By Michael Kinney
Back when Kaden Helms was a sophomore at Bellevue West High (NE.), he asked his head coach an important question. At the time, he was playing only when the team was in a spread set or on passing downs. He wanted to know what he needed to do to play all the time because didn’t like leaving the field.
According to Bellevue West coach Michael Huffman, the answer was quite simple.
“You have to block better,” Huffman stated. “He just took it to heart. He started developing in the offseason.”
Since that moment, Helms transformed from a nice pass-catching athlete to an all-around tight end whose skillset can dominate games from anywhere on the field. At 6-foot-5, 222-pounds and runs a 4.5, he is the prototypical tight end coaches are looking for to exploit defenses on Saturdays and Sundays.
“Tall, lean prospect. Lines up as a split, slot, and occasionally hand-down in high school and likely will be used in a similarly eclectic fashion in college,” said a recruiting analyst. “Solid top end for a taller receiver and can get deep. Shows fluidity and suddenness in breaks and double moves. Good ball skills, body control and tracking ability. Can still get bigger and stronger and can still show more after the catch. But can do a lot for an offense because of the skills and athleticism he brings.”
Helms entered his senior season as the fourth-ranked player in Nebraska and the 18th ranked tight end in the country. But he says there are still elements to his game that he needs to work on.
“I want to be able to do more than just catch a little corner out, get out of bounds,” Helms said. “I want to be able to step on a guy, make a couple of guys miss and finish the play with a touchdown, stuff like that.”
Through the first five games of the 2021 season, he led the Thunderbirds with had 19 catches and 258 yards. He was also second on the team with three receiving TDs.
At the time Helms was ahead of his 2020 pace when he finished the season with 25 catches, 322 yards and four touchdowns in seven games
But the most important goal Helms is chasing this season is leading his team to a state title.
“I think we have a shot, if not the best shot to win the State Championship this year. I mean, we got a lot of returning starters,” Helms said. “I would say about 80 percent of our team came back this year. We got two amazing quarterbacks, All-State running back. We’ll be rolling when November rolls around.”
However, for Bellevue West to be the best team they could be, Huffman had to ask Helms to do even more for the squad. After the fourth game this season, which was a loss, he approached Helms about playing defense.
“I asked him if he can do that because he has only played receiver for us,” Huffman said. “He said ‘coach, I will do anything it takes.’”
After a week of practice, Helms was starting at safety for the Thunderbirds and finished the game with four tackles. They were the first tackles he has had to make since he was in sixth grade.
“It’s new,” Helms said. “But I like stuff that challenges me. I think it makes me a better player. It makes me more versatile, more useful.”
While Helms called his first tackle fun, he says it still doesn’t top-scoring a touchdown, yet.
“It was a little outside zone play. I came downhill from my safety spot and got a tackle for loss. It was definitely a good first tackle I would say,” Helms said. “But I would still say scoring a touchdown is a better feeling. I got a little bias going, but making a big hit is up there.”
However, when college coaches started reaching out to him during his sophomore year, they weren’t interested in his defensive prowess. They saw the potential he possessed in his tall, but lanky basketball body.
Helm’s first offer came from Iowa State and he was happy to get it. But he also saw all the attention his teammate and fellow tight-end Micah Riley-Ducker was getting.
Even though they played the same position and were in the same class, Riley-Ducker’s recruiting got off to a faster start.
Instead of pouting about it, Helms said he used the situation as motivation.
“Obviously he was getting all the offers for about a five, six months when I was still not getting quite as much attention. And, so it pushed me a lot more ways than I thought it would. It made me a better player and a better leader, I would say. So, it was good for me.”
It was also during his sophomore year and junior campaigns that Helms added more than 30 pounds to his frame and grew a couple of inches. That is when schools such as Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin began showing interest.
“I think I got my first offer, it was sophomore year, it was Iowa State. Then for about eight months I was just talking to them and then I want to say when COVID was taking us out of school and stuff, I was going to camps so that helped me as well,” Helms said. “And then, my junior year, I feel like I put a pretty decent film that really helped me as well to pick up the rest of my offers. I say my sophomore year they offered me based off potential, but my junior year I feel like I kind of proved myself a little bit more to show coaches.”
Oklahoma was also showing interest. According to Huffman, they were initially looking at Riley-Ducker but soon turned their attention to Helms because they were looking more at the H-back type.
Growing up in Nebraska, Helms knew about the legacy Oklahoma carried with it. Ut they weren’t on his radar as a team he saw himself suiting up for in college. According to Helms, the last time the Sooners came to Nebraska to recruit a player was in 1977. So, he didn’t believe he was going to be the one to break the streak.
“They hadn’t really talked to me before they offered me,” Helms said. “They were talking to my coach mainly on just kind of seeing what type of person I am, how I am in the classroom, getting background information. Then once they were confident with my personality, they were already confident with my abilities on the field. Coach (Joe Jon) Finley, the tight ends coach called me up and told me he’s going to offer me a scholarship.”
Helms waited until July 7 before he committed to Oklahoma. Like many past recruits, he gravitated to the team’s culture. )Helms signed his National Letter of Intent Dec. 15 ).
“The big thing for me is relationships and a family atmosphere. They did a good at that,” Helms said. “When I’m down there, it’s kind of like home. It kind of feels like Nebraska in a way. I would just say the weather’s just more mild, which is just a plus for me. The coaches, the family atmosphere. Obviously, the winning tradition and they love to use their tight ends. It was an all-around win for me. I personally thought it was too big of an opportunity to pass up.”
Story first appeared in The Sooner Spectator