Their year in college: Questions and answers from our local athletes part II

Photo by Bob Przybylo – Caleb Kelly, a 2016 Clovis West graduate and a five-star recruit, started the final six games for Oklahoma at linebacker as a true freshman. He shined in the Sooners 35-19 Sugar Bowl win over Auburn with 12 total tackles, which wrapped up a No. 6 national final ranking and 11-2 record for the Sooners.

By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor

Last issue we heard from five former Clovis Unified athletes who had a successful 2016-17 seasons in college: Rhesa Foster, track and field at Clovis North and University of Oregon; Josh Hokit, football and wrestling at Clovis High and Fresno State; McKay Johnson, track and field at Clovis North and Cal-Berkeley; Jack Labosky, baseball at Clovis North and Duke and Portia Neale, basketball at Clovis West and Concordia University. What a great way to catch up with some of our favorite athletes from yesterday and have a look into what life is like as big-time student athletes in college today.

For this issue we are hearing from Caleb Kelly, Hannah Waller, Nick Nevills and Cayla Broussard. Nevills and Waller (along with her Oregon teammate Foster) both were NCAA champions in wrestling  at Penn State and track and field Oregon. How awesome is it that we have NCAA champions that hail from good ol’ Clovis? I say pretty darn awesome.

So, in the 2017-18 year we have even more reasons to watch and cheer for some of the former greats of Clovis Unified.

Caleb Kelly
Sport: Football
High School: Clovis West
College: Oklahoma

Caleb Kelly was a three-year varsity standout at Clovis West and one of the most decorated players in the history of the storied Golden Eagle football program. The 6-foot-2, 220 pound linebacker and tight end was a three-time all-league performer and earned the 2015 TRAC Defensive Player of the Year in a senior season where he registered 115 tackles, 23 for loss, and 21 sacks. Kelly was also the recipient of the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker and was named a Parade Magazine All-American as well as first team all-state honors. As a true freshman at Oklahoma in 2016 he started the final six games of the season and shined in the Sooners 35-19 Sugar Bowl win over Auburn with 12 total tackles, including one for loss. He was credited with 36 tackles on the year as the Sooners ended the year 11-2 and a No. 6 NCAA final ranking.

Clovis Roundup: Your freshman year probably didn’t start the way you wanted with playing time, but you stuck with it and kept grinding until you started the last six games of the season. What helped you sustain your confidence during that early time in the season?

Caleb Kelly: What really helped me while I wasn’t playing much was my faith. Houston was the first game in my life I didn’t play a down of football. I really struggled with that experience because I went from being the leader and one of the main contributors in high school to watching my team lose when I felt I could have done something. I went home and turned to God because I knew He was the reason I was in the situation and I quickly learned that my expectations may not always match God’s plan but His plan is better.

CR: When did you realize during the season that you could play against the top competition in the country? Was there a moment that you finally said “Heck yeah, I can play against these guys.”

CK: I honestly felt like I could play against these guys from Game 1. The first time I stepped on the field against ULM I had no nervousness or butterflies. I felt like I had earned my right to be there and I played with confidence. I feel like the time where everything came together and I felt like I could be a top player in the nation was in the Sugar Bowl in the final game of the season where I simply had fun with my big brothers, especially the seniors, who would be soon gone after.

CR: You had an incredible Sugar Bowl in front of a prime-time national audience with 12 total tackles and pressuring the quarterback all game. What was going through your mind during the game and what were your thoughts afterwards?

CK: During the Sugar Bowl I really was having fun and had the mindset to just attack. We were able to shut down their passing game early and this made them a one-dimensional team. All they could do was run and it seemed like every play we were all racing for the tackle. Auburn attacked me a lot that game and I was fortunate enough to make most of the plays that came my way. After the game I was pleased with my performance. I felt like it was very late in the season for me to play as well as I did but I was happy it was on the biggest stage we played in all year. I also had a good amount of family members there and I always feel I need to represent when my momma is at the game. So I’d say in all I felt very blessed and proud to represent my name and my city.

CR: Describe the emotions when you play in front of 100,000 people at home games and the adrenaline you and your teammates have.

