Opposing players hate lining up across from Caleb Driskill. One by one, the state’s top offensive players have been left splayed on the turf at the hands of Thunder Basin’s tough-as-nails linebacker.
The senior who grew up in Gillette offers a menacing figure even before the ball is snapped. His powerful 215-pound frame fils the A-gap like a freight train in a one-track tunnel. It tests the nerve of any offensive line.
But that’s nothing compared to the havoc Driskill wreaks once play starts. Always head up, alert and at full speed, Driskill doesn’t care who has the ball. He just wants to be the one who tackles him.
In the second game of the season, Driskill got well acquainted with Cheyenne South quarterback Braeden Hughes. The Bison 5-foot-6 quarterback and the triple-option offense continually ran straight into a brick wall.
Once, when Hughes was particularly vulnerable in the process of throwing, Driskill put his right shoulder pad squarely in the middle of his chest. Hands jumped to mouths in the crowd, as the Cheyenne quarterback was lifted off the ground for a brief moment, before he was driven straight into the turf.
“I get excited. I know when it’s coming,” Driskill said.
Those type of plays provide instant energy inside the TBHS stadium. Driskill gets to his feet with both arms down to his side, flexing towards his oncoming teammates.
Nearly every one of them greets Driskill with a helmet bump or a hard-slapping high five, while everybody on the Bolts sideline starts to bounce around with newfound energy.
“After it happens, I’m even more excited, not because I just hit a guy really hard or whatever, but because I know it’s going to get my team going,” Driskill said. “You can definitely feel it. … It just brings you up as a defense and gives you confidence for the rest of the game.”
Driskill’s celebrating is subdued. It rarely crosses into the lines of trash talk because his play in itself says enough.
“If I just play football, they’re going to know I’m there. I don’t want to run my mouth all game long. I just want to play football, be a good sport and just be me,” he said.
Off the field, Driskill is a joker, a talker and one of those kids who everyone wants to run into in the halls. He doesn’t have any problems getting his schoolwork done, but admits to being scolded in class every once in awhile for talking too much.
He doesn’t like to talk about himself much when it comes to football, although he is often asked to. He understands more than most just how important the 10 guys around him are.
“It’s such a team game. Ten guys can do really great on a play, but if the 11th doesn’t, you could give up a 60-yard touchdown or something like that,” he said.
Driskill is surrounded by a slew of all-state defensive players, but he sticks out like that over-aged kid in an AAU basketball game. He sometimes makes three tackles on a drive to force the three and out.
That wasn’t always the case.
Journey back to football
A year ago, Driskill was with his teammates at the state semifinal game, but on the sideline, his arm in a sling. Four weeks earlier, Driskill suffered the third broken collarbone of his career while playing slot receiver.
He was hit hard running across the middle for a pass and all the defender’s weight came down right on Driskill’s shoulder. As soon as the two players hit the ground, Driskill knew immediately that he had done it again.
“Before our trainer even looked at me, I knew my season was done,” he said.
The Bolts later lost to Sheridan 14-7 in the semifinal, marking the end to a bitterly disappointing season for Driskill. He couldn’t help but think he’d let his teammates down.
“I just felt like I could’ve helped my team out in that game,” Driskill said.
From that disappointment arose a burning motivation that turned him into the player he is today.
Seven weeks out of surgery, Driskill was cleared by a doctor. The next day, he walked into the weight room with a new purpose: to become a college football player.
During the first few weeks after the injury, Driskill didn’t know if he would play football his senior year. Ultimately, he decided he would do everything in his power to prevent another injury.
So the process began. He only weighed 185 pounds at the time, but that quickly changed.
Every night Driskill was doing pushups in his bedroom. Almost every weekday, he sought out the weight room to lift. He started to put on muscle, slowly at first, but then more quickly once he got back in the groove.
“The hardest part was the was the first couple weeks. Once you start seeing the gains, it gets easier,” Driskill said. “You want to go the gym, because you know you’re getting better.”
