When most people think about Kyle Caldwell, they think of the career he had at Dadeville as a successful three-sport athlete. Or they might think about the record-breaking stats he had at the University of West Alabama on the football field.
But what a lot of people may not know is Caldwell nearly quit playing football when he was a sophomore in high school.
As a freshman, Caldwell started a few games at quarterback but the Tigers went 0-10. In his sophomore year, he was benched.
“I started three games as a freshman then that next year, we changed offenses and I was the backup,” Caldwell said. “I didn’t take that too well at the time. I was only 15 and I even thought about transferring.”
Caldwell said Lee-Scott Academy was looking at recruiting him and he even took a visit there.
At the time, Chad McKelvey was Dadeville’s offensive coordinator and Caldwell said he felt like McKelvey was picking on him specifically.
“I just couldn’t leave because I felt like I would just be giving him what he wanted at the time,” Caldwell said. “I legit wanted to quit football in the 10th grade; I just couldn’t face that adversity. But I just kept going and kept going.”
Being a starter for the basketball and baseball teams at Dadeville also kept Caldwell close and just before his junior year, something clicked on the football field.
“Kyle was really a coach’s dream by the time he was a junior but it didn’t necessarily start off that way,” McKelvey said with a laugh. “He was really just the classic young kid who always had a lot of athletic ability. Growing up, he was probably one of the most athletic kids around and had never had to sit and wait behind someone, so it was a new experience for him.”
But McKelvey always saw that potential in Caldwell and wasn’t about to let him quit. In fact, he maybe even pushed Caldwell harder than the starters because he knew Caldwell could handle it.
And Caldwell did just that; he helped Dadeville to new heights and eventually signed with West Alabama, a Division II school in Livingston. Then his career took off. As a senior at UWA, Caldwell was a Harlon Hill nominee — the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for Division II — and he set records he still holds to this day. Earlier this week, Caldwell was named to West Alabama’s Team of the Decade.
“There’s a lot of really good players on that team, so just being in the same group as team is amazing,” Caldwell said. “Playing with a lot of those guys, it was a really special time that I was there.”
That adversity he had to overcome during his time at Dadeville is what Caldwell said took him to new heights.
“It was easy to see Kyle’s potential,” McKelvey said. “He was a good quarterback from Day 1 and it was all about trying to make him a great quarterback. Kyle had a stubborn streak about wanting to do things his way and I probably had a stubborn streak about wanting to do things my way, but in the end, the hard work definitely paid off.”
At UWA, Caldwell set school records for total offense (9,090), passing yards (7,731) and touchdown passes (72). He also rushed for 937 yards and scored 44 touchdowns on the ground. He was thrown into the fire earlier than expected as the quarterback ahead of him, Gary Johnston, suffered an injury during Caldwell’s freshman year. The two then split time while Caldwell was a sophomore before he earned the starting job his final two seasons.
Caldwell is among many great players who have come out of Dadeville’s football program and he’s taken that to becoming a coach at Chelsea, where he is a member of the baseball and football coaching staffs. And he did it all despite standing at just 5-foot-7.
“Kyle should be an inspiration for a lot of young kids because he never had the measurables,” McKelvey said. “But when it was all said and done, he outworked everybody. For your average high school players who hears, ‘You’re not tall enough or big enough, strong enough or fast enough,’ just keep working. That’s a message to those types of players that there’s something out there for you. I tell him all the time that he made me look like a lot better coach than I probably really was.”