Playing in front of big crowds is fun because we honestly didn’t have that many fans in high school with a record of 6-5. But down in the South and Midwest, football fans are much more into it. When playing I find myself in a tunnel vision often and I don’t hear the crowd as loud. If it gets pretty crazy it can be to the point where you have to yell to the person next to you. After making a play and hearing the crowd scream you feel an extreme amount of excitement and I usually scream with them. But it’s funny because it’s still just a game and the preparation before a game helps me not feel nervous.

CR: Looking back at your days at Clovis West, what is your most precious memory?

CK: My most precious memory at Clovis West was when we played Edison my junior and senior seasons. My junior year I had 21 tackles and my senior year I had 4 sacks. I always played my best against them and I knew all the players because we played together in the offseason for 7-on-7 tournaments. Coach Tony Perry at Edison High is a big reason I received so many offers in high school as he helped with my exposure and recruiting. I have said he’s like and uncle to me – so playing against his team and my other teammates, I always felt the need and energy to do well.

CR: The hair. You’re now becoming famous for the hair. Do people recognize you because of the hair?

People often recognize me because of my hair and I am often referred to as Corbin Bleu from “Jump In” and “High School Musical.” The main reason for the long hair is because my girlfriend Adriana Maldonado and I match with our hair both being curly. I’m waiting for endorsements with “Head & Shoulders” or some other hair product while I’m playing professionally.

CR: Family is really important to you, but playing so far away must be tough. How were you able to cope with the distance? Facetime, phone calls, texts?

CK: Before every game I call my mother and she sends me a long message with scriptures. We have been doing this since my freshman year of high school. I also call my girlfriend before and we pray. Facetime is my go-to but on game days it’s strictly phone calls because I have to be courteous to my teammates who are trying to get ready for the game as well. On my tape (wrapped before games) I write “PRIDE, 559, 777, DMAN, and LION” because they all have to do with God and my family – so I play with them. A necklace I wear has a dog-tag that says my girlfriend’s name on one side and the coordinates to Clovis West on the other so I can always “Remember who I am and what I represent” (Mr. Deal). My necklace also has a cross as a constant reminder of how blessed I am and that God controls everything so I should use this platform to praise His name.

CR: What music do you listen to before a game?

CK: When I wake up I listen to the entire Chance The Rapper album, “Coloring Book,” and then on the bus I listen to: Eazy-E “Boyz N Da Hood”, Soulja Boy “Crank That Soulja Boy”, and the rest consists of: Future, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Big Sean, Logic, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, NWA, etc. I’m sure I’ll add more rappers this year as there are a lot of artist that weren’t as popular as they are now.

Hannah Waller, a 2016 Buchanan grad, was the 2015 CIF state champion in the 400 and in 2016 won silver in the 400 and bronze in the 200. Competing for Oregon this year, the Ducks won the “Triple Crown” of NCAA women’s track and field and was on the 4X400 relay team in the NCAA preliminaries and set a PR in the 400 (52.85) in the Pac-12 championships. (Photo from Twitter/@oregontf)

Hannah Waller
Sport: Track & Field
High School: Buchanan
College: University of Oregon

Waller was a track standout at Buchanan where she competed in the CIF State Track and Field Championships all four years and was state champion her junior year in the 400 with a time of 53.13, the fastest in the nation that year. Her senior year, 2016, she placed second in the 400 (53.01) and third in the 200 (23.53). At Oregon she was a part of the 2017 NCAA championship team where she contributed and competed on Oregon’s 4×400 meter relay in the NCAA Championship preliminary round. She was also a member of the second place 4×400 relay team (3:32.20) as well as took fifth in the 400 meters (52.85) at the Pac-12 Championships. The women’s programs were the first in NCAA history to win the cross country and NCAA indoor and outdoor championship.

Clovis Roundup: Was your year at Oregon everything you imagined and more? How did it exceed your expectations?

HW: My first year being at Oregon was absolutely everything I ever imagined. Being on a team with women I looked up to while in high school to seeing and working hard with them was literally incredible for me. I saw my dreams unravel in front of my eyes. It exceeded my expectations because not many freshmen can say that they have traveled and competed in every met like I can. Not very many athletes can say that they were apart of the historical “Triple Crown” winning team, it was just amazing.

