Andre Caldwell got off to a rather odd start this season. After looking sleek and fast in August drills, it was almost as if he slowed down in game one against Southern Miss. Apparently, there was some rust from missing most of last season that had to be knocked off. If the UCF game is a barometer, then apparently Caldwell is starting to get back to playing fast and dangerous.
The red-shirt junior from Tampa looked tentative and uncertain in game one, his first action in a game since a broken leg he suffered in last year’s game against Tennessee. Held out of contact this spring and a diligent workout warrior, he ran his fastest 40 time ever in the offseason but it took almost a game and a half to start showing he’s almost back to normal. Watching himself on film was an eye opening experience and in his heart, he knew he could do better.
“I thought I was back and then the first game showed me that I was rusty,” Caldwell said. “I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was. I just need to progress weekly and I hope to do the same this week [against Tennessee].
“Things were moving a little fast on the field and I was just not used to game speed. I really had my adrenaline going and was a little too hyped at the atmosphere out there.”
Caldwell had two drops in the first half of the Central Florida game. It really shook him at first, but his coaches and teammates just pushed him to get through it.
“The drops got me a lot more focused,” he said. “I was playing a little nonchalant. It really got me focused and on my game. It let me know I needed to focus I just dug deep inside and made plays.
“That doesn’t happen too much. I was kind of shocked. Coaches told me to keep my head up. They told me they were going to give me a chance to get back in and make plays, so I kept my head up and made them.
“I think it was a big turning point. I kept my head up and my teammates were by my side. They were looking for me to make big plays and embracing me, so I just made plays after that.”
Then he may have literally gotten the rust knocked out of him. With time enough to run just one play, Caldwell ran a post pattern to the end zone and made a big time reaching catch to haul in the ball for a touchdown. After catching the ball, his head slammed into the knee of a defender on the play and it knocked him silly for a moment. He had to be helped off the field, but he seems to be better for it.
“It was a pretty tough hit,” he said. “I got knocked out for a minute and got the rust knocked off. I was a little woozy and don’t remember exactly what happened on that play. I just remember being inside at halftime. The trainers got me back out there.”
Caldwell feels he is completely healthy and ready to make a statement that he is back and focused on the game. It has been a battle with so much time off and he knows if he can do it in this game, then the rest of the season should come that much easier.
“I feel 100 percent but I just need to get into the games and get more experience,” Caldwell said. “Stuff is moving a little fast. I am just getting better in practice and on the game field. This is a big game it doesn’t get bigger than this. I think it will be icing on the cake to get me back where I need to be.”
There is no denying how important this game means for the season. It is an eastern division foe. They are playing on the road, where the Gators haven’t been too worthy of praise as of late. It is also against the team that Caldwell had his season ended last year.
“This is a big week for me,” he said. “Last year I went out (for the season) against this team. It’s been a long road and I know people are expecting me to make plays. I just want to go out there and make plays and show Tennessee I was down but I am not down forever. I don’t owe them anything, just myself and the team. I want to prove that I can help go out there and win games.
“It would be the greatest feeling in the world knowing I made an impact helping my team win. The injury will make it a little sweeter and maybe make me that much more hungry, so that is my plan this week.”
Caldwell has been waiting for this week. It has been a year since the injury and through it all he knew he would get back to where he was beforehand. That is still yet to be seen, but he feels like he is there.
“I always knew I would be back where I am right now,” he said. “I had faith in God. My friends, family, and teammates all helped me. The doctor certified I would be back for the season, so I knew I would come back and make plays.”
He plan on bringing a real focus to this game and let a national television audience see that Bubba Caldwell is back.
“This is one that we have circled on the calendar,” he said. “I am going to go at these boys and do whatever I can to help my team win.”