,” Fortin said after being named starting quarterback. “I think through the adversity and all the things that I’ve been through, [I’ve been] just going back and leaning on my faith and … how I was raised, [as] a big believer in God.”

A native of Suwannee, Georgia, Fortin arrived at USF in spring 2020 after transferring from North Carolina. 

Not long after setting foot on campus, Fortin, like much of the college football world, saw his future in question following the arrival of the pandemic that left him without the ability to practice and grow a rapport with his new teammates.

Fortin found himself fourth on the depth chart going into the fall season and only saw action in a pair of blowout losses against Cincinnati and Tulsa, the latter of which resulted in him suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Despite the slow and obstacle-filled start to his career with the Bulls, Fortin demonstrated a level of diligence and leadership that caught the attention of coach Jeff Scott and made him stand out among the three other quarterbacks vying for the starting job. 

“It wasn’t easy for him last year and especially early on he had a lot of work to do,” Scott said. “So I learned a lot about him, watching him respond from that [and] the movement and everything going on. A lot of guys [would] just say, ‘Hey, it’s not meant to be,’ and just pack it up and go home. [But] he kept going to work every day and just showing up and getting better.

“I think you learn a lot about people when you watch them in times of adversity. When things are going good, I think everybody can put on a good face, but when things don’t go your way, you watch and you learn about them. So I think that was probably the biggest thing that stuck out to me.”

The mentality Scott witnessed from Fortin over the last year and a half isn’t anything new, however. It was ingrained in him long before he ever arrived in Tampa.

Fortin first came face to face with adversity as a sophomore at North Gwinnett High School in Suwannee.  

In his first year taking over the Bulldogs’ offense, Fortin inherited a team in disarray due to a school split that saw Lanier High School break off from North Gwinnett, taking a large percentage of the student body and forcing a major roster turnover on the football team.

Bob Sphire was Fortin’s head coach up to his senior year. If not for Fortin’s leadership and adaptability during the split, Sphire said the team wouldn’t have reached the heights it did in the following two years.

“We had a great problem that we really struggled with, a phase where really [the team] around [Fortin] had been depleted and he just kept on working, just kept the course, just really physically took a lot of physical pounding that year and just kept on plugging,” Sphire said. 

“He never had a bad day, never whined, never complained and that was huge getting us through that transition and rebuilding the program. He really bridged that transition at North Gwinnett from the school split, getting it back to a championship-caliber program.”

As a senior, Fortin was ranked the fifth-best quarterback in Georgia in the class of 2018, behind future first-round NFL draft picks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. He looked ready to lead the Bulldogs to their first-ever state championship.

However, after breaking his leg in the second game of the season, he had to watch from the sidelines as his team captured the elusive title four years in the making. 

Once again, Fortin had to demonstrate the type of character and leadership that’s become emblematic of his career, and North Gwinnett’s Offensive Coordinator Stephen Jackson took notice when they worked together his senior year. 

“The team would run to the sideline after a touchdown, [and] the first guy to congratulate his replacement was Cade,” Jackson said. “I think that mattered a lot to the success of that backup.”

He was in awe at the type of maturity Fortin showed over the course of the season.

“We live in a world where a lot of people care about themselves way more than they care about anybody else,” Jackson said. “Football teams got less of that — if they’re successful — than regular society, but [even] good, successful football teams have some of that. [But] he was just as happy for the kid that ended up playing quarterback, who became a really, very good player for us, as I think he would’ve been for himself had he done all those things.”

Though unable to play as a senior, Fortin saw no shortage of college interest. He committed to Texas A&M with coach Kevin Sumlin midway through the season, but the arrival of Jimbo Fisher made him pivot and eventually land at North Carolina.

After starting a couple of games at Chapel Hill, Fortin’s future was once again thrown into uncertainty as former national champion head coach Mack Brown came to UNC for his second stint leading the program.

Fortin eventually decided to transfer after losing the quarterback battle to four-star recruit Sam Howell. Sphire, who’s been a part of his journey so far, said he believes his resilience through these obstacles will lead him to success with the Bulls. 

“He’s been through this story of a guy that just keeps the dream alive and keeps the process going no matter what’s thrown at him,” Sphire said. “Now he’s got a chance to really be the guy and lead this program through a transition with coach Scott there and be the one that helps establish [Scott’s] program.”

Fortin admitted there were moments when he was unsure of the path he was taking, but thanks to his faith and Scott’s belief in him, he’s put the past in the rearview mirror and said he feels like he’s finally found his home.

“There’s a verse that I’ve leaned on ever since high school when I got injured and I was out the whole year,” Fortin said. “Jeremiah 29:11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and plans to give you hope and a future.’ I took that to heart, and I still think about it all the time.

“Looking back on it two years, [when I transferred], I thought, ‘Where are you taking me?’ But looking back two years later, I wouldn’t want to change anything about it.”