Five years ago, Caleb Adams wasn’t expecting to play much more football in his lifetime.
As a junior at Rochester Mayo High School in Minnesota, Adams was more interested in continuing his track and field career than his journey on the gridiron. But when one of Adams’ teammates on the offensive line sent a highlight tape of himself out to college coaches, recruiters also took notice of the tackle on the other end of the Spartans’ line.
It resulted in Adams’ phone buzzing with football recruiting interest, and his preference of college sport changing in a hurry.
And he’s certainly thankful for that turn of events.
The UW-Stout offensive lineman has made the most of an unexpected college career and is chasing an opportunity to go pro in the National Football League. A full-time starter for the Blue Devils in each of the last three seasons, Adams has garnered attention from NFL teams and is aiming to get an invitation to camp this summer.
“I’m not really expecting to get drafted. I’m not saying it’s not a possibility, and it would be cool if it happened, but I’m just hoping to get a camp invite,” Adams said. “If I can get there, I would just need to hold my ground and hopefully make a roster.”
Adams earned an invite to a regional scouting combine in Kansas City at the Chiefs’ training facilities earlier this month.
He was able to compare himself with players from some of the major Division I and Division II programs in the country both at the combine and at senior bowl events — the National Bowl and the Tropical Bowl — over the winter.
Time and time again, the Division III prospect held his own against the big boys.
“Going into it, I didn’t really know what to expect because I didn’t know how big the talent gap really is,” Adams said. “Once we put on the pads and started playing, it just felt like a normal game. So I thought it went really well. I think I stood my ground and did what I needed to do.”
He flashed some of his athleticism during individual workouts. His three-cone shuttle drill time of 7.75 seconds would have been tied for 16th among offensive lineman at the NFL Combine. Tyler Jones of N.C. State and Tyler Roemer of San Diego State posted that same time at the Combine.
The versatile lineman, who measured in at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds for Stout’s 2018 season, has already proved he was one of the best Division III had to offer. He was a two-time first team all-conference selection for the Blue Devils, quite a feat in the WIAC — considered by many to be the toughest Division III league in the nation.
“He’s one of the better ones we’ve had, and we’ve had a lot of good DIII linemen in the past,” Stout head coach Clayt Birmingham said. “Some of the other great ones didn’t have the size, so they didn’t get a look at the next level. But he’s got the size and athleticism they’re looking for.”
He’s got the size, although possibly not quite enough to continue playing tackle. When NFL teams have reached out to Birmingham to learn more about Adams, the Blue Devils’ coach said a possible switch to guard or center has been a topic of conversation.
Luckily for Adams, it wouldn’t be an extreme switch. He played as a guard during his junior season at Stout.
“That’ll be helpful, they have film on him playing guard,” Birmingham said.
The last Stout lineman to get a camp invite was Tyler Butzler, who participated in the Green Bay Packers’ camp in 2012.
The NFL interest began during the offseason following Adams’ junior year. He received word that the Philadelphia Eagles had taken notice of him, and the very next day the Denver Broncos said they were interested in sending someone to a Stout camp workout to get a look.
“Once it came at me like that, I started to take it pretty seriously,” Adams said. “I tried to put on some weight, train as hard as I could, eat properly. I just started going all in, basically.”
In addition to the scouting combine and bowl games, Adams also got his name out there at a pro day in Whitewater this month.
Adams has talked directly with several teams, including the Broncos, Ravens and 49ers. A handful of others have reached out to his agent.
So here Adams is, talking to NFL franchises just five years after thinking about devoting his post-high school career to track and field. It’s been a journey that was unexpected, but well worth it.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Adams said. “I’m glad I’m in this position. Stout’s what got me here, and if I had to go back, I can’t say I’d switch anything.”