INDIANAPOLIS – Coming out of high school, David Caldwell could not have told you where he would attend college, if anywhere, what position he would play or what it was like to be away from home. However, he would have been able to tell you one thing for certain. He wanted to play football, and do so at a high level.
Growing up in Montclair, New Jersey, Caldwell had the freedom and comfort that many people enjoy from spending their entire lives in one area. He had spent his whole life in Montclair, so when he was forced to make the transition to prep school, it was not an easy one at first.
"I had never been away from home, and I went home every weekend," said Caldwell. "Every weekend at (The) Lawrenceville (School) for the first half of the year I went home. But then I met my girlfriend, so I started staying there."
Caldwell was not a highly sought after recruit coming out of high school, but he did find a potential suitor in the University of Richmond. The Spiders courted Caldwell for his services throughout his senior year of high school, but they were unable to offer him a scholarship because of their depth at the running back position, the position Caldwell hoped to play at the next level.
"The year before (prep school) I had actually wanted to go to Richmond, and they said, 'Listen, we don't have any running back opportunities right now. What do you think about prep school?' I was thinking, 'Prep school? That's an extra year and my mom and dad aren't going for that.' I introduced it to my parents, because out of high school I didn't have any scholarship opportunities."
Although Caldwell did not have many offers from major football programs, he did have the opportunity to continue his football career at some of the most prestigious institutions in the United States. However, Caldwell did not see any of these programs as the best avenues to reach his true potential.
"I could have gone to Princeton, Yale or Cornell. I visited those schools, but I just felt that I wanted to play (somewhere else)," said Caldwell.
The opportunity to play eventually landed Caldwell at The Lawrenceville School, as he elected to attend the prep school to fine tune his skills and, hopefully, earn a scholarship opportunity.
After one year at prep school, Caldwell received calls, ironically, from one of Richmond's biggest rivals, William and Mary.
Despite receiving his first scholarship offer, one that he had been working toward since his football career began, Caldwell held out with the hope of receiving that elusive offer from Richmond. However, the offer did not come, and Caldwell elected to accept the scholarship to William and Mary.
A four-year letterman, Caldwell finished his career with 280 tackles, leading the team in stops as a sophomore (107) and junior (78). As a senior, he also was named first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association.
Following a career at William and Mary that saw Caldwell make the transition from cornerback to safety, the next step was the NFL. Playing at a smaller school like William and Mary presented a number of potential problems for Caldwell, but he knew that all he needed was an opportunity to impress scouts.
"Coming out of William and Mary, I knew that it would be hard coming from a small school, and I wasn't even a big name coming from a small school," said Caldwell. "So I just kept faith in everything, because I knew I would have an opportunity to show my talents and athleticism in front of scouts."
He did not disappoint.
Caldwell intrigued scouts with a 39.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 10-inch broad jump, marks that ranked well among Combine attendees.
"That was my game plan the whole time, just training really hard," said Caldwell. "I knew that with what the scouts would see, they would be surprised. It would be a situation where they would be wondering who I am and everything like that. That was just my plan, to get them to look at my tape. Once they looked at my tape I was pretty comfortable that I would end up getting a shot somewhere. I was hopeful."
After not being selected in the draft, Caldwell signed with the Colts prior to the 2010 season. As he was preparing to begin his first season, he suffered a shoulder injury that resulted in him being placed on injured reserve.
"Injuries in this game, you can just go from being on a complete high to being on a low," said Caldwell. "You just never know when your last snap is going to be, and that's what scared me at first about my injury. I didn't think that it would be a career-ending injury or anything like that, but it was the first time that it put everything into perspective for me."
The injury hit Caldwell hard. He was forced to deal with the unfamiliar territory.
"I hadn't missed a season of football since I started playing when I was nine years old," Caldwell said. "I didn't redshirt in college either, so there was never a year where I see the team that I'm supposed to be on playing without me playing. It's just rough, and it's unfortunate. The injuries, they're really the saddest thing about this game, but it happens."
This season saw Caldwell return to full health. Shortly into the campaign, he was called into action.
In his first healthy year in the league Caldwell has seen a number of career-firsts, opportunities that many players would be more than satisfied with. But Caldwell made it clear early in his career that he is not satisfied with just getting by.
Following his first NFL start and first game in prime-time, the young safety was not thrilled with his level of performance.
"Honestly, when I went home from both games, I was disappointed," said Caldwell. "I wanted to play a perfect game, obviously, because it was the first time for me."
The fact that at any moment the game he loves could be taken away from him makes every single play even that much more important.
"The thing about it is, in this league it's so hard," said Caldwell. "You speak to certain people and they say, 'You'll get it next time,' but in my head I'm thinking, 'You just never know.' Like I said, you never know when your last snap is going to be, you never know when your last start will be or your last anything in this league will be. You've just got to take advantage of certain opportunities, and that's what makes the game so great. If you knew that you were going to get a whole bunch of opportunities, then the big plays wouldn't be anything spectacular. It is what it is, and I know I'm going to go out there next time with complete confidence and hope for the best. Make the best happen."
Caldwell has endured every task that has been required of him to reach the NFL level, and taking shortcuts was never in his plan. Thus, his appreciation for the game itself and his drive to succeed should surprise no one. Caldwell understands that he has had to make sacrifices to reach the NFL level, and each day is an opportunity to look back and appreciate what he has earned.