CR: How neat was it to share an NCAA title with Clovis North alum and fellow freshman Rhesa Foster?

HW: It was great sharing so many successful moments on our team with Rhesa, especially the Pac-12 and NCAA championships because I know how far us two have come since leaving Clovis and just seeing her work hard in practice and succeed the way she does inspires to do as well just as she does. Considering we are both true freshmen, it’s an honor and I wouldn’t want to share that term as accurately with anybody more deserving but her.

CR: How do you personally feel you performed this year, were you happy with your results?

HW: I feel I performed fairly well as a freshman in the NCAA, ending the year with a huge PR (in the 400, 52.85) is something that I’m very proud of and to carry over my shoulders into the next year. Although it’s been quite of a rollercoaster for me this season, to say that I PR’d and is high among the list of freshmen in the NCAA is something I cannot be mad at.

CR: What’s your pre-meet ritual? Do you do anything unusual and what music do you listen to?

HW: My new pre-meet ritual is doing my makeup while listening to my favorite songs. Makeup is all so new to me and being able to build the confidence in myself to look good and perform good at the same time just really helps with some of the pre-race jitters that I can get sometimes.

CR: What’s the atmosphere like at Hayward Field during events? What’s the crowd like?

HW: My first time competing at Hayward Field was amazing and truly something I will never forget. I have yet to have my “Hayward Magic Moment” but it will surely come in the future. The atmosphere competing is also incredible just because of the amount of the “pure” track and Oregon Duck fans, they bring you home when you need it the most and that’s what makes Hayward Field what it is today. Everything you see on TV is what it is like in real life.

CR: You won CIF state your junior year in the 400 and are used to big time competition, but how is college track different that what you have been used to?

HW: In the college world, every meet that you compete in is essentially that “CIF State” meet. You have to be able to execute and perform in every race you run considering that you only run a few times prior to big championships. I went from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond this year and it was everything I needed to help me become the best athlete that I can be.

CR: What are your greatest memories at Buchanan and what do you miss most?

HW: Essentially my greatest memories at Buchanan was 1. Winning my first Valley championship title (individually and as a team) 2. Winning my first individual CIF state title on my own home field (2015) and lastly just being decorated as one of the greatest runners in Valley history. What I truly miss the most is coming to practice with all of my friends from home, being around my old coaches and the warm weather!

CR: When you visit Clovis where’s the first place you gonna go eat?

HW: The very first place I will visit for food when I arrive back in Clovis will be Wingstop for sure.

CR: What is something about you that most people don’t know?

HW: One thing that most people don’t know about me is that I spend 3-4 hours a day watching videos on YouTube! I love that website so much.

Cayla Broussard, by way of Clovis High, has been the starting shortstop the past two years at Azusa Pacific. She hit .324 with 39 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and started all 50 games this season for the 38-12 Cougars. (Contributed Photo)

Cayla Broussard
Sport: Softball
High School: Clovis High
College: Azusa Pacific University

Cayla Broussard was a four-year varsity softball starter and volleyball player at Clovis High, winning D-I Valley titles in both sports her senior year in 2014-15. Her senior year she hit .494 with 49 runs scored and 32 stolen bases as the starting shortstop and was named the Clovis Roundup Girls’ Athlete of the Year. She transitioned well into college at Azusa Pacific University, starting at shortstop the past two years and hit .324 with 39 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, and starting all 50 games for the 32-18 Cougars in 2017. Her older brother, CJ, was a star defensive back for Azusa Pacific’s football team and graduated in 2017.  
Clovis Roundup: How would you describe your softball experience and your first two years at Azusa overall?

CB: To sum it up I would say that my first two years at Azusa Pacific were everything that I had wished for and so much more. From the moment I stepped on to this campus it has felt like home. My softball team has been my second family and the community has honestly made all the difference. I can not imagine myself anywhere else.

CR: If you were asked by someone who wanted to play sports at a school like Azusa what would you tell them? What’s special about Azusa Pacific?

CB: If someone was interested in playing sports at Azusa Pacific I would tell them to do it! Being a student athlete at Azusa Pacific comes with its ups and downs just like anything else. We are held to a higher standard and we are expected to excel in all that we do. With those expectations it causes us to work harder and really thrive in every area in our lives. Not only do we get to play the sport we love at a collegiate level but we get to understand what it means to play with a God-first mentality. Opportunities like that don’t come around everyday. 

CR: Your brother, CJ, played football for four years at Azusa and graduated this year. How neat was it to have him there with you the past two years?

CB: Going to school with my brother was a dream. With all the struggles that college comes with it is so hard to do it on your own. I was so fortunate that I didn’t have to experience that. Whether it was what classes I should take or where I should eat lunch CJ was always there to point me in the right direction. My sophomore year my parents moved out of state and that was a huge change for me. When I didn’t know how to handle it or when feeling homesick just got too much I would call my brother and we would get ice cream or just watch a movie. I would not have wanted to experience my first two years any other way.

CR: What is something superstitious or unusual about softball players that people might not know about?

CB: One thing that my team does that I have never seen before is right before we start throwing on game days, our coach walks around and hands each of us a piece of gum. We eat the gum and then fold the wrapper into some sort of shape. For instance, I folded mine into a “V” for victory. Every game we would fold our wrappers the same exact way and coach would collect them and keep them in a jar.

CR: You had a great career at Clovis High in both softball and volleyball. What are some of your favorite moments being a Cougar?

CB: Oh boy do I miss Clovis High! I am actually still a Cougar at Azusa Pacific but one thing I miss most about being a Clovis High Cougar is definitely the athletics. I was so lucky to be coached by Coach Mike Noel and Coach Richard Lake. Volleyball was more of my hobby in high school and Coach Lake helped me remember why I love the game so much! Winning my first ever Valley Championship with the volleyball team was a feeling I will never forget.

For softball, Coach Noel pushed us each and every day to get better than we were the day before. He was so intentional out on the field, not just about softball but about our lives as young women. He taught us so much about the game and honestly even more about life. Winning my second Valley Championship with the softball team was honestly icing on the cake!

CR: Family is very important to you. What part have they helped to play in your development as an athlete and person.

CB: I am blessed with the most amazing family. My older sister and I are best friends. She is actually the reason I started playing softball. She cares about me more than anyone I can think of. She is always looking out for my best interest and has helped me through a lot of tough growing up moments. My mom and dad have been amazing throughout my whole life. Driving me from practice to tournaments they have always been my biggest supporters. My brother has been my inspiration when it comes to athletics and how he carries himself on the field. CJ has such a presence about him that is undeniable and I have always strived to present myself in the way that he does.

CR: What is the best place to eat you’ve discovered down in SoCal?

CB: I haven’t explored as much as I hope to in the future but my go to food place is always Chipotle. I can have Chipotle three times in one day and not get sick of it. Since SoCal doesn’t have Dutch Bros. Coffee I have had to explore other coffee shops. My go to coffee place would have to be Classic Coffee in downtown Glendora.

Penn State sophomore Nick Nevills, the No. 5 seed at 285, got a 4-3 sudden victory win over No. 4 Jacob Kasper of Duke to place 5th at the 2017 NCAA Div I Wrestling Championships at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. (Photo by Mark Selders)

Nick Nevills
Sport: Wrestling
High School: Clovis High
College: Penn State

Nevills graduated from Clovis High in 2014 as one of the most decorated athletes in Central Section and CIF history. Nevills won three individual CIF state heavyweight wrestling titles and four straight team titles with a career record of 200-5, including 143 pins. After battling injuries to begin his career at Penn State, he placed 5th at the 2017 NCAA championships as the Nittany Lions won their second consecutive national title and sixth in the past seven years. He is the second oldest of four highly successful wrestling brothers: Oldest Zach who just graduated from Stanford, A.J. who is transferring to Fresno State after a year at Penn State and younger brother Seth (also committed to Penn State), will be a senior at Clovis and is 127-0 and attempting to become a four-time state champion.

Clovis Roundup: First of all, describe what it’s like going to college 3,000 miles away on the East Coast in terms of weather, lifestyle and the types of people?

NN: It was exciting for me to get to travel and live all the way across the country. I am a very independent person and so it quickly made me grow and learn how to live and take care of myself. I actually love the cold, so coming back here to Pennsylvania where it can snow from November to March like it did my very first year was actually kind of neat and fun to be in. I live a very laid back lifestyle here in State College. I have a good group of friends and teammates that I love to hangout with and just do fun group things like bonfires, team dinners, and all that fun stuff.  

