Over the last four years, two-sport standout and Clay senior Caleb Cline has embraced any role that has been expected of him — whether it’s been a role-playing guard on a regional final unit, a No. 1 golfing hand on a competitive conference and district-contending golf unit, or a leader for a younger unit that was expected to take its fair share of lumps as the year went on.
Through all of the varying roles and all of the struggles that come with the dedication and hard work that’s necessary to truly embrace those roles, Cline persevered.
And as a result, Cline has fulfilled a personal dream of his own.
The star golfing hand, who also proved to be an integral part of the Panthers’ basketball program throughout his four-year career, made his intention of playing golf at the next level official as the senior officially signed to play with the Kentucky Christian University golf program on Tuesday afternoon in a signing ceremony held at Clay High School.
For Cline, the decision, after weighing several options, was one that brought relief, and joy, to the senior’s mindset.
“It feels pretty great,” Cline said. “It was a struggle trying to figure out what path I wanted to go down and what I wanted to do, but after a lot of thoughts and prayers, this is what I want to do. This is for me. This is where I need to be.”
The positive attitude that Cline exudes, however, is a big reason why Kentucky Christian University men’s golf coach and Hidden Cove Golf Course Park Manager Steve Kennedy was attracted to what the senior could bring to the table for KCU.
“It means a lot,” Kennedy said. “Caleb’s a person who has a strong set of morals and Christian faith. With his personality and the athletic skills that he brings to the table, we just believe that he’ll be a good mesh for the players that are already in the golf program now. That’s what it’s all about. We’re trying to build a team of young men and women.”
Cline, who went wire-to-wire as the team’s consistent No. 1 scoring punch, also proved himself as arguably the best golfer in Scioto County as far as the Division III ranks were concerned in his final season of action. Overall, Cline shot an 86 at the Division III Sectional Golf Tournament, which was held at Shawnee State Golf Course on Wednesday in West Portsmouth, to advance to district play by claiming one of the five district-advancing individual slots.
“Caleb’s stepped a lot here in these last two or three weeks,” Clay head coach Kyle Keaton said following the sectional tournament. “His scores keep going down, and it’s been a good run for him overall. It’s great that he is getting to start his last year of high school competition on a high note. He’s good on the basketball court, too. I’ve watched him play while (the Clay basketball unit) made their run to the Elite Eight. He’s a good athlete all the way around.”
Cline, however, hasn’t just contained his natural talents to the course — he’s displayed them on the basketball court, as well.
The upperclassman contributed in a major way to the 2017 Division IV District Champions and Division IV Regional Finalists by sinking a pair of free throws with less than 40 seconds left to send Clay’s Division IV, Region 15 Semifinal bout with Grove City Christian to a second overtime, then knocking down the go-ahead basket with 42.4 remaining in that second overtime to give the Clay basketball program its biggest win in 48 years, and added 9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and two steals in 2018 to obtain Special Mention All-Southeast District, Second-Team District 14 Coaches Association, and First-Team All-SOC honors.
“It was a great experience for me,” Cline said of playing both sports. “I had a wonderful, wonderful career with Adam Betten and Kyle Keaton, and it was an honor to play for both of them.”
“With him splitting time between basketball and golf, it shows that he is focused and dedicated,” Kennedy said. “Now, with his focus solely being on golf, I believe that he’ll really, really improve at a fast pace.”
At Kentucky Christian, Cline will be sharing a similar experience with a fellow teammate of his. Caleb Castle, who graduated from Morehead (Ky.) Rowan County, also played basketball. Castle quit the sport to focus more heavily on the golfing aspect beginning with his junior year, which parlayed into an opportunity to play golf at Shawnee State, before making the move to KCU.
“I have one kid on my team who followed a similar path in Caleb Castle,” Kennedy said. “Caleb didn’t take up golf until his junior year, when he quit playing basketball, and now, he’s scored the lowest of any player that I’ve had in the last two tournaments that we’ve been in. I see a lot of similarities to Caleb in Caleb Cline, as well as a lot of potential that can be developed. I see a lot of similarities there. With us being a young team, he’s going to be one of seven men, so he’ll get an opportunity to play a lot right off of the bat, which will be good for him.”
The ever-growing Clay-to-KCU pipeline, however, certainly doesn’t hurt any.
In fact, Cline will be joining an ever-growing line of student-athletes who have chosen to attend the institution, including Katie Redding, Lexie Gilliland, and Cole Gilliland — the latter of whom Cline played with at KCU.
“It’s going to help me,” Cline said. “I believe that I’ll be able to make good choices and the right decisions inside and outside of the classroom that will help me later on in life with the student-to-teacher ratio being smaller. Plus, I’ll have a good leader with Cole (Gilliland) already there. He’ll help me make good decisions there, and just being part of a new family, with a similar atmosphere, is a great feeling.”
At Kentucky Christian, Cline also plans to major in education, with the hopes of becoming not only a schoolteacher, but a basketball coach in the future, so the senior can help kids recreate the special memories that he experienced at Clay himself.
“I feel like if I went down that field, it would help me out farther down the road,” Cline said. “I just want to better myself through the four years that I have had,” Cline said. “Last year’s basketball team and the memories that we shared were incredible,” Cline said. “You don’t get teams like that often, and I thought that it was a great, great team. I was so honored to be a part of that.”
And it’s an experience that has inspired Cline to do all that he can in order to ensure that his time at Kentucky Christian is a success.
“I just want to better myself, whether that’s academically or athletically,” Cline said. “As a person, I just want to be able to say that I have improved myself.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT