Jacob Caldwell placed a tote bag on a table in the guidance office at Frewsburg Central School early last week and began pulling out its contents.
The football hardware was plentiful and impressive.
There was the Bob Kalsu Memorial Scholarship/Plaque, presented by the Buffalo Bills Booster Club; the Western New York High School Sports All-Academic Team and its scholar-athlete of the year trophies; and, of course, the Shane Conlan Team Most Valuable Player award. Any one of them would look pretty impressive in a trophy case or on a mantle at Caldwell's home, because they were in recognition of a job well done, both on the gridiron and in the classroom.
Frewsburg Central School senior Jacob Caldwell shows off some of the trophies he’s earned this year as one of Western York’s top student-athletes.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
Asked by a guest which award he most favored, Caldwell paused for a moment as he scanned each one. Ultimately he selected the Conlan Award, which is named in honor of the Frewsburg High graduate (Class of 1982) and former Penn State All-American and Buffalo Bills All-Pro linebacker. Most important to Caldwell was that the MVP selection was made by a vote of the team and the coaching staff.
"What my team thinks of me is an honor,'' Caldwell said. " There is a sense of personal victory.''
Caldwell didn't achieve all of those postseason accolades without tremendous effort and resolve, however. Terry Gray, Frewsburg's football coach and a teacher at the school, initiated a character education program for his team a couple of years ago. One of the quotes that he has repeated over and over again since then seemed to fit Caldwell perfectly.
It comes from Aristotle and reads, in part:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
"It's probably one of my favorites,'' Caldwell said. "It's stuck with me.''
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Caldwell's introduction to sports was met with mixed results in his early years. Not blessed with natural athleticism, he settled on martial arts when he was in elementary school rather than pursue team sports right away.
But through hard work and determination - do you sense a theme here? - Caldwell earned the school's top football honor last fall and is the captain of the swim team this winter.
''We smile every time we talk about his achievements,'' Gray said. ''The truth is, everything he's done has been a goal that he's set. The amount of work he's done to achieve them we can't even comprehend.''
Inspired by his parents - ''they taught me and gave me a sense of right and wrong,'' - and a group of extremely talented classmates, Caldwell has made the most of his time at FCS. The owner of a 99.91 average, he also finds time to participate in, among other things, student council (he's the president), mock trial, Boy Scouts (he's close to becoming an Eagle Scout) and oratorical contests (he's one of the best in the state).
''I try to keep in mind that I only get to be in high school once and get to be a teenager once,'' he said. ''Sometimes I think I'm too sentimental, because I try and enjoy everything in the moment.''
Guidance counselor Randy Sitler described Caldwell as ''one of those kids who the teachers will never forget.''
''He's one of those kids you'll be talking about 20 years from now,'' he said. ''He's a model student and just flawless in all aspects, if there is such a thing.''
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Although he has the ability to pursue any career, Caldwell will study engineering in college. Among the schools he's considering are Yale, SUNY Buffalo, Rochester, Clarkson, Case Western and Drexel.
''My passion is math,'' he said. ''I love math above all.''
But that's not going to stop him from continuing his pursuit of knowledge in other areas. In many ways, he can't help himself, preferring to follow the philosophy of Gray, who preaches the idea of ''emptying your cup.''
''You need to be willing to make room for more, take in new ideas,'' Caldwell said. ''You have to be willing to keep learning throughout your life.''