It’s nearly every athlete’s dream to make it to the professional ranks by the end of their career. For most, that isn’t possible. For former Bearcat running back Josh Caldwell, the dream became a reality after a long journey through the northwest corner of Missouri.
The beginning of Caldwell’s professional career started Aug. 10, dawning a Kansas City Chiefs uniform, against the Cincinnati Bengals. His first carry, good for a gain of 8 yards, was the beginning of a long-awaited debut.
Caldwell would eventually lead the Chief’s rushing attack for the evening with four carries for 59 yards and a touchdown. In this process, Caldwell had fulfilled the first step of his dream, playing in the NFL.
“There’s nothing like running out at Arrowhead Stadium … There’s no other feeling like it,” Caldwell told reporters after the game. “I didn’t get to go to many Chiefs’ games growing up. I think the last time I was here was the playoff game against the Tennessee Titans. I said, ‘Man, that’d be cool to play down there,’ and here I am now’”
Caldwell’s football journey started when he was in fourth grade, in his hometown of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Though he started at such a young age, he found that it wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he fell in love with the game of football and wanted to devote himself to making it a career.
Unexpected by Caldwell, the Broncos of Lee’s Summit North High School were never able to reach anything further than the first round of the playoffs, which is guaranteed in Missouri high school football. By the time Caldwell walked across the stage in 2014, he had a compiled record of 11-31 as a Bronco.
Despite breaking school records, being named to all-conference and all-district teams and scoring 20 touchdowns across three seasons for the Broncos, it wasn’t enough to subdue the fact that recruiters shied away from recruiting at a mildly-successful high school football program.
Caldwell found a place he felt was a fit: Missouri Western State University. In Caldwell’s three years as a Griffon, he accounted for over 3,000 all-purpose yards, accompanying this was 25 touchdowns.
In a full — yet diverse — running back room, Caldwell made himself stand out to become the eventual starter for Missouri Western as a redshirt freshman.
Once again, after piling up personal accolades, there was a lack of team success seeming to follow Caldwell wherever he went. This, alongside other things, led to his dismissal of the Griffon football program in the spring of 2018.
In the search for a new campus to call home, Caldwell realized a 45-minute drive up the road was where he wanted to finish his college football career. He made the choice to transfer to Northwest Missouri State.
For Caldwell to be eligible to transfer, he had to complete the steps necessary to become a graduate-transfer for the Bearcats. This included completing 37 credit hours of courses throughout the span of a summer semester, which is traditionally unheard of.
“He’s always been a hard-worker in the classroom,” Kendall Short, a former teammate of Caldwell’s at Missouri Western, said. “I mean this is a guy that got his degree early so that he could transfer to Northwest and play football, so he’s obviously doing something right in the classroom.”
Joining the Bearcats in the fall of 2018, Caldwell had two goals in mind. One of them was to be a part of a successful program for once, the other was to put himself in the best place to prepare for the next level.
Caldwell led a running-back-by-committee backfield in his lone season as a Bearcat, racking up 830 rushing yards on 139 carries and 11 touchdowns.
For the first time since fourth grade, Caldwell’s individual part was a part of a successful team. He had the chance to hoist an MIAA championship trophy, as well as get a playoff win under his belt before the season ended and he prepared to train for the next level.
The former Bronco, Griffon and Bearcat, found himself a Kansas City Chief when he signed his contract June 13. In a social media post announcing his signing, Caldwell instructed people to not give up on their dreams, preaching what he’s practiced since fourth grade.
Despite getting an opportunity at his dream, Caldwell found himself teamless after the preseason game against the Bengals. Although teamless, the Chiefs’ running back coach Deland McCollough had faith that Caldwell would find his way onto another roster in the NFL.
“When Josh Caldwell came here, he came to our local day, I really liked him,” McCollough told reporters. “I said, ‘This guy can play,’ so when he got released from our rookie minicamp, I emailed all of the running back coaches in the NFL and said, ‘I don’t know what you guys are doing with minicamp but this is a guy that y’all should take a look at.’ We’ll see what happens with him but I’ve always been a fan of Josh Caldwell.”
It wasn’t until one week after being released from Kansas City that Caldwell ended up in Chicago, getting another opportunity as he signed a contract with the Bears Aug. 19.
Caldwell will make his Bears debut when Chicago takes on the Indianapolis Colts Aug. 24.
“(My mom’s) biggest thing has been to always follow my dreams,” Caldwell said. “If you have a goal, work hard to reach it. … Right now, I love playing football, so that’s the goal I’m pursuing.”