In Ryan’s season opener against Corsicana, defensive coordinator David Thomas pulled wide receivers Xavier Gray and Reynal Caldwell out of the locker room at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex.
The Raiders found themselves trailing 22-3 at halftime, and Thomas asked the two to help his secondary.
Caldwell dropped a couple passes in the first half and admitted he was a little shaken up about the mistakes. Then Thomas dropped a new task on Caldwell, and he was ready to take out his aggression on an unsuspecting Corsicana squad.
Ryan pulled off a 40-28 comeback victory, and since then, Caldwell’s found himself anchoring the secondary at free safety.
Caldwell and the Raiders (3-2, 1-1 District 5-5A) will have the task of shutting down the Hebron Hawks (3-3, 0-1) at 7:30 tonight at C.H. Collins.
The senior has flourished in a role he previously played briefly at Ryan. Caldwell has become one of Ryan’s best pass defenders, and he’s among the team leaders in tackles.
“He never questions,” Ryan head coach Joey Florence said of Caldwell. “He’s just the ultimate team player.
“Every coach wants to coach kids like him because he practices hard, never complains. I told him the defense needed him this year and we felt like it’d be best for the team, and he said, ‘Sure,’ and he went right over there and went to work.”
Transitioning from position to position is something Caldwell knows all too well.
When Caldwell was younger, he said he was always picked on because of his height. His youth league coaches were too scared to put him at wide receiver because he was so small, so they stuck him at defensive end.
Ryan’s roster has Caldwell listed at 5-foot-8, while he said he’s somewhere around 5-5 (the actual height might be somewhere between the discrepancy). He said his 11-year-old brother is blessed with a little more height.
So essentially, Caldwell is smaller than his brother who is six years younger than him. All in all, he might end up as the shortest in the family where he has seven siblings.
“Growing up, I was always so small,” Caldwell said. “I was always the smallest on the team. They would just put me places to test where I could play. I could play at any position.”
In Ryan’s case, Caldwell’s flexibility is a testament to his athleticism and his ability to adapt to where he’s needed.
Last year, when running back Jerrick Harvey went down with a season-ending knee injury, Florence asked Caldwell to help carry the offensive load. Caldwell previously played a little defensive back before, but not in the current capacity. This season at a new position, Caldwell’s been equally effective.
“We moved him to safety, and we think he’s been really big,” Florence said. “We’ve been getting better defensively every week, and he’s returning punts, and we’re trying to get him the ball some on offense. I’ve been really proud of him this year. I thought he’s done a really good job.”
Florence compared Caldwell to former Ryan standout defensive back Ishie Oduegwu. Oduegwu graduated from Ryan in 2005 as an all-state safety and went on to play at Texas before his career was shortened by shoulder problems.
Opposing coaches have taken notice of the 5-foot-something Caldwell. When coaches sit in the first row of C.H. Collins’ press box and scout Ryan for future reference, on almost every occasion, the coaches reference No. 19 and his ability to come from across the field to make a TD-saving tackle.
Caldwell is one of five seniors on Ryan’s defense. Senior Corbin Forest said he can recall times when Caldwell would swoop in and bail out Forest or any of his other teammates who missed the tackle.
“Reynal adds a different aspect,” Forest said. “He comes in as fast as he can and makes the tackle. He doesn’t care how small he is compared to these huge guys. He just comes in there with full speed.
“I guess you could say, even if we mess up up front, we don’t have to worry because Reynal will come back there and tackle them and finish the play.”
Forest described a play last week against Flower Mound Marcus, a team forced to depend on its running game after second-string quarterback Cade Erwin was knocked out of the game on the first drive of the series.
The plan was for Forest to come and essentially disrupt the line of scrimmage, allowing Caldwell to come in from the secondary and make the tackle. The plan worked.
It’s what makes Caldwell one of Ryan’s most dependable players, somebody who’ll be needed to help stop a Hebron squad lacking star running back Dezmond Wortham.
When asked why he’s always hustling on the field, Caldwell’s response showed why the Ryan coaching staff speaks highly of him.
“I never know when something can happen,” Caldwell said. “If I know I’m not going all-out and somebody is, if they miss the tackle and I’m not going all-out, then I’m not there to help. If I’m not going all-out, then I’m not doing my job as a free safety.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .