Big. Strong. Dependable. Hardworking.
Smart. Confident. A leader.
Those are the traits that really stick out to one’s mind when discussing 6-1, 320-pound West offensive tackle Caleb Deaver, a young man who’s heart is as limitless as his overall potential from an academic and athletic standpoint.
So it’s no surprise that the well-spoken and confident senior from the West Side would get snatched up in a hurry by a strong football program. For Deaver, Division III Wilmington College was that fit as the young man, who helped West obtain 3,631 yards of total offense, became the second offensive lineman for West to make his college destination official as the Senators’ bookend tackle inked with the Quakers last Friday at West High School in West Portsmouth.
For Ben Johnson, the accomplishment, much like Jacob Hall’s the week prior, is one that came through sheer hard work and determination.
“It’s a testament to how good our offensive line was this year with our second starter signing from that line,” Johnson said. “Caleb is an outstanding young man that was a hard worker right from the start. He battled back from an injury that he had his freshman year, and used that injury to motivate him as he continued to get better. He always had that God-given size, but didn’t let it go to waste. He worked hard, really got a lot better with his athleticism throughout his career, and had a great senior.”
And just like Hall, Deaver never wavered on his ultimate goal.
“It feels amazing,” Deaver said. “It’s something that I’ve worked to obtain since I was a little kid, because I always dreamed about playing football at the collegiate level. It feels good to be here, and not only here in the sense of obtaining a college scholarship, but also in the sense of the accolades that I have received, such as the All-State, All-District, and All-SOC honors. As long as you work hard, it feels like it’s going to happen.”
Over the course of his senior season, West — who averaged 302.6 yards per contest on the offensive side of the football in 2017, proved to be critical behind the play of Deaver, who used his nimble feet and excellent leverage to clear up running room for Josh Berry, Dylan Bradford, and Garrett Hurd.
The trio ultimately combined to run for 1,903 of the 2,261 yards that the Senators obtained on the ground in 2017, with Bradford adding 1,341 of the remaining 1,370 yards through the air on a 56 percent completion mark, as the Senators put together an impressive 38 offensive touchdowns on the scoreboard during the year — including 26 on the ground behind a strong 4.9 yards-per-carry mark as a team. In all of those areas, Deaver’s ability to set the edge proved to be a huge reason why the trio all ultimately obtained All-District honors — and why Deaver, who joined the trio on the All-Southeast District list — made the All-State Honorable Mention list in Division V.
“It’s priceless,” Johnson said. “You can’t put a price tag on it when a guy pass protects, run blocks, moves so well, and is physical in doing all of those things. He’s just the total package.”
“I’m going to miss playing on the line here at West,” Deaver said. “It was an awesome experience. When you’re making adjustments mid-game or making decisions off of the collar, there’s nothing like it. It was just an awesome feeling.”
The edge, however — that edge being of the hardworking department — was set with the leadership that guys like Deaver, Hall, Kane Lewis, and Cody Staggs set as senior leaders of the unit.
“Caleb hardly ever missed workout and weightlifting sessions,” Johnson said. “He was a guy that was always there, staying late and doing extra, whether it was in the weight room, out on the track, or out on the field. He was always looking for opportunities in order to get better.”
Deaver’s drive to succeed, however, comes from the disappointments that his fellow seniors shared. After watching the 2014 Senators go 7-4 with a playoff berth as freshmen, the next two seasons weren’t as profitable as West won seven games combined over the following two seasons. Injuries and setbacks, which forced the Senators to settle for 4-6 and 3-7 campaigns in 2015 and 2016, motivated the 2018 senior class to amp up the energy level several notches.
Fueled by the higher level of urgency, along with experiences in close games — West played within seven points or less of its opponents in nine of its 20 games between 2015 and 2016, and went 4-3 in those affairs — the Senators showed a level of poise that was impressive to watch from any team regardless of level. West went 4-0 in games decided by a single-digit margin (20-18, Fairland; 27-21, Raceland; 31-27, Waverly; and 10-7, Martins Ferry) and came back from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit against Portsmouth to win going away in what was arguably a season-defining victory.
“Most of our wins, before, came in the latter portion of the fourth quarter,” Deaver said. “We knew how to get it done in the clutch. We weren’t nervous. We were laid back and we had fun in the huddle, but when we got up to the line, we went at it.”
The above wins, which allowed West to go 10-2 in 2017 and allow the senior class to finish as only the fourth ever to record at least one playoff win in school history, is one that Deaver credits to chemistry, rhythm, and sheer determination from his teammates in an effort to redeem themselves from falling short of their own goals the prior two seasons.
“It’s indescribable,” Deaver said. “It’s something that you really don’t notice is happening until you look back through it, so once it is over, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ You’re in the grind so much. Last year, we were just grinding so much that you really don’t have time to look back. When you have games like Portsmouth and Raceland, where we were just grinding it out with QB sneaks, sneaks up the four-hole, sneaks up the six-hole, you don’t really have time to think. You just have to go to the next play, the next practice or workout, and the next game.”
At Wilmington, Deaver is expected to be a big help for the Quakers, who improved to a 2-8 mark in the gauntlet that is the Ohio Athletic Conference. That mark could be in for another bump in future seasons thanks to Deaver’s ability to play all five positions on the offensive line — a quality that the NCAA Division III program thinks very highly of.
“Wilmington liked his God-given gifts, his size, and his strength,” Johnson said. “His ability to be versatile, as far as pass protection and run blocking goes, was huge.”
“They told me, ‘We can play you wherever we want you to because you can play wherever we need you,’” Deaver said. “I can play anywhere they need me to play on the line, but I’ll probably play at tackle.”
With his high school career at its end, Deaver may be saying goodbye to a journey that he’s gotten to know for the last decade — and that’s hard for any athlete. However, Deaver is also getting to revel in a new journey — one that will allow the senior graduate to be to experience his future — with the people that love and care for him.
“It’s definitely a big moment, and it means the world to me that everyone is here,” Deaver said. “All my family and my friends are here. The support that I have had from them, my coaches, and my Lord and Savior means the world to me.”
And if it’s anything like his tenure at West was, it’s clear that Deaver is going to leave a big impact on his future coaches and teammates for years to come.
“Caleb’s going to be hard to replace,” Johnson said. “He was another guy that got a lot of playing time as a sophomore, so to have three years of experience at that position was huge for us. I don’t know if you can really replace that, but we’ve got to try to rebuild. One thing he did really well was setting a good example for the younger guys that were coming up, and I’m sure that Caleb’s a guy that I can use as an example when I’m coaching those younger guys to say, ‘Remember how he did it? That’s the way that we want to go about doing this.’”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT