"On the sideline you would see him make a play and be like, dang, I can do that, too," King said. "It was tough."
This fall, things are different. Although King has hardly seized control of the starting job, there's no longer an immovable impediment in front of him. Four other tailbacks have their sights set on the same prize, but for the first time in a long time, King is in control of his own destiny. It's a situation he's enjoying.
"It's like Caleb has kicked into another gear," tailback Carlton Thomas said. "He just seems like a different guy coming to work every day, and you can tell in his performance on the practice field."
King earned marginal playing time last but earned scorn from his coach for occasional lackluster efforts, particularly in pass blocking. He had a chance to nab the starting job for himself this spring when his top competition, Richard Samuel, underwent wrist surgery, but King failed to distinguish himself from the other tailbacks before spring practice ended. The critics wondered if King would ever live up to expectations.
Whether it was the criticism of his past or the opportunity for his future, King responded this summer. He hit the weight room with increased vigor and said he's in his best shape since getting to Georgia. Through a week of practice this fall, his coaches have seen a distinct difference.
"I see him hustling," Richt said. "I've not seen one loaf in that guy, and he's had good energy level at practice."
Whether King actually gets the starting job remains to be seen, as Richt insists it will remain an open competition for the foreseeable future. But whether or not King starts is a secondary issue, the tailback said. What's important is that he knows he's done the work he needed to earn it.
"It's very important to me," King said. "I worked hard, and I'm not going to say I deserve it, but I know I've earned it with what I put in this summer."