RECRUITING: Spotlight on Caleb Sturgis

St. Augustine kicker Caleb Sturgis was warming up before the Yellow Jackets' dominating 31-15 Class 3A state championship victory over Sarasota Booker last December. In a live drill, assistant coach Dan Mowrey took the snap from a fellow assistant coach and watched his star pupil punch the ball 63 yards through the thick, south Florida air perfectly between the Dolphins Stadium uprights.

(Caleb Sturgis profile)

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Moments earlier, Sturgis further displayed his leg strength when he hit the middle of the net while warming up for kickoffs. As Mowrey made his way to the sidelines, he was asked by several people where Sturgis would be playing football next year- he answered St. Augustine High. He was asked where Sturgis be playing the following year and again he simply answered- St. Augustine High.

Yes, then sophomore Caleb Sturgis put on quite a display in Miami- just as he had the entire season. He has as strong a leg as any kicker in country and he'll only be a junior.

"I don't know how to explain it," Mowrey, the former Florida State kicker, said of Sturgis' leg strength. "I know that's sounds funny, but it's true. It's almost like a golf swing, where there are times when you just take a nice easy swing and you hit it as far as you've ever hit it. He kind of has that same motion and that same ability. He just makes good contact with the ball and it seems as though he does it all of the time. The crazy thing about it is that he's really only been kicking the football for a year and a half."

Sturgis grew up playing soccer and obviously has plenty of God given talent. He made his way to the practice field a little more than one year ago striking a deal with St. Augustine head coach Joey Wiles that soccer would come first.

"He has had to make that choice," said Karen Sturgis, Caleb's mother. "He wanted to try kicking and he asked the coach if he could try out with the understanding that soccer would be his primary sport, because club soccer goes on at the same time as the football season. Things worked out where he did make the varsity team and was named the number one kicker. It got really complicated because his soccer team was going out of town on tournaments, and of course, he had an obligation to the football team."

A funny thing happened as the Jackets ran through The Sunshine State with an unblemished 15-0 record to their first ever state championship.

"At the beginning of the school year I really liked soccer but, as the (football) season went on I really grew to like football," Sturgis said with a smile. "I like the crowds and the atmosphere. Playing on a winning team certainly helped. It was nice having people come up after the game and say, nice game. The game really made me start enjoying the sport a lot. I think that it's something that I can go farther with in the future."

The present hasn't been too bad. A few weeks ago, Sturgis hit a 53 yard field goal in the Yellow Jackets spring game against Flagler Palm Coast. He hit four of seven field goals this past season, including field goals from 28, 29, 34, and 49. He hit the 49 yard field goal into the wind against Booker the state championship game. I covered the game and then noted that the field goal would have been good from 55 yards. Sturgis missed on field goal attempts of 43, 53, and 61 yards. Yes, sixty-one yards.

"He was probably two or three yards short (on the sixty-three yard attempt against Atlantic) and he probably should have made it," Mowrey stated. "Let me explain why. There was a pretty good little wind behind him and I think that the inexperience of not kicking for very long- he didn't realize that if he got a good foot on it and got the ball up in the air that it would go. He tried to deflate it when he hit it and it was a low line drive and even on his own leg strength, it nearly made it. It just didn't get up high enough into the wind. I don't think that he realized then- he does now- that he just tried a sixty-one yard field goal. That's unheard of."

Sturgis' potential has forced Mowrey into a reversal of sorts.

"I was going to walk away from coaching," Mowrey said. "My wife and I laugh about it all of the time. I have three children and Friday nights are lonely for my wife, because she has them all by herself. So, I was going to stay home. I saw Caleb kick one time and I came home and said to her- "You've lost me for three more years."

She said, "He'd better be good."

Sturgis didn't get many attempts in Wiles' high powered Yellow Jackets offense, which averaged nearly 34 points per game through the entire season. The Jackets also depended on the punting prowess of Florida signee Jacques Rickerson during those times when they found themselves needing to pin the opponent deep

St. Augustine once again returns an abundance of offensive firepower in Quinterrance Cooper, Raishawn Wilson, Kevis Streeter and company. However, the loss of Rickerson (punting) coupled with the evident leg strength of Sturgis' must certainly provide Coach Wiles' with confidence. Furthermore, the familiarity with the snapper and holder should be beneficial to the kicking team. It should result in more action for Sturgis.