CR: You decided to attend the elite wrestling program in the nation. What were the steps in getting you to Penn State and how is the wrestling atmosphere there?

NN: Penn State is the most elite wrestling program in the nation and I would say the level of dominance we have as a team could rival any other sporting team in terms of domination. But, back in high school before I got to Penn State I used to wrestle six times a week. Clovis High had a program called Winner’s Circle where I would lift weights three times a week and wrestle twice a week with an optional wrestling day on Saturday which my brothers and me always attended.

But outside the sport of wrestling, I made a lot of sacrifices by giving up time to hangout with friends or miss events around school because I was away for the weekend wrestling or I was resting myself so that way when I was in the room wrestling I was trying to perform at my best. The atmosphere here at Penn State is unreal, I believe we are at around 28-29 straight sellouts in Rec Hall which holds roughly 7,500 people. There are people standing outside the venue trying to buy tickets to get in and see a dual. The fans are just diehards and very knowledgable about the sport so it makes it really fun to have a conversation with a fan or just someone who wants to congratulate you on your performance.

CR: You had a great year individually and got to the NCAA championships, placing 5th individually and your team winning the NCAA team title. What was the experience like and how does it feel to be an NCAA champ?

NN: I had what I would call a good year for having been injured the previous two years.  I say that though not be taken in a cocky way, just in the fact that I believe I am right there with the other guys and could have been much higher. With that said, I am very glad to be an All-American and I look forward to the next two years of competing and getting to climb to the top of the podium. This was a great year for my team as well due to us having six All-Americans and five national champions. It was awesome because all the guys in the finals came on Saturday morning to watch me wrestle and cheer me on, and then I got the chance to do the same that night and watch the five of them win one after the other. That will be something I will remember for the rest of my life.

CR: What are the major differences in wrestling in college that you have learned compared to your time at Clovis High?

NN: The major differences I found from high school to college wrestling, was the intensity, nutrition, and passion that the wrestlers have. To be the best you can be as an individual you have to eat right, that doesn’t mean you are starving yourself and going without eating like wrestling has gotten a bad reputation for. It is knowing what to eat that’s good for your body and how to fuel yourself to practice and compete at your best.  Then you have to go into the wrestling room and give your best effort and be mindful of how hard you’re working so that you can become the best each day and start over the following day and do it again.

CR: What are your favorite memories of your time at Clovis High?

NN: My favorite memories from Clovis High were winning my three state titles and all the car rides to all the different schools we wrestled at. It was just fun being with all the guys in a van and getting to hang out and tell stories and just relax and enjoy the fun of being with my friends.

CR: Your “little” brother is attempting to become next year only the third four-time state champ in California wrestling history and is currently undefeated in his career. Could you have ever predicted that for him, say, five or six year ago?

NN: Could I have predicted that Seth would have the opportunity to win a 4th state championship next year? I wish I could say that I did. However, it is so tough and so many things go into it that I can’t say that I could see him doing it way back then.  However, I will say that I always knew he was gifted and a great wrestler so it does not surprise me that he has put himself in the position to win four in a row. I have loved getting to watch him wrestle and I hope and pray that he has all the success in the world because nothing has made me more proud as a brother than watching him have so much fun and enjoy the sport of wrestling so much.

When you come home for a home cooked meal, what is your favorite your mom makes?

When I come home I always love when my mom makes breakfast casserole. It used to be only at Christmas time but now when I come home, since that is only usually once or twice a year, we celebrate with that one morning. I always look forward to that because I know all my brothers and me will be at the table and there’s just not many things that make me as happy as having the family together.

Paul Meadors :Paul Meadors is a man of many talents. He is a elementary school teacher, Junior High athletic director, and basketball coach in Traver, CA, in addition to serving as the Sports Editor for the Clovis Roundup. He is also the author of the humorous book “Letters to eBay,” and he has recorded a piano album of his own compositions titled “Surviving the Storm.” He lives in Fresno with wife Lori and daughters Georgie, Alex and Ruthie.