For Caleb Huntley, it is more than just a football game.
With 4:41 left in the third quarter and the ball on the 18-yard line, the senior running back was given the ball. He ran it down the middle, plowed through a defender, spun through another, and when he completed his spin, he was in the endzone.
Huntley is playing for his 3-month-old son. He is playing to teach his son lessons of hard work and succeeding through adversity, similar to that touchdown.
Ball State Football (1-1 MAC) beat Eastern Michigan (0-2 MAC) 38-31, and Huntley ran for 204 yards and three rushing touchdowns. This is his sixth straight 100-yard plus game. He has also run for over 100 yards in nine of his last 10 games while scoring 12 touchdowns in his last six. He believes these performances can influence his son in years to come.
“I feel like it will influence him greatly,” Huntley said. “He will see that his dad put in the work, and when things were hard, he didn’t give up. When I can teach him things with him just watching me, it is special because I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t have a dad to teach me how to work hard. I had to figure it out for myself.”
Huntley’s son had surgery two days prior to the season, and that has been looming over him. He gave credit to his teammates for helping him keep his head up. He believes the support system has gone a long way for his success.
“They have been definitely helping me through it,” Huntley said. “They have been giving me pep talks to keep my spirit up. With the whole group, it has been a whole bunch of love toward me, so I really respect them for that. They’re really my brothers.”
Despite everything going on with his son, head coach Mike Neu said that Huntley still always has a smile on his face. Neu praised Huntley for his hard work, dedication and attitude day in and day out. He believes this mindset positively rubs off on his teammates, which influences everyone to work harder.
“His work ethic,” Neu said. “ You see him pile up those yards on game night. The way he works in practice is special. He only knows one speed, and that is full speed. He comes out each and every day with a smile on his face. He loves the game. He loves hard work. He loves his teammates. His teammates love him. He is just one of those guys that is a rare player.”
Huntley restarts every week. He doesn’t get too high or too low because he knows football can get stripped away from him just like that. In the first two games of the season, Huntley has run for 335 yards and five touchdowns but he remains level-headed through the number.
“What goes through my head is to do the same thing the next week,” Huntley said. “I try to not gloat on good performances because I know I can get big-headed, and all of it can be taken from you. Every time I practice and I play, I try to give it my best effort so I can have performances that help my team win every week.”
His performance did more than just help the team win. Huntley and the rest of the offense kept the Eagles’ defense on its toes all game. Neu described the Cardinals’ rushing attack as something that helped open up the offense later in the game.
As a team, Ball State ran for 304 yards in the win. While Huntley had 204 of those, senior wide receiver Justin Hall had 78 rushing yards and redshirt junior running back Will Jones had 48.
“I know I feel very fortunate to have some great weapons here,” Neu said. “It is a very unselfish group of young men. It all starts on the ground. If we can get the run game established, it opens up a lot of different things. There were several guys who made huge plays tonight. Not only Caleb [Huntley] but Justin [Hall] in the running game. Will Jones had some big runs.”
Junior wide receiver Yo’Heinz Tyler described Huntley as somebody who opposing defenses fear. He talked about the importance of him on the team.
“He plays a big part in the offense,” Tyler said. “Just running the ball, he is a big and fast running back so people fear him. That just opened up everything else.”
For Huntley, the work, positivity and performances in the game are for his son. Everything he does is for the benefit of his son and his family.
“He is always on my mind,” Huntley said. “That is my little guy. Everything I do is for him and my family. I just have to push through the tough times, and I know everything will work out.”
Contact Ian Hansen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ianh_2.