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September 19, 2013

Robert Caldwell making most of opportunity



Robert Caldwell never knew if he'd even get a chance to play at NC State.

Caldwell had a difficult junior year at NC State, and wasn't sure what would happen following the coaching change to Dave Doeren. Caldwell's academic clearance after transferring from College of the Desert in Palm Desert, Calif., was delayed when he first arrived at NC State in August. 2012. He was forced to show up late to fall camp and found himself buried on the depth chart.

Caldwell finished with five tackles and one caused fumble in 13 games played on special teams last year, but never got to log a snap at middle linebacker.

Caldwell delivered a jarring hit, which caused a fumble during the Kay Yow Spring Game on April 20, but sophomore M.J. Salahuddin seemed entrenched at middle linebacker. It looked bleak.

Some injuries struck this past August and Salahuddin ended up as a backup weakside linebacker, opening the door for Caldwell and fellow fifth-year senior middle linebacker Zach Gentry. The latter earned the start against Louisiana Tech, and Caldwell earned the nod against Richmond.

Caldwell tallied a team-high 13 tackles in his first career start for NC State in the 23-21 win over Richmond on Sept. 7. He had two more tackles than he achieved in his previous 14 games played at NCSU.

Getting the chance to play in a NC State uniform was an "amazing feeling."

"I can't really explain the feeling, but it's just something deep inside," Caldwell said. "It is a dream come true and I am looking forward to keep doing it."

The Louisiana Tech performance — six tackles in 28 plays — proved to be an emotional hurdle Caldwell was able to clear. He also was able to cause a fumble against the Bulldogs.

"I felt satisfied but also know I can make way more improvements throughout the rest of season," Caldwell said. "On that goal line play, I just came around on the backside and my helmet hit the ball, but that play is over with and it's time to move on."

Caldwell also was named a team captain for the Richmond game, and is ranked tied for fifth in the ACC with nine tackles per game heading into tonight's home game against No. 3-ranked Clemson.

"It was a great opportunity [vs. Richmond] and it felt good," Caldwell said. "I have to give it up to the D-Line for opening up the gaps. It kept me open.

"We can be real good if we all step up and do our job individually."

Caldwell said it felt great to be on the field for 53 snaps against the Spiders.

"It was a different feeling," Caldwell said. "I just have to get back on the grind.

"I have to be more disciplined with my eyes and read my keys. I need to translate what the coaches are teaching us, and I need to make plays."

NC State has had seniors step into into the middle several times over the last few years. Pat Lowery, James Martin II and Sterling Lucas both started at middle linebacker for the first time as seniors. Ray Michel had a two-year stint starting at middle linebacker following Martin, which then led to Nate Irving and Audie Cole taking over the position for their respective senior years when they made the move from outside linebacker.

The first order of business for Caldwell following his junior year was to get into prime shape. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, but said he's closer to 243 pounds and hopes to reach 240 by mid-season. He credits new strength and conditioning coach Jason Veltkamp for making him "light on his feet" this season.

I feel real good and this year is definitely a 180-degree turnaround from last year," Caldwell said. "I don't know exactly when, but I always try to keep my head up and push through fall camp. The opportunity came and I felt like I could make the most out of it.

"They [friends and family] are really excited for me. It's good to have support and a good base behind me. I just want to thank everyone that supported me."


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