Leg strength is only one piece of the puzzle. Kickers have to be consistent. Sturgis admitted that it took some time to adjust working with the snapper and holder.

"On kickoffs, he consistently can kick the ball five yards deep every time- if he concentrates," Mowrey said. "If he takes his time and does what he's supposed to do, he hits it a minimum of five yards deep. I've seen him many times kick the ball fifteen, twenty yards in the air through the back of the endzone. On field goals, he is consistent within forty yards. He's not allowed to miss under forty, with the wind, against the wind, sidewind, it doesn't matter. If it's under forty and he misses it- he has to run on Monday."

Sturgis said that he won't attend any camps this summer other than the National Kicking Camp in Stetson, which will further help with his consistency, technique, mechanics, etc. He maintains a weighted 3.9 GPA and is currently considering majoring in business or sports management in college. His oldest sister recently graduated from William & Mary.

"I started playing soccer when I was six and played here in St. Augustine until I was about nine (years old) and then went up to Jacksonville," Sturgis said. "I've been playing up there for the last six years with competitive leagues, because the competition is better. I'm playing for Julington Creek right now. It's a pool from basically all around St. John's County. Everybody has pretty much overlooked us so far."

Julington Creek has made it to the Final Four of the State Cup. This weekend in Palm Bay, Sturgis and his JC teammates will take on the Clearwater Chargers in the state semi-finals. They are only the second north Florida boys' squad to ever make it to the Final Four.

"I play forward," he said. "I played for St. Augustine High too. We weren't that good a year ago, but this year we made it to the round of eight. Last year, (as a freshman) I earned the Top Jacket Award and was named third team all-state. This year I didn't get to play the whole season because of football. I made all-county both years' though."

I had to specifically ask if he had received any awards or recognition before he made the previous statement. Sturgis is a quiet, humble young man, who Wiles' told the family appreciates his character and the fact that he is very coachable.

He is the fourth of Smiley and Karen Sturgis' children. Smiley is a minister, while Karen worked to homeschool their six children. Caleb was home schooled until the 9th grade. He seemingly arrived at his competitive spirit against his brothers (3) and sisters (2).

"My husband (Smiley) grew up in a home where the family was very active," Karen Sturgis said. "He played on the tennis teams' and was active in other sports- so that's been passed along and our kids have always been active. We have six other children, four boys, so he (Caleb) really had no choice." she said laughing.

Caleb began kicking on his own.

"We have a soccer net in the front yard at our house and when Caleb was ten or eleven he had gotten a kicking tee from somewhere and he would go out in the yard and began kicking the football over the soccer goal," his mother said. "He seemed to be pretty good at it too."

Sturgis has received little attention to date. He did recently receive a letter of inquiry from LSU. However, letters and scholarship offers should begin to fill the mailbox before long though.

The family wouldn't mind seeing a Gainesville postmark on those letters either.

"I went to school at Florida," Karen Sturgis proudly said. "My husband went to Flagler College here in St. Augustine and since they obviously don't have a football team, he adopted the Gators. There is no mixed marriage in our house. Our family is very much into sports and football is the premier sport, so we watch the Gators all of the time."

"Florida has always been my favorite," Caleb Sturgis said. "The Gators have always been a school that I've watched. They always score a lot of points and that makes them exciting to watch anyway. My Mom went to school there, so that's just another reason to like them. I haven't gotten anything from them. I've never been to a college game, but we watch a lot on television. Soccer has been every weekend, pretty much all of my life, so there hasn't really been much time to go to games. I'd really rather play in warm weather. It's so much easier to get loose and kick. My brother went to Clemson. I really liked the campus over there."

Mowrey added that he possesses yet another crucial third element which makes Sturgis an outstanding prospect- desire.

"Caleb wants to be the best," Mowrey added. "He's got that God given ability and unlike a lot of people who have the potential, but don't work at it hard enough- he does. He's a rare breed that has the ability and the drive and the want to really go as far as he wants to. He's so competitive that he doesn't allow himself to think that he could ever miss. He's like a star player at the end of a basketball game- he wants the ball in his hands."

"Some people have it and some people don't," Mowrey finished. "Well, Caleb Sturgis has it."

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