From High School Teammates to College Foes

In 2001, Kyle Caldwell and Loren Howard were arguably the best high school defensive end tandem in Arizona. As faith would have it, the former Saguaro teammates went their separate ways in college. This year, ASU's Caldwell and Northwestern's Howard will face each other for the first time ever. In this exclusive DevilsDigest interview, the two reminisce about their high school years, and talk about the upcoming September match-up.

The two said that they knew each other since middle school, but their friendship really formed when they were members of the varsity team. Both took very different paths, as Loren didn't start playing football until his sophomore year, while Kyle who has been playing for several years, joined the varsity team as a sophomore. "We were both defensive ends from day one," said Howard. "But I played a lot at tackle in my senior year." Caldwell added: "I played some fullback and tight end. Wherever they could they tried to put us out there."

Their friendship naturally blossomed when they two became teammates. "We would go over to Kyle's dad (former Sun Devil great Bryan Caldwell) and watch game tape," stated Howard. "We were both the last ones to leave the weight room. We had the determination early on. Coach Goldstein used to always get on us to leave already (smile). But that's when the bond really formed – we were just always together."

Caldwell may be the younger one out of the two (by one year), but Howard admitted that it was he that was taken under Kyle's wing and not the other way around. "He's been playing football since he was nine years old, and for me this was all new. I was just taking it all in. But everything has leveled out, we teach each other all the tricks on the defensive line."

The two defensive linemen mention their time with Coach Goldstein (now the coach at North high school) and shutting out rival Chaparral as their fondest memories from their prep days. On the other hand, both agreed that losing to Tucson Sunnyside in the 2001 state semi-finals still sticks in their craw. "It makes it a little worse because they're from Tucson," commented Caldwell. "It's bragging rights in the state." "It's a team we should have dominated" Howard added:"They out coached us. They had a lot of tricks up their sleeve."

Regardless of that loss, Howard received over 40 Division I scholarship offers and was a SuperPrep All-American among his several local and national accolades. Sun Devil fans were yearning for him to play for the hometown college. Nevertheless, the Caldwell family was probably one of the only neutral parties at home when it came to his recruitment.

"I don't think Kyle knew back then that he was coming to ASU." Howard recalled. "None of us knew where we were going. I was a year older too, so the recruiting process was a little different for me than Kyle…I didn't listen to all that pressure. I'm my own person and I do my own thing. Bryan (Caldwell) was really cool. He never pressured me to come to ASU. He always told me to take all my visits, and talked straight to me." Caldwell, a SuperPrep All-American himself, nodded in agreement: "Same here. He gave me a little maroon and gold influence (smile), but he never pressured me."

Howard laughs when it was suggested that the fact older brother Phil was playing for the Sun Devils was a ploy to land his own services. Nevertheless, he did admit that he came "very close" committing to ASU. "It was a hard decision, but I'm happy at where I'm at." The maroon and gold faithful weren't the only ones envisioning the two former Sabercats as bookends on ASU's defensive line. "I was bummed about Loren not going to ASU," Caldwell remarked. "We always joked around saying that we were gonna tear it up on the D-line in college. Him going to Northwestern didn't factor in my decision. It didn't make me want to stay home and go to ASU. I was actually in a mindset that I was gonna go away from home too for college."

After signing with the Wildcats, Howard learned that he would be facing his hometown school. Nonetheless, he said it was hard to get excited about a game, which back then was in the distant future. "I was thinking, man it's two years away that's such a long time," he said. "It was hard to get pumped up then, because they were so many other teams you had to get ready for. But now, I'm pretty stoked. This year we open on national television on ESPN against TCU, and we play ASU right after that. After our Big Ten schedule we end the season at Hawaii." When Caldwell heard that, he smiled and said: "I think he'll have more fun at the end of the season in Hawaii than me ending the season in Tucson."

Last season, Caldwell went through the normal trials and tribulations that a freshman endures. The junior to-be Howard can empathize. "You're just learning everything your freshman year," he said. "Sophomore year is when everything slows down, and you have a breakout year." Howard is a prefect example for that theory as he notched eight sacks his sophomore year, after having going sackless in 2002. He does however cite other reasons. "My freshman year we had the worst run defense in the country," he explained. "It was tough getting sacks when teams are running 400 yards on you. When they did pass, it was a quick three-step play action. Good luck getting a sack on that one (smile)." Howard added that he does expect Northwestern's defensive line to build on last year and continue to be well balanced against the run and pass.

ASU's defensive line was a constant source of criticism last year. Caldwell believes that better days are ahead for his unit. "Some of the JC transfers are gonna come in the rotation and help us with the depth," he said. "We return three starters, and on the line we'll have three seniors and a sophomore. The leadership and the skill level will definitely be there. If one of those guys goes down, how well the backup will play will be the key. If that gets messes up that will be our weakest link. We had our high points and low points in the spring, but I think we definitely progressed a lot from last season."

"In our last season," Caldwell continued. "There was a lot of not being in the right place at the right time, and also lack of leadership. It wasn't like the year before when we had Terrell Suggs and Mason Unck. This spring our leadership is starting to revert to the way it was the year before."

