Practices began last week and Caldwell was all smiles afterwards. The coaching staff was probably smiling with what they saw of him in action. Caldwell has missed playing and being around his teammates.
"It was very exciting just to get out on the field and run around and feel like I am a part of this football team," he said. "I think I can play to my ability at this point. My speed is about where I was before the injury."
He spent six weeks on crutches and that kept him pretty immobile and made it hard to keep up with his friends and family. That was a big part of getting better and the people around him really helped pull him through.
"It was a great feeling being able to walk on my own get around the guys and hang with them all day," he said. "My family, teammates and friends helped me through everything. They are a big reason why I am out here today."
The injury sounded career ending. He snapped his femur when a helmet hit him head on from a kick return. He knew right away it was not a good thing.
"I know when I tried to get up, I knew it was broken," he said. "When the doctor came out there I told him I heard it crack, so I had a good feeling it was broken."
The time between football snaps has been a while, but Caldwell seems to have made somewhat of a miraculous recovery. He will be held out of contact for the rest of the spring, but he should be back at full speed in the fall. He looked extremely impressive this past week running through drills.
"I am probably about 90% right now. I don't have any pain, but they probably don't want to risk anything," he said about leaving the non-contact jersey on. "The doctors told me about a month after surgery everything went well and he told me I will be 100%."
He isn't looking back and worrying about the injury and what bumps and bruises may lie ahead.
"I am a football player," he said. "I have done that for all of my life. I am used to contact and whatever happens, it happens."
His familiarity with the system will increase his role and allow him to be utilized as a mismatch for defenses. Gator fans will see him line up in the slot and on the outside. On special teams he won't be returning kickoffs anymore, but the staff wants to use his speed and return skills.
"They will probably have me playing the X, H and Z position and rotating me around," he said. "I probably won't return kicks but will probably be a punt returner."
Bubba Caldwell looks great without contact right now. His familiarity with the system actually allows him to be a little quicker on the field. If the first three practices are any indication, Caldwell will be a huge target for Chris Leak and the Gator offense this 2006 season.
(Above photo by Glenn Danforth)