Oak Park senior running back Marquis Caldwell is the quiet type, the kind of kid who coaches like to say lets his game do the talking.
In actuality, he says, he’s been waiting for a reason to talk. There just hasn’t been much to brag about over the past three seasons.
Caldwell is a four-year letterman for the Northmen. He’s started almost every game of his high school football career, save the time during his sophomore season when he had shoulder injury that sidelined him for a few weeks.
But he celebrated only three victories in his first three seasons.
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“I never went into any game with the mind-set that we were going to lose,” Caldwell said. “But it gets to a point where you have to try to block it out. As a team, that was tough. As an individual, I would just try to turn my focus to the next game and the next week.”
The losing culture is slowly starting to change.
Oak Park has matched last season’s win total with two victories in its first four weeks. The Northmen will play host to Belton at noon Saturday in only the second game ever played at Oak Park, which usually plays its home games at the District Activities Complex at Staley High School.
A victory would be the Northmen’s third of the season — in other words, their total over the past three years combined.
Caldwell has played a significant role in the early-season turnaround. After four games, he has already totaled 820 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. His lowest output of the season was 158 yards in a week-three loss to Raytown.
There’s been plenty more to talk about, but Caldwell is staying quiet. For now.
“Marquis is a quiet, steady person, but you know you can always count on him,” first-year Oak Park coach Kevin Keeton said. “They say quiet rivers run deep, and that’s Marquis Caldwell.”
Keeton is the third Oak Park head coach in Caldwell’s high school career. Caldwell credits Keeton with playing a role in the team’s — and his own — resurgence.
When Keeton took over the program this summer, he emphasized getting more kids on the football field and strengthening the relationships of the kids already there — all the usual stuff from a first-year coach taking over a program that lacked success.
In one of his first X’s and O’s moves, Keeton moved Caldwell to fullback in what he likes to call a “hybrid” wing-T offense. His reasoning? He wanted Caldwell to see more touches.
“I know anywhere else Marquis would be a tailback and a featured tailback,” Keeton said. “For us to run this offense the way we want to, we have to have a strong fullback. Having Marquis there has been perfect.”
Caldwell is fairly small for a feature back — he’s only 5-8, 150 — but he sure doesn’t run like it. There’s a reason for that.
When Caldwell was a freshman, he weighed 195 pounds. Unhappy with the way he looked, he lost 45 pounds over the next year.
The move to improve his health also improved his running ability. He’s faster and has the ability to make swifter cuts.
“I looked at myself in the mirror one day and didn’t like what I saw,” Caldwell said. “I worked out every day, even twice a day, (and) cut my eating until I dropped weight.”
The diet plan is a perfect example of his personality, Keeton said.
“That’s how he is,” Keeton said. “You may not hear much out of him, but when he doesn’t like something, he fights to change it.”