Just like Howard's conjecture, Caldwell expects a more productive season in his sophomore year. "In spring ball, the whole game changed. It was played in a totally different speed." Howard interjects: "Sometimes it's more mental than anything else. You're running the same speed, but now you're going against older guys. When you're a freshman, you line up against the starters and you think they're the biggest studs, and you forget how to line up and stuff. But after the first few days, you get used to it, and you start balling."

Through out their conversations, both got to learn quite a bit about the other's college. What they found out was mostly in line with the general public perception. "One of the best attributes of ASU is its social life," commented Howard. "But if you're not a big social life guy, in a sense it goes to waste. The girls at ASU are hot. The girls at Northwestern aren't. But you really can't compare the two academically. Northwestern is solid."

Speaking of academics, Howard is quick to dispel some of the myths Northwestern may have. "It's harder to get accepted, than just taking the classes," he said. "You just go to the classes that suit you. My major is communications, and it's probably one of the easier ones. But they don't have basket-weaving majors like Ohio State does. We (athletes) do have lower admissions. We need a 3.0 and a 1000 on our SAT to get in. Regular students need a 4.0, 1500, community service, and all kinds of stuff. So we're the stupidest people on campus (smile)."

When giving his own description of Northwestern Caldwell quipped: "It's cold, old, and has ugly girls (laughing). Seriously, I heard Evanston is beautiful and a great place to go to school. They have a private beach on the lake where they hang out…obviously going there is about academics and that's what Loren wanted to do. From a football aspect, they had their high points and low points, but they're ready to hit their peak. I watched them a few times because of Loren. I can see that they're on the same track as ASU football wise. It's like we're a year behind them. Two years ago they had a real bad season (won only four games), and last year we had a bad one."

Howard mentioned that during the recruiting process he didn't have an underlying desire to get away from home ("It was pretty spontaneous"). He did however have a rough acclimation during his first year in Evanston. "I was pretty home sick in the beginning," he recalled. "You leave everything you know back home, and you go to camp. Camp just sucks, you don't know anyone there, and you're nervous in practice trying to get everything right…the worst part was after camp. We're on the quarter program, and school doesn't start until September 26th. So you come back from camp, and there are no students around, all you have is football. But once you play a couple of games, and students start coming back, you settle in."

The adjustment has definitely been a successful one. In 2003, Howard recorded 68 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and eight sacks, and was named to the 2004 Ted Hendricks Award pre-season watch list (the inaugural award was given to 2003 NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year Terrell Suggs). "I had a good season last year," stated Howard. "And I just want to build on that. This year I want to get 15 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. It's gonna be tough, but I don't look at it as pressure. Saturdays are my sanctuary – it's the one day of the week where you come out and crush skulls and don't worry about anything else."

At this point of his career, Caldwell is hoping that the lessons learned in his first year will pay dividends this upcoming season. "My freshman year was an extreme learning experience," he said. "But the jump for me from high school to college was obviously easier than Loren's. I had so many resources in my family and friends. It has helped me be myself and adapt even quicker. I can't imagine being out of the state and far from everyone. I'm happy I stayed here because it really helped me in so many different ways."

Caldwell admitted that having an injury so early in his ASU career did contribute to a tougher adjustment on the field. "It's even harder for a freshman to start the year injured and miss a lot of camp," he explained. "I only had three weeks of practice before my first game. In my first game against Utah State I was looking at the card on my wristband a lot to figure out what play we're running. But as the season went on I felt I was getting better, and I could see a complete 180-degree turn in the very last few games of the season. The freshman year is the learning year; this year has to be the breakout year."

As they endure the dog days of summer preparing for the season, they cannot help but think about the September 11th game. "It will be a fun game for me, said Howard. "I know a lot of guys on ASU's team, and I have tons of people that are gonna fly down from here to watch the game…Man, if Kyle was an offensive tackle, it would be nuts just talking trash out there. But it's a rivalry. It's still my team against his."

Caldwell said that he gets "jacked up" when he watches Howard make a big play on TV. "But it's gonna be a little different this year," he explained. "When he's going after Andrew Walter, I don't think I'll be too excited then (smile)…" Caldwell added that he doesn't think that he'll be called upon to give Howard's secrets away as the Sun Devils scout the Wildcats. "We'll have enough tape on him to know what to do."

A win for both players, means a whole lot more than just bragging rights. An early season victory can lead to bigger and better things later in the 2004 campaign. "I'd be pissed if Kyle won," exclaimed Howard. "This is the year for Northwestern. We're stacked with talent, and have a lot of guys coming back. If the Rose Bowl doesn't happen for us this year, I don't know when it will happen for us."

Caldwell added his perspective: "You always want to do well against your buddy. But I don't want to win this game just so I won't have to listen to crap from him the whole year. I f we lose this game, it goes in the loss column. You only have 11 chances to prove yourself during the season…"

There wasn't much bravado exchanged when these two players sat down at the same table. The closest thing to a smack exchange went something like this:

"You're gonna get double-teamed so much this year, it will suck." Said Caldwell.

"I'm gonna play the weak side, so it will be hard to double team me." Answered Howard.

There was however one wish that both players have for themselves and each other - that the September game between both teams, isn't the last meeting in the 2004 season.

"It would be awesome to meet again in the Rose Bowl," Caldwell Stated.

"That would the best season ever." Agreed Howard.

Who said a Sun Devil and a Wildcat can't agree on anything…?

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