BROADWAY — Caleb Williams already has the itch.
He just doesn’t know when he’ll be able to scratch it.
“I don’t really know,” the Broadway senior said. “It could be [the first game] or [the last]. I put my trust in [my coaches and doctors] and in God to get me where I need to be.”
Williams, a two-sport standout for the Gobblers, suffered a partial ACL tear in his right knee during the second game of football season last year as a junior.
Despite missing the rest of the grid schedule, Williams returned to the basketball court in the winter, and was an All-Valley District and All-Region 3C selection on the hardwood.
He averaged 12.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
After basketball season was over, however, Williams opted to undergo surgery to repair the ACL tear and get back to full health with a return to football in the back of his mind.
“It was really devastating,” Williams said. “I have always wondered after watching the play over and over again if there was anything I could have done differently. It just happened to be a perfect play with a bad ending.
“My mindset now is to just give 110 percent to my teammates and coaches. They have done everything for me and they have been by my side through this journey.”
Before his injury, Williams spent the previous two seasons as a standout receiver for the Gobblers and appeared primed for a big year after racking up seven catches for 102 yards in the team’s season-opening loss to Western Albemarle.
But with two-year starting quarterback Nick Lohr now lost to graduation and backup signal-caller Bryce Suters, a James Madison baseball commit, choosing not to play this year, Williams approached first-year coach Danny Grogg with a different idea.
“Caleb, with his size and athletic ability, is a mismatch in my eyes, in high school football at any position,” Grogg said. “Caleb and I had a talk after his surgery and he expressed interest in the quarterback position. We are kind of taking it day by day at this point, but his progress is amazing and we are hoping to have him back soon. We will put him wherever it makes our team better.”
It’s a bold move for one of the area’s best athletes, but one that could pay off.
Grogg made it clear the job isn’t Williams’ yet — he’ll battle with several other players for the starting position throughout preseason camp — but his ability to throw on the move could provide a wrinkle to the Broadway offense that it hasn’t had in awhile.
“He has always been a good athlete and player, but over the last year, he has worked extremely hard to take his game to the next level,” Gobblers receiver Nate Tinnell said. “He’s done a really good job with progressing and maturing into a leader and an all-around player.
“He will have a tremendous impact because of how hard he works and he is hungry to be back on the field. That will drive him to prove to everyone that he is the same player he was before [the injury] and even a little better.”
Williams has made it clear that he has a desire to play college basketball at the next level and Grogg said his standout player considered not playing football after the injury.
If he has the year his coaches think he’s capable of though, Grogg said, Williams could have the option to play either sport after high school.
Either way, Grogg said he will remain Williams’ “biggest fan.”
“His best traits as a football player are his leadership, his commitment, loyalty to his school, his work ethic to be the best he can be and his trust in his coaches,” Grogg, who spent four years as an assistant at Broadway before being promoted this past February, said. “I couldn’t ask for a better young man to coach the past few years.”
The injury will certainly be a mental hurdle, as it is for all athletes that suffer torn ACLs.
With the work he’s put in this summer, his teammates remain confident he’ll return as one of Broadway’s best players and one of the top performers in the Valley District.
“He is a huge piece to our success,” Tinnell said. “He is a great leader with his actions and he’s also not afraid to speak up and be that vocal leader at times, too. He is a special kid and I’m very glad I’ve been apart of this journey with him. He makes me and everyone around him work a lot harder than we ever thought we could.”
The toughest part of going through rehab this summer, Williams said, was watching his teammates go through workouts and practice sessions and not being able to participate.
That type of dedication to the weight room and the practice field is what separates the Broadway senior from his peers, Tinnell said, and why he’ll make a difference at whatever position he ends up at this season.
“My biggest strengths are being a leader and getting the most out of my teammates and coaches,” Williams said. “I push them to limits they never thought they could go.”
Winning the starting quarterback battle is certainly a goal for Williams, but he said his primary focus is on returning to the field and bringing home a district championship.
He has spent time with Lohr this summer working on his throwing mechanics and learning more about how to be successful at the quarterback position and acknowledged when he finally steps under the lights this season, it will be an emotional moment.
“It’s going to hit me hard,” Williams said. “I will have to take some time and thank God. I know my coaches and teammates will welcome me back with open arms.”
Grogg made it clear that the team is anxious to get Williams back.
He said his standout senior has had to “trust the process” this past year and whenever he returns to the field, he’s the type of talent that will have an immediate impact.
Whether that’s in the first game or the last, at quarterback or receiver, Grogg said he’ll be happiest when his standout senior captain can finally scratch that itch.
“Caleb is a very special kid,” Grogg said. “I love that kid to death. I just want him to be successful.”