Caleb Wilson walking the walk

Caleb Wilson made the transition from playing quarterback all of his life to playing tight end the second half of his senior year. Having moved from state to state as the son of a football coach, this is one move that could pay off beyond football.

Gardena (Calif.) Serra tight end Caleb Wilson started the season by playing quarterback for the Cavaliers, but as the year drew to a close, his change in position also led to a change in commitment.

Monday, Wilson committed to the University of Southern California while de-committing from Old Dominion. At face value, that decision appears a logical, if not obvious move to most college football fans.

However, behind the verbal commitment came a lot of thought and mixed emotions.

“Old Dominion is a great school that gave me a great opportunity,” said Wilson. “I can’t thank them enough for sticking with me and believing that I could play for them as a quarterback.

“They came out to my games and I was the only quarterback they offered in the 2015 class. They showed a lot of interest and a lot of support before they even offered me mid-season. I’ve always wanted to play quarterback, and at that point in the season, I was a quarterback.

“I felt like Old Dominion was a good fit for me. Then I started playing tight end later in the season and ended up being selected to play in the B2G West Coast Bowl as a tight end. I received some top performer attention in the practices and started getting noticed more by Coach (Steve) Sarkisian and USC.

“They felt like I could play at USC, and obviously with my dad coaching there and a lot of my Serra guys going there, it was an option I started to consider. It was nothing Old Dominion did. They were always honest with me and did a great job recruiting me. I just started to see I could play at that level of USC.”

Wilson’s transition from playing quarterback for Serra to playing tight end was an advantageous one. With injuries along the offensive line and junior quarterback Khalil Tate displaying the ability to extend plays without much pass protection, Wilson saw a chance to contribute at another position.

“It was kind of like a Chris Leak, Tim Tebow type thing with Florida,” said Wilson. “I’d start out a series, and when we got into the red zone, he’d come in. Tate is a freakish athlete with his speed, and when we had a few linemen go down, coach felt things just worked better with him in there.

“Coach (Scott) Altenberg asked me what I wanted to do, and I just wanted to be on the field and help my team. So I started working at the Y position, which was the tight end playing in the slot. My first game getting work there was against Bishop Amat, but my first full game was against Crespi. By the end of the season I ended up excelling at that position.”

While Wilson showed he could play tight end at an all-star level during the West Coast Bowl, his coming out party really came against Corona Centennial in the first round of CIF Southern Section playoffs.

“I ended up catching like eight passes for a 160 yards and two touchdowns in that game,” said Wilson. “Their safety was going to Oregon and they had some other D-I guys on that team. That’s when I got it in my head that I can play tight end at the D-I level.

“Then during the first B2G West Coast Bowl practice, I had three straight one-on-ones against the cornerback going to UCF, Malik Lawal, who is committed to Arizona State and then my best friend, John Houston.

“That’s when it really hit, ‘I can play with these guys.’ Going against top guys and making plays raised my confidence. Especially against a guy like John that’s really strong and fast. That was when it all clicked.”

The assumption is that Wilson’s dad, Chris, who coaches defensive line at USC, recruited him to be a Trojan. In reality, Chris simply let his son know he could compete at USC.

“My dad was happy with my decision regardless,” said Wilson. “What he told me was, ‘Caleb, if you weren’t good enough to play at USC, I’d tell you.’ So that gave me some confidence too.

“Then I’d go up to the school and Coach Tee Martin would tell me I should play there and Coach Sark started talking with me too. It was really a team effort by the staff.”

And while Wilson felt wanted by USC, he does not come in as a scholarship player. Wilson will arrive on campus as a preferred walk-on.

Walking on at USC meant walking away from a scholarship offer from Old Dominion.

“I had to remove my pride from it,” said Wilson. “After I got past that, it made sense to commit to USC. My dad asked me, ‘If you had a full scholarship from USC, where would you go?’

“I told him I’d go to USC. He looked at me and asked, ‘So what’s the difference?’ With him being a coach there, we don’t have to pay for tuition. USC does that for all of their employees. When he said that it kind of clicked.

“For me, there really is no difference. And if they didn’t think I could play there, they wouldn’t ask me to walk on. I’m past that and really just looking forward to going there and competing.”

But Wilson isn’t just walking on to compete as a football player. Much of his decision to commit Monday had to do with what USC had to offer him as a student.

“The degree at USC just holds so much power,” said Wilson. “My dad has always said that you should pick a school where you would be happy without football.

“I feel like I can be happy at USC regardless. But at the same time, I want to be a part of something special. When I watched the national championship this year, I felt like USC could be in that game next year. I want to be a part of that and USC has enough talent to do it.

“Plus, walking out of that tunnel with my dad would be a dream come true. And I know I can compete if I work hard and set my mind to it. I’m just excited about the whole thing.”

At 6-foot-5, Wilson certainly has the frame to play tight end at the D-I level. However, at 218-pounds, we will have to get bigger and stronger to reach his full potential.

“I’ve lost a little weight playing basketball, but with the system USC runs, you don’t have to be 260-pounds,” said Wilson. “They told me if I can come in a 235-pounds, 240-pounds, I’d be good.

“That’s 20-pounds over the next three months and I feel I can do that. I think I can be around 235 and still be able to run by people if I have to. USC likes to stretch the field with its tight ends, so I have to get bigger but maintain my speed.”


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