BY JACK KIZER | Ball State Sports Link
Quiet strength. Most know that phrase as the title of a book written by Tony Dungy.
It also is a sound description of freshman running back Caleb Huntley.
His discreet confidence goes back to his time at Locust Grove High School in Atlanta, when his football mindset rose to another level.
“My butterflies before a game really left my junior year (of high school),” Huntley said. “I wasn’t afraid to go up against anybody at that time. I’m not trying to sound cocky or anything, but I don’t care how big a person is. How strong, how fast — I’m not afraid to go up against anybody.”
This mentality served Huntley well, as he received interest from schools such as Minnesota, Syracuse and Auburn. Ball State, however, is where he chose to attend due to the promise of playing time his freshman season.
Action on the field has come frequently for Huntley, and he’s made the most of it. Along with leading the team at 6.7 yards per carry, he has rushed for over 180 yards through three games. Huntley’s 52-yard dash for the end zone against UAB Sept. 9 though is what solidified his confidence.
“It helped me to know that I could have big games if I just focus on the task at hand and getting the job done like coach wants me to.”
Quiet strength leaks into Huntley’s studies as well. With history as his favorite subject, it made his major choice easy.
“It (history) has a lot of things that people don’t think I know, but I do know. They are sometimes shocked when I raise my hand and answer the question or the topic at hand.”
In the classroom or on the field, exceeding people’s expectations is an aspect which fuels Huntley’s inner fortitude.
Quiet strength is present across all platforms in his life, including his pre-game and post-game processes.
Friday, September 15th:
Huntley sits in his hotel room in downtown Muncie drinking Pedialyte.
Cramping is a habitual issue for Huntley, and he’s trying to ready his body for Saturday’s game.
At this point in the week, he uses his time to relax and review tips provided by the Ball State coaching staff.
Blitz responsibilities, running alignments and specific plays which could change during the game make up his study material.
Huntley doesn’t review too much, however, as he feels everything he needs to know is already cemented in his mind.
Throughout the evening, he finds tranquility in music and television.
Bankroll Fresh and Hoodrich Pablo play through Huntley’s headphones reminding him of Atlanta, while in the background different movies and shows populate the TV screen.
Before getting some sleep, he takes time to chat with teammates Justin Hall, James Gilbert, Malik Dunner, Jeremiah Jackson and his roommate for the night, Darian Green. Huntley’s quiet strength rubs off on the others during their conversations.
“We just talk about going out there and getting that ‘W’. We already have in our mind every Friday that we are going to come back with a win.”
Saturday, September 16th
Gameday. Huntley rolls out of bed at 9:30 a.mm in preparation for a 10 a.m. position meeting. Running Backs Coach Kevin Lynch reviews the same information Huntley went over the night before.
At 11 a.m., it’s breakfast time. Chicken, hashbrowns and pancakes are Huntley’s choice of food despite pasta, eggs and grits being offered as well.
“I don’t like eggs, and I’m picky about grits. They have to be just right. They can’t be too chunky or too loose. You have to add salt, pepper, cheese and bacon. That’s how I like ‘em.”
The grits available at breakfast simply don’t make the cut. After spending more time with the running backs consuming his meal, Huntley heads back to his room to pack up his belongings.
He proceeds to the team buses, which transport the players to the traditional Cardinal Walk.
“It’s a different atmosphere. I’ve never seen anything like the Cardinal Walk before. In high school, we had something similar to it, but this is on a bigger scale.”
Despite the hype from fans and teammates surrounding the game, Huntley remains stoic. His mindset is affected because his mother Tammie, whom he calls every day, and two sisters are there.
“Every time I know someone is there, I try to go harder than usual. Sometimes when I try to go too hard I mess up and overthink things just because they’re there. So when my mom is coming I tell her not to remind me, so I can just be focused on the game.”
Huntley does know of their presence this week and tries his best to stay focused.
After entering the locker room, he goes to the training room to get his wrists and ankles taped. He likes the tape loose on his wrists so he tells the trainer not to wrap them too tight.
Huntley gets dressed in leggings, shorts, a t-shirt, gloves and cleats. Bankroll Fresh and Hoodrich Pablo are left dormant on his phone, as he thinks music deteriorates his focus.
What Huntley does next is arguably his most important pre-game ritual — prayer. Growing up in the Baptist Church, he maintains his faith and prays every time before he runs out onto the field.
“I feel like if I don’t pray before every game, then it’s not going to go how I want it to.”
Following Huntley’s quiet moment of religious strength, he crosses the white lines before official team warm-ups in order to stretch, loosen his body, and catch a few balls.
He later returns to the locker room, drinks a Gatorade and puts on his equipment.
During pre-game drills with the entire team, he performs the running back’s version of “Pat-n-Go”. This involves making a move to get past a defender and running a specific pass route out of the backfield. Even more stretching ensues before the team goes back into the locker room for a final time.
Coach Neu gathers his players and preaches about getting the job done. He explains how they have been prepared all week and there is no reason to come back into the locker room without a win. He says he believes in the team and their ability to win, which boosts the morale even more.
After Neu concludes, the team forms a huddle in the center of the locker room. While other players start to get fired up, Huntley stands quietly in the back.
“Most people get riled up before they play. I’m quiet. When the team gathers in the center (of the locker room), I’m in the back. I’m listening, but I’m quiet. My energy doesn’t really hype up until the first snap of the game. That’s when everything comes out.”
The team breaks and takes the field. Huntley finds Justin Hall, Keidren Davis, Brett Anderson, Myles Hannah, Hassan Littles, and a few select others.
“We have a secret handshake. It’s an Atlanta handshake. Only us Atlanta guys and a couple others know how to do it.”
Finally, before kickoff, Huntley starts to release his quiet strength. He hits his helmet with his fists and beats on his chest a couple of times to get fired up because gametime has come.
The family weekend game proves successful overall for Ball State, capturing an ugly victory. Huntley rushes for 51 yards on nine carries, but didn’t see playing time until the second quarter.
“I thought I played okay. They were a heavy blitz team and coach didn’t feel like I was ready to pick up all of the blitzes. I felt like we could have had a better game if we had the attack of me, Malik (Dunner) and James (Gilbert) at the same time, but I understand that now. I’m going to learn from it and pick up blitzes even better the next time.”
Without many bumps and bruises, Huntley just grabs another Gatorade and heads back to his room in Lafallote Campus Residence Hall to shower and change.
His mother and sisters pick him up to take go out for a family meal at Chilis, followed by a trip to Insomnia Cookies. After watching them depart for their hotel in Noblesville, Huntley looks forward to his entire family making the trip to Western Kentucky this week.
Later that night, he spends time at a relaxing team hang-out to end his day.
Whether he’s on the field or off the field, Huntley stays dialed in, backed by an aura of quiet strength.