Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in late September 2019 as our site was transitioning to its current home. Here is the original story. To provide some context, Shadow Ridge finished the season 6-4, coach Bob Chapelle's best team in four seasons. Yet Chapelle was let go after the season. Kaiden Lansford signed with OUAZ football.
It easily could have fallen apart.
Kaiden Lansford was back in Surprise, about to start his first game at quarterback for the Shadow Ridge High School team he watched growing up. He also learned he was about to become a father.
He was 16 years old.
One year later Lansford and his girlfriend, Madison, are raising their five-month old daughter when not finishing their senior year at Shadow Ridge. Lansford is juggling his newfound responsibilities with more duties on the field, as a starting quarterback and linebacker.
“Right before we told everyone … I remember Madi telling me, ‘You’ve just got to accept it, man up and understand what is happening.’ I went to bed that night and that was the first time I said, ‘I’m going to be a dad,’” Lansford said. “I was having my doubts. In all honesty, at first I didn’t want it to happen because I thought it would mess everything up. My family coaches and teammates were all there to support me through that. Now I realize nothing’s really changed, other than I have somebody that I love more than anything in my life now. She’s more of a blessing than anything.”
Kaiden Lansford moved back to Surprise from Gresham, Oregon on New Year’s Eve 2017. He met his soon-to-be girlfriend that night and they began dating shortly thereafter.
He went through spring ball reconnecting with the seniors he knew when they were freshmen. Lansford’s father, Chris, was an assistant coach previously and rejoined the staff upon moving back.
“It was a really welcoming environment and all the guys were happy to have me back. . A lot of the underclassmen didn’t know me. Last year’s senior class were all really great friends. It was awesome at first,” Lansford said.
Six months into the relationship, Kaiden and Madison learned of her pregnancy.
The first people they told were Lansford’s parents … when Madison was 26 weeks pregnant.
Then they decided to tell friends and teammates — both on football and the pom line. The response was heartening.
“I thought everyone was going to take it in a negative way and bash on me for it. Surprisingly, it was so much more positive than I expected. Everyone was really supportive. There’s only one person I can think of that actually gave me grief about it. My parents didn’t even give me grief about it. They were just concerned,” Lansford said.
He said telling his parents not only is his girlfriend pregnant, she’s six months pregnant was the most difficult aspect of the reveal.
Shadow Ridge coach Bob Chappelle said he has coached other players at other schools who were, or were about to become dads.
“I think the biggest thing I told Kaiden is that his teammates and the people that love him the most are going to support him. I tried to stress to him that there are people that are going to say things. You just have to get past it. That’s one thing that I learned because I was at another school where I had this happen two or three times. And for the most part, it’s the big talk around school for a couple weeks and then no one really talks about it,” Chappelle said.
Lansford did not have to completely change his lifestyle. He said he was already a bit of a homebody to begin with, when he was not playing or practicing football.
But he realized he would have to grow up faster than your typical teen.
“I’ve seen a great growth in him as a young man, his maturity level and leadership. There’s no doubt who’s among the leaders of this team,” Chappelle said. “He was very up front all last winter, ‘Hey coach I won’t be here, I have a doctor’s appointment to get to.’ I know a lot of our players were at the hospital when the baby was born. He was very protective and did what a dad is supposed to do. Madi has done an amazing job too and her family has too.”
Madison gave birth to Jaci in April. Since then, the couple’s days have mostly consisted of school work, spending time with the baby, laundry, then practice.
He was quick to admit his girlfriend has sacrificed more of her prior life, particularly in Jaci’s first year.
One fact has made the challenge of teenage parenthood easier — Kaiden and Madison have not talked about going it alone.
“It was so natural and smooth that I didn’t even feel that transition We never had thoughts about breaking up and we still haven’t the whole time we had Jaci. I think that’s taken a lot of stress off of her,” Lansford said. “A lot of things changed after we told people. It was really difficult – but it wasn’t at the same time. It was sudden. “
It also made him think more about the future and realize he needed to work even harder to set up his new family for success.
Chappelle said Lansford’s grades have gone up and the 6-4, 230-pound quarterback has thrown himself into playing both ways.
“He’s always had his priorities in line, and that comes with being raised the right way. But now he’s even more laser focused. His priorities are to take care of his family, graduate high school and go play college football somewhere,” Chappelle said. “I think becoming a dad has made him realize that he needs to put that extra work in because he wants to be able to provide in the future.”
It is still very early in Lansford’s recruiting process, with an offer from Arizona Christian University and interest from schools at several levels at college competition.
He said his family has always been a support system and that will continue after he graduates.
“They’ve even talked about moving into the college town I’m in and us getting a house with my girlfriend and all of us being off campus. And everyone’s OK with that. It wasn’t forced,” Lansford said.
The path to that future starts with this season. So far, so good.
Shadow Ridge is 3-1 and will start Southwest Region play by hosting 0-4 Tolleson Friday night.
The Stallions are in the same spot as last season. But this time around feels different.
“During the season our team has stayed together. Our team brings effort every single day to practice,” Lansford said.
Lansford is not even the player in the spotlight early. Senior tailback Michael Clark led 6A in rushing after four games, with 620 yards.
That seems to be fine for all concerned. Chappelle said he hopes college coaches notice all Lansford is doing, as well as his leadership qualities.
“My biggest concern is what the future is going to bring for them. I know Kaiden has a lot of goals and Madi does too. This doesn’t mean those goals have to change. It’s just one more thing to work through and I think most people have accepted that,” Chappelle said.
Lansford said he wants to raise Jaci like his parents raised him. He said he’s also looking forward to spending more time with Madison.
Lansford said he’s grateful for how his larger family — teammates, coaches and students — have accepted his new smaller family. And all Madison and he went through has given them something irreplaceable.
“She’s still so young and doesn’t recognize a lot of things. But every day she sees me, it’s the biggest smile I’ve ever seen. She adores me and I adore her. I think her and I having that relationship is the most rewarding thing out of all of this,” Lansford said.