Caleb Farley had just dropped a bombshell earlier in the afternoon, announcing via a video posted on Twitter by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that he was opting out of the 2020 college football season. Farley became the first major player in college football to announce these intentions after a string of NFL players have recently done the same.
Still, in the midst of all the reactions circulating online and the newfound focus to train for the 2021 NFL draft, Farley called his high school football coach, Will Byrne, and talked for 30 minutes in the evening. It was here where Farley discussed his next steps with Byrne, but even more than that, displayed the character and heart that he still has for his community back home.
“The neat thing about him is he kept going back to what his vision was and what he was going to do for Maiden High School football,” Byrne said. “What 21-year-old kid who is getting ready to get paid millions of dollars is going to say something like that?… He still has the vision for Maiden football even though he’s getting ready to play on the biggest stage in the world. He still wants to give back to Maiden football. It’s just amazing and it says a lot about him as a person.”
It’s a consistent theme with Farley. As mind-blowing as some of his on-field accomplishments have been throughout his football career, everyone always comes back to his personality and character off the field.
For Farley, he’s the type of person who lives beyond himself. After losing his mother to cancer, he dedicated all his moments between the white lines to her. It’s why when he cited his reasons for opting out of the college football season, it extended to reasons not just dealing with Farley, but also with those closest to him.
“I tragically lost my mother, Robin, January 2, 2018 to an illness and I cannot afford to lose another parent or loved one. Though the competitor in me badly wants to play this season, I cannot ignore what’s going on in my heart and I must make the decision that brings me the most peace. So thank you, Virginia Tech, my coaches, teammates, and anyone else who has supported me in the past. I wish you all the best and stay safe and God bless.”
Farley, a projected first round draft pick, also cited the “uncertain health conditions and regulations” across the college football landscape as the nation continues to deal with the pandemic.
“He’s got to do what’s best for him and his family,” Byrne said. “I think he made the right decision with his draft stock being where it is now. You can’t really fault him for making that decision and putting his health at risk. Not just his health from the virus, but from injury and what not and the uncertainty of it.
“Until all this stuff happened, anytime I talked to him, that’s all he talked about was ‘We’re going to win our division and we’re going to play Clemson in the ACC Championship game.’ That was his goal to make Virginia Tech the best he could. With all the uncertainty now, I don’t blame him for making this decision.”
After taking his lumps in his first year as a starter in 2018, Farley transformed himself into a First Team All-ACC selection, leading the league with 16 passes defended and tied for second with four interceptions. In one of the most staggering stats, opposing quarterbacks were better suited throwing the ball in the dirt than targeting Farley in coverage last year.
Passer rating targeting CB Caleb Farley last season: 26.8
Passer rating throwing the ball into the dirt on every snap: 39.6 pic.twitter.com/lxepHaC2vD
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 29, 2020
Byrne credited Farley’s improvement to the drive and mindset that fuels him on a daily basis. One that will next be on display in the NFL.
“He is the most competitive person I’ve met in my entire life,” Byrne said. “That’s what’s going to make him successful.”
There’s still one moment for Byrne that encapsulates Farley’s competitiveness. Maiden was battling East Lincoln and the Blue Devils were down a score with less than a minute left before the half.
Farley, the quarterback of the team, had a knack showing off his sprinter speed with designed runs. However, the coaching staff was frustrated with Farley on this night for handing the ball off on the zone reads when it looked like he had an opening.
Byrne called a timeout, sent in the play to go five wide and run four verticals. He kept Farley behind and issued a challenge to him.
“I said, ‘Do not throw it. Let them clear everybody out and tuck it and go score. If you score here, we’ll have a chance to win.’ Sure enough, it’s on his senior highlight film,” Byrne said. “It was like a 75-yard touchdown, but he probably ran 150 yards to get there, breaking tackles, making people miss, outrunning people at the end.
When and if the Hokies take the field in 2020, it will certainly be a blow not having one of the top cover guys in college football on the outside. Instead, Jermaine Waller will lead the unit with Armani Chatman and Brion Murray looking to step in and fill the void. That doesn’t mean Farley won’t be supporting the players he’s gone to battle with over the past three years.
In fact, Farley has already demonstrated this over the years back home at Maiden. When he tore his ACL in 2017, the 6-foot-2, 207-pounder was able to spend more time back in the community he loves.
“He would come to the games and he would be the biggest cheerleader and coach on the sideline,” Byrne said.
When Maiden faced its biggest rival in Newcomb, the Blue Devils entered the game as three touchdown underdogs on paper. Farley was with the team from the pregame meal in the afternoon all the way through the end of the game, even leading a speech in the locker room that appeared to work some magic.
“We scored with like 20 seconds to beat them 30-27 at home in front of one of the biggest crowds that we’ve had at Maiden in a while,” Byrne said. “For [Farley] to be there and be that competitive. He cares so much about the community and Maiden football, especially against our rival. He was a factor in winning that game. He was there for one day that week. The seven hours he was there from after school to when the game was over, he had an impact on that game because of who he is.”
It’s the same support the Hokies can expect from Farley, even if from afar. After all, it’s exactly who the North Carolina native has shown himself to be.
“He’s way beyond the maturity level for that age, especially the attention he’s had,” Byrne said. “The fact that he keeps his faith, he stays well-balanced, and the fact that he’s not the big head. He’s just a great young man.”