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Return to soccer field drives Caballero

Caleb Caballero

Caleb Caballero is a kinesiology/applied exercise science major at LCC.   Photo by Mallory Stiles

Mallory Stiles

By Mallory Stiles
Staff Writer

According to educationdata.org, there are just under 200,000 athletic-based scholarships in the U.S. offered to less than 2 percent of high school student-athletes.

Talk about pressure. However, to LCC student Caleb Caballero, pressure is just the motivation that he uses to keep gaining ground.

Caballero, 18, is a kinesiology/applied exercise science major who said he is planning to eventually make his way to the University of Michigan for his bachelor’s degree.

“Ever since I was young,” Caballero said, “I have always loved to be involved in physical activity. … I thought it was really cool that you could make a profession out of it.”

Most young athletes have a professional they look to for inspiration. Sometimes it is seeing the intensity of those professionals that seems to push them to the next level.

“My favorite professional athlete is probably Messi,” Caballero said. “I am a soccer player, so I love Lionel Messi. He is, in my opinion the GOAT, the greatest of all time. He’s just … I don’t know man, when you watch Messi, it’s just magic. He has a different type of talent. It’s insane.”

Caballero said it was around seventh grade when he realized he might be able to use soccer to get a scholarship to go to college.

“I have been trying to become a professional athlete since then. It’s my dream to go pro.”

Caballero, who attended East Lansing High School, trained for years to try to make it to the top and his talent was serving him well. He was doing so well he was attracting attention from scouts and local newspapers including The Lansing State Journal, but tragedy struck in his second game of the season during his senior year of high school.

“It’s funny because about a year ago from today, I tore my ACL and my meniscus,” Caballero said. “It happened really quickly. It was maybe 30 degrees out so I kind of couldn’t feel anything.”

He explained it was from a bad landing to a bicycle kick. He made a horrifying sound to mimic the moment of the tearing.

“I was in shock,” Caballero said. “It changed my whole trajectory because I was counting on an athletic scholarship to cover about 60 percent of tuition fees. I felt like my future was in shambles.”

He could have walked away from his dream after such a major setback, but instead he kept moving forward.

“I still had to go to my 8 a.m. (classes) on crutches.” He said. “The second half of my senior year looked completely different.”

Caballero said it was all about focusing on what he had instead of what he didn’t.

“The what-ifs don’t really bother me because I know what I am capable of and I know what I have been blessed with,” he said. “I look at it as a second opportunity. In my mind, it could have been so much worse. I could be paralyzed. I am just thankful.

“Even though I have a long journey ahead of me and things are going to look a lot different, it was comforting that, even though it would be far in the future, I would have a return. I would be able to play again one day.”

Caballero has tried to get back on the field but required a second surgery that not only put him back on the bench, but limits his availability for things like studying. Even though he manages to keep a respectable GPA and work a part-time job as an independent contractor, recovery is still a priority.

“At the beginning of the semester I was taking five classes; 20 credit hours,” Caballero shared. “That was before I had the second surgery. Hours that were usually for studying now have to go towards physical therapy. Technically, I am still a full-time student but I am only taking three classes now: Intro to Psych, Music Cultures (and) Composition 1.”

Caballero also considers himself a music enthusiast. He said he is a firm believer there is a different song for every moment.

“I absolutely love music,” Caballero said. “I haven’t announced it officially but I love it so much I am either going to be the media manager or the vice president of Vinyl Record Club here at LCC.”

Caballero is a Michigander by birth, but both of his parents emigrated from Cuba. His mom is from Camaguey and his dad is from Havana, making him a first-generation college student who speaks fluent Spanish. He describes his mom as his hero and has a Goldendoodle named Rex.

Spencer Powe, 18, a former teammate and classmate of Caballero, said Caballero’s passion for soccer is what sets him apart as an athlete, but his personality sets him apart as a friend.

“My favorite thing about Caleb,” Powe said, “is how kind and passionate he is towards others. He is thinking about other people, always.”

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