FARMINGTON -- After the first day of a football camp on the campus of Hendrix College last summer Caleb Williams' feet were bleeding from wearing cleats two sizes too small.
"I was not a very, happy camper," recalls Caleb, who went on to rush 217 times for 1,234 yards averaging 5.7-yards-per-carry with 15 touchdowns as a senior tailback and the focus of Farmington's offense in the fall of 2017 before signing a national letter of intent to play college football and run track for Hendrix on March 30.
While taking the turf at Hendrix, Caleb hadn't accomplished any of those exploits yet. He was sort of an unknown commodity coming off a junior year in which he carried the ball 109 times for a modest 423 yards, averaging 3.9-yards-per-run with 2 touchdowns. Potential was there, the 5-8, 190-pounder possessed speed and muscular physique, but with competition from classmates Javan Jowers and Jared Oskey, plus juniors Reid Turner and Dimariae Donovan -- Caleb had yet to win Farmington's starting job.
Caleb had brought the wrong cleats belonging to his older brother Josh, yet, he never allowed pain or the heat of a 100 degree day to diminish his effort. Caleb credits family values handed down from his grandparents, Donald and Maribelle Williams, and reinforced by his parents, Paul and Melisa Williams, to establish perseverance.
"They always told us we are the leaders," Caleb said. "It's better to lead from the front than to watch quietly from the back. They taught us to lead by example and show what it is to be a leader. Be refined, be the best version of you that you can be so when others look up to you they are not looking at a broken man or broken woman and staying close to one another. Even if you don't know it, you're always in the spotlight. Someone's always paying attention."
Hendrix coaches were paying attention, telling Caleb they liked how tough he was and saying they needed more of that on the team. They liked Caleb's athleticism and monitored his progress as Caleb blossomed leading Farmington to key wins over 5A West opponents: Clarksville (61-41), Vilonia (36-27), and Maumelle (31-30) in overtime.
"They watched film, they liked how I carried myself on the field, I didn't react to anything," Caleb said. "They liked how I carried the ball, real aggressive."
One of Caleb's favorite plays came in the second quarter against Clarksville with the Cardinals leading 27-14. After the Panthers' Nicholas Buckner broke a 59-yard touchdown run, Farmington sustained a drive reaching Clarksville's five where they predictably handed off to Caleb running off tackle, who already had scoring runs of 18 and 12 yards.
"I got the ball going to the right," Caleb said. "A guy broke through the line. I had been hitting them pretty hard so they figured out they had to go for my legs. He came at my legs. I barely got enough of it to keep going."
Caleb stumbled forward momentum carrying him towards the goal line having purposed in his heart he was going to score on the carry.
"They were already squeezing the box," Caleb said. "I had to stick my hand down, dive and roll into the end zone."
He did so without either knee touching scampering five yards inches above the turf. Etched into his memory in the thrill of the moment is the voice of his father, Paul Williams, cheering from the sideline.
"I just so happened to hear my dad yell," Caleb said. "He said, 'There you go, Caleb.' He was clapping."
Caleb generally doesn't express emotion on the football field, yet his father's affirmation triggered tears of joy as he handed the football to the referee.
"I normally don't get emotional during games, but that one hit me," Caleb said.
Living up to expectations is something Caleb has always strived to do, patterning himself after older brother Josh, a 2016 Farmington graduate, who went on to set school records at Hendrix in track and field.
"My brother has always been great, pushing me, showing me his definition of a committment to excellence, which kind of helps me make mine," Caleb said. "There's no better competition than having an older brother."
When Caleb signed his national letter of intent, committing to Hendrix on March 30 at Cardinal Arena, he described the event as "Just a feeling of overwhelming joy thinking back on all the hours of hard work, endless hours in the weight room, practicing with my friends. All the work finally paid off."
Caleb acknowledges the support of his parents, thanking them for how they raised him and for everything they've instilled within him since he was born.
"All the morals and just to do everything 100 percent with Christ-like passion," Caleb said. "To be as much like Christ as you can be in everything you do and for pushing me and believing in me that I could do whatever I wanted to do."Sports on 04/11/2018
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