By John Henson jhenson@civitasmedia.com

April 17, 2014

A year away from football convinced Aaron Caldwell he wasn’t ready to give up the game, and the competition that comes with it, for the rest of his life.

Caldwell, a 2013 Harlan County High School graduate, signed with the University of the Cumberlands and will join a program that advanced all the way to the NAIA national finals a year ago. The Patriots were 13-1 last season, falling to Grand View University 35-23 in the NAIA championship game for their only loss.

“I missed it a whole lot. I wanted to get back into football,” said Caldwell. “I’ve seen them play a couple of games, and I was happy to hear they wanted me to come there.”

“I’m ticked to death for Aaron. The more kids we have playing college football the better,” said Harlan County coach Tom Larkey, who called Caldwell one of the best blocking tight ends he’s coached in his illustrious career, stretching back to the 1970s at Laurel County. “I feel Aaron will fit in fine with their system because of his blocking ability. Aaron can step in there and play a big role in their offense. He has been one of my best, especially with his ability to block and catch a pass. He is very good blocking in the open field.”

Caldwell (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) was a standout tight end at Harlan County, best known for his outstanding blocking abilities and almost legendary aggressiveness that wore down many opponents in his three years as a starter for one of the state’s top rushing attacks.

“I think the University of the Cumberlands will really like the aggressiveness that Aaron brings,” HCHS assistant coach Eddie Creech said. “He’s big and he’s physical and relentless. He played tight end in a run-heavy offense and was called upon to block about 95 percent of the time, and he was really good at it.”

“They saw me play and liked the way I blocked. They are a running team, which helps me out,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell was also a three-year starter at forward in basketball, playing a key role in leading the Bears to a 13th Region runner-up finish in 2012. The combination of athleticism and aggressiveness made Caldwell an attractive recruit for the Cumberlands.

“I think Aaron is going to be a great addition to our university as a student athlete,” said Cumberlands coach Matt Rhymer, a Harlan County native. “Aaron has always been a competitive kid, and I know he is very excited about this opportunity to continue his athletic career. I watched him play his senior year against Pulaski County (regional finals) and Cooper in the state semifinals. I knew then he was a relentless blocker and plays with a great tempo. We are a physical, run-oriented team, so he will fit our system well at tight end. Aaron can also catch the football. Most importantly, Aaron is a young man who seems to have his priorities right and will be able to succeed on and off the field. I have known Aaron’s family a long time. They are great people, and I’m excited about seeing them at games.”

Caldwell, who currently attends Southeast Kentucky Community Technical College, plans to major in accounting at the University of the Cumberlands and will enter school next fall with over 40 college credit hours.