During the weekdays, the alarm clock goes off at 5:25 am every day, about 35 minutes earlier than the Top247’s safety number 1 Caleb Downs would actually have to get up to get to where he needs to be that day, which is usually a morning workout.
“If you listen to a lot of people who have been successful and what they’ve done, most of them get up earlier,” the Hoschton, Ga., Mill Creek standout told 247Sports. “I have to start somewhere.”
So that’s the start of the Downs day. He’ll preach a sermon, listen to gospel music and put on a motivational speaker, with his two favorites at the moment being Eric Thomas or Les Brown. His quest for self-control propels him off the football field and has also enabled him to attend schools including Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Ohio State, the four schools he will pay an official visit to in June.
“He’s conscientious,” said Down’s father, Gary. “He watches everything. Not only does he want to do well in school and sports, he also wants to do well in life. I speak from a social point of view and a spiritual point of view. He wants success.”
When 247Sports chats with college coaches behind the scenes about what makes the five-star downs so impressive, perhaps the film is worth enough of a note to go without saying, because the conversation usually starts with the way he is wired. Down’s demeanor and presence are traits that are just as exciting as his instincts, speed and quickness, ball skills and open field tackling skills.
“His desire to grow,” said Mill Creek head coach Josh Lovelady. “What I mean by that, as a teenager his age, on and off the field, his desire to grow is nothing I’ve seen in 26 years. Everyone wants to be that, but whenever, with us, the why, from Ab ninth grade he didn’t suddenly flip a switch, he’s always wanted to know more and why we’re doing this, the plan, he loves the chess match of the game, and you hear the conversations, you talk to every college coach, we have conversations that I’m trying to get out of juniors in college who are in our system.
“He’s very thoughtful and kind-hearted,” Down’s mother, Tanya, said. “He’s always acted more maturely. I’m guessing he had an older brother (Josh is one of the top receivers in college football, who shines at North Carolina) and a sister (Kameron played football at Kennesaw State and is preparing to get accepted into medical school to become an orthopedist). more and more mature. He worked hard. Even if some of his friends did some things and he felt he needed to do something else that meant more to his goal at the time, he would do it. He’s a leader. He’s there when his teammates are down to pick them up. He’s like a coach, he always has been.”
Now standing 6 feet long and weighing 190 pounds, Downs has always been a star on the soccer field.
“When he was four, one of his preschool teachers told me that Caleb did one-armed push-ups for the girls,” laughed Gary. As a seven-year-old pro, the elder Downs played his college football at NC State, where he was one of the best running backs in school history and was also an ACC conference academic honoree. “He could dribble and shoot a basketball by the age of three. He’s always been like this. When he was six years old, he scored 46 touchdowns in his freshman year of football. He wasn’t tackled for four or five games. You literally look at these games and think this is real. Not being tackled and making almost any tackle. It’s like clockwork and he’s done the same thing in basketball. Josh, his older brother, said it gets harder as you get older and it got a little bit harder, but it’s been pretty much the same level of dominance since day one.
“I think one of his parents nicknamed him ‘something special’ when he was six years old,” Tanya said. “I remember he was the running back at one point and ran straight for the other team, but he seemed to go around them. I asked him why he did that after the game and he said, “Well, one of the kids was looking at his shoelaces, so I knew he wasn’t paying attention, and another one was looking in a different direction.” He could see these things at a younger age.”
The game continues to move in slow motion for Downs, who will play in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio after his senior season. You’d be hard-pressed to find a prospect nationwide who’s had a better junior campaign than Downs, who has 77 tackles, including 11 pass separations, five interceptions (14 in three varsity seasons), against some of the country’s top prep competitions. with nine total touchdowns, four rushing, two receiving, two pick sixes and a kick return, Mill Creek led to an 11-2 campaign and a state quarterfinal berth.
“After the season, he asked a lot of his teammates where they thought they needed to improve to become a better player,” Tanya said. “They told him what they wanted to do and he developed training plans and told them what they could do to get them where they wanted to be. I’m like, who does this? I don’t think anyone works harder than him other than his brother and he often watched his brother grow up. His brother was always the smaller one and was considered too small to do this and that and he had to prove to everyone that he was the right one. Caleb saw how hard he worked and how he ended up working just as hard if not harder than his brother at everything. He’s always been an old soul. He’s always acted older than his age and the way he was able to focus was incredible for his age and still is.”
It comes naturally to Caleb.
“If you look at all the great people who have won, most are great leaders and you can tell by the way they speak to their team and portray themselves in videos,” Caleb said. Since the bouncing ball is currently taking place, he goes into every practice and workout with the plan to improve one thing about his own game as well. “Learn from people who have done it before. Hard work pays off, all those things, determination, perseverance, all those things lead to success and you won’t get where you want to be without having that in your life.
Gary burst out laughing as he thought back to some of his favorite memories from his youngest child’s life.
“He had this little game called Football Men,” said the elder Downs. “The field was two feet wide and four feet long and he had about 20 of those games. He had Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, Penn State, every college team you can think of and he would have Alabama vs Auburn or he could play 10 at a time. You would wake up Saturday morning and forget he was upstairs. He came down at noon and you said what’s up and he said, “It’s halftime.” (Gary’s laughter starts here). You go upstairs and you literally can’t walk on the floor while he’s been handing out all these games. He would leave a game up there for days and come back next week and pick up where he left off. He went outside and played and came back and finished his game. Up there all day playing Football Man games. Soccer has been a part of his life for a long time. That was him.”
Almost every school Downs would play at eventually offered him a scholarship. He always knew this was his path and his recruitment process is drawing to a close and the next chapter he is tirelessly preparing for is fast approaching. Downs has four major official visits to Georgia on June 3, Notre Dame on June 10, Alabama on June 17 and Ohio State on June 24. Clemson and North Carolina are two of the other programs he has shown a keen interest in during his trial.
“It was fun getting to know all of these places, learning about the differences in all of these schools, learning how some schools want to use me, learning little things like why some schools aren’t that successful,” Downs explained before he went into his approach thinks he can get it down to one.
“If you look at the little things they do. If you look at the past, what the school has done, if you look at what their players are doing in the league, if they’re producing in the league, if they’re doing well after football, after making their money, everybody did that kind of stuff. Connect with the players at the school, learn from them and learn from what they do.”
Sports management, starting his own business, coaching (like his father, who is a running backs coach at East Tennessee State), these are some of the other things Downs cares about as he reflects on his adult life.
“He gets the big picture,” Gary said. “He sees things very differently. He consumes knowledge and wisdom. He’s like a student of life, not just football. Football is most important to him and he will make that his priority and devote time to it, but it’s not the only thing. He’s really humble, he’s really confident, he’s trainable.”
And we know Downs is committed.
“Incredible competitor,” said Lovelady. “He doesn’t want to lose. Which is great, there are a lot of five-star, four-star kids who don’t want to lose, but he’s a teammate who doesn’t want to lose. He’s someone who takes a kid and works with that kid because he knows he can’t do everything. He worries about the little things. He worries about every kid in the program to make them better.