He started out doing 50 pushups every night. Then that turned to 100 per night or four sets of as many as possible after his actual workout. By the end of the offseason, he reckoned he was loyal to that plan 95% of the time.
Even in the midst of baseball season, Driskill and senior teammate Tanner Richards were still speed training and doing pushups in motel rooms during trips. In the little time he had left over, Driskill worked with former college coach Tanner Tetralt on his linebacking footwork.
Driskill’s father, Jerrod, was there every step of the way. As soon as Driskill decided he wanted to play college football, the two of them sat down and talked seriously about it.
“He told me, ‘I’m not going to make you do it, but if this is what you want to do, you have to go earn it. I’ll help you however you need, but you have to do it,’” Driskill said.
A big weight lifter himself, his dad gave Driskill ideas for workout plans, meal plans and even provided a lifting partner when he had the time.
The one night they’d never miss was Mondays or what they deemed “chest nights.” Driskill couldn’t lift as much as his dad, but they always found ways to compete with each other, including pushup contests.
By the end of the process, he was 30 pounds heavier and just as quick on his feet. He had turned himself into a better football player by a combination of efforts. One of the best parts about the comeback trail was how much closer he and his father got along the way.
Making a name for himself
Driskill’s passion for football has always been driven by his competitive nature. It’s same competitive nature that makes him scream when losing to friends in video games and get into arguments while playing cards with his 9-year-old sister Josie.
But this season, he finally had the physical tools to put it all together.
He was bigger, stronger and a whole new aura of confidence surrounded him. In past years, he was “super nervous before games.” Not this season.
“This year something was just different. I was just confident in myself and my team, too,” Driskill said.
Now, his teammates and coaches say he’s the best defensive player in the state — leading 4A with 12.3 tackles per game.
One of the only times he was nervous this season didn’t have anything to do with the other team. It had to do with who was watching from the sideline.
The 8-0 Bolts were vying for an undefeated regular season against the 1-7 Laramie Plainsmen. But Driskill couldn’t help thinking about the fact that coach Craig Bohl was there specifically to see him.
Bohl and the University of Wyoming had been after Driskill since the start of the season, but they weren’t the only ones.
Driskill got his name out by going to several college camps and contacting coaches. But once schools started seeing this year’s highlight tapes, recruiters were the ones scrambling for the senior’s attention.
Driskill ended up with seven scholarship offers and a preferred walk-on offer to the Herm Edwards coached Arizona State University. But none of those schools meant as much as UW.
“They had been there from the start. ... I knew that’s where I wanted to go,” Driskill said. “They were my dream school from a year ago when I decided to play college football.”
Around town, he would get asked about the his upcoming decision, but he ran into the most interested party when he came home from practice. That’s where his biggest fans were.
Driskill has four younger siblings — Josie, Jhett, Spencer and Jase. All are under the age of 12 and all of them look up to their oldest brother. Jhett, 9, and Spencer, 11, are already playing football and rocking No. 21 just like he does.
“One of the coolest things probably for me was for weeks, they were asking me if I was going to be a Cowboy,” Driskill said.
Driskill finished with 13 tackles during that Laramie game and that was final piece of evidence coach Bohl needed. The official full ride scholarship to play fullback at Wyoming was offered the next day when Driskill was on an unofficial visit to the Cowboys’ 31-3 win over Nevada.
He took a few days to think about it before making the commitment.
“All offseason, I just dedicated myself to trying to get that offer,” Driskill said. “When it came in, it was such a relief and I was happy that the hard work does pay off. If you put your mind to something, you can do it.”
One more step
After a year of pushing towards this goal, he’s made it. But he’s not done yet.
Friday, the Bolts host Cheyenne East in the state semifinal in front of his Gillette home crowd. If they win, they’ll be in the state championship game played at UW.
Driskill wants his first snap at War Memorial Stadium to be not as a Poke, but as a future state champion.
Driskill’s future is set, but his high school story still has one more chapter to it. And he’s in a perfect position to write it.