Downs plays basketball for Mill Creek. He’s a smart player and a heady defender. Just not a Steph Curry type.
“They’ve come to two basketball games and they came to my weight training class with five coaches already,” Downs said of the surge in interest from the defending national champions.
Have the Bulldogs helped themselves with this level of recruiting? Are they moving up?
“Yeah well they definitely are,” he said this weekend. “You can see that. My Dad always said to go where you are wanted. He says you can tell when somebody wants you more and if they are showing action to what they are saying then that’s definitely a school you want to pursue.”
His father, Gary, is also the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at East Tennessee State. He brings to the table a level of expertise that hits harder than the expected 5-star fatherly advice.
As it turns out, there is more to the Downs football family than just that. Quite a lot more.
5-star Mill Creek safety Caleb Downs has quickly become one of the MAJOR targets for UGA in the 2023 recruiting cycle. The instinctive hard-hitting safety was at UGA on January 15, 2022, for the championship celebration. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
The story so far with 5-star “Star” Caleb Downs
Caleb Downs is an insightful young man. Especially when it comes to recruiting.
That is to be expected given his father’s vocation, but his older brother Josh is also a star receiver at North Carolina.
Gary Downs also played running back for NC State. He even played in the NFL from 1994-to 2000, including the final three years of his career in Atlanta. He was a third-round draft pick.
Josh Downs was one of the top playmakers in the state over the last decade. He was unguardable his last three seasons at North Gwinnett. He piled up 187 catches for 3019 yards and 32 touchdowns in Class 7A ball.
No one could touch him on the 7-on-7 circuit. Much less guard him. Josh was also named first-team All-ACC in 2021 after tallying up 101 catches for 1,335 yards and eight scores.
Caleb Downs will be a senior at Mill Creek this fall. The 6-foot, 187-pounder rates as the nation’s No. 1 safety and the No. 12 overall recruit on the 247Sports Composite.
His father was a running back. Josh is a playmaking receiver who will garner preseason All-American buzz this fall. Caleb stars as a defensive back.
That background is necessary to advance this point: Downs seems like a young man who has always set out to find his own way. It seems to be the case here, but he’s also taking advantage of everything his family has experienced beforehand.
Downs stresses development in what he is looking for with his college choice.
“It never really mattered to me about the championship,” Downs said of Georgia. “I would say it mattered to me if they could win the big game. But I’m not going to places just to win games in colleges. I’m going places to get developed so I can get to the next level.”
He has some “real talk” tough questions for the programs that really want him.
“Show me the drills,” he said, “Show me what you do in practice or teach tape to develop guys.”
The second big thing for him is program stability
“What makes you stay at this school?” he said. “Not just why do you like to coach at the school. What makes you have to stay here?”
He sees that at Georgia.
“Look at coach [Todd] Hartley at Georgia,” Downs said. “There’s really no reason for him to ever leave Georgia. That’s where he went to school. Look at Muschamp. He came back to Georgia. He’s an alum. Look at Kirby Smart. Those guys all have no reason now to ever leave Georgia.”
The third tenet would be finding a place where he can contribute early. Not necessarily to start.
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5-star Mill Creek safety Caleb Downs ranks as the nation's No. 1 safety and the No. 12 overall prospect for 2022 on the 247Sports Composite ratings. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Caleb Downs on Georgia football
Downs was already being recruited heavily by Jahmile Addae, Muschamp and Smart over the summer. He made a name for himself at a 7-on-7 camp in Athens early in his career.
Since then, the Bulldogs have steadily ramped up their interest.
The atmosphere in Athens has always intrigued him. He knows they have to win, but they go about it in a way that seems exciting.
When he visited Georgia last fall, he felt he’d have a chance to play early.
“They are not the healthiest right now,” he said back in October. “They are playing a lot of guys that might not normally play there and they are still excelling in their defense. Just seeing that makes me feel that a guy with my caliber of talent can go in there and play well.”
At that time, he had Georgia on the shortlist of schools he was considering. The way he looked at that national championship unit was different than most.
“Georgia has a defense based on adjustments,” he said. “When I was at the Kentucky game, I saw that school runs a different offense than most teams. They huddle up and sprint out to the ball and get up to the line and snap it quickly. Playing a new team like that you can’t just line up in the middle and say I’ve got this guy. If he runs to the other side of the field, you are not going to run over there.”
“Then you aren’t going to be set when they call the snap. They had to play a different coverage that would match that and even with that their D-line is so good you are not going to have much time to pass the ball. I see the adjustments they make and their matchups. They saw that their players are just as good or better than yours. They know they can match up to you at any point in the game.”
The Georgia Way on defense was apparent.
“That defense plays with a will like they want to make that other team quit and give up because they are not getting any yards on them,” Downs said.
It has been hard for him to point to his strongest relationship with the Georgia staff.
“That is a tough question,” Downs said. “Coach [Jahmile] Addae is a great guy. A guy that I can learn a lot from. But coach [Will] Muschamp and coach [Kirby] Smart are just cool people to be around. Fun people to talk to. You think they would be just like where is the next challenge and what is the next step for our team. But they are just funny people. You can learn a lot from them on the football field but I feel like I can learn a lot off the field from them as well.”
Downs has always maintained a set timeline for his decision. He has pointed to the summer before his senior year. That’s still about six or seven months away.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “We will see if anything changes.”
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5-star Mill Creek safety Caleb Downs works in the early summer of 2021 at a 7-on-7 camp for the Atlanta-based Hustle, Inc. program. He's been a mainstay on that unit for several years now. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Caleb Downs: The things to pay attention to
“My whole family is a football family,” Downs said last fall. “For me, the main reason I play is just the love of the game. I want to compete and to be the best I can be.”
Downs had schools like Alabama, Clemson, FSU, Georgia, North Carolina, Notre Dame and Ohio State on his mind then. He was already down to six or seven schools he kept in his back pocket then. He never formally or informally named those programs.
He spent last June visiting all of his candidates for a top school. Those programs already had identified him as a nickel or a “Star” type player by that point.
“They all say versatility is one of my best traits,” he said back in August of 2021.
Yet his mind was already on his junior year at that point.
“Just want to lock in now and lock in on my season and get my team right,” he said then.
Downs did just that. He led Mill Creek to an 11-2 record with his 77 tackles and five interceptions. He is vital both before the snap and after the snap for his team.
“My role would be to get everybody lined up in coverage the right way for the best matchups possible, calling the correct coverages to the correct sets, fitting the run game when I am near or going to be in the box, clearing our linebackers in coverage when they need to be in coverage on the slot and the tight end and that’s about it,” he said.
He scored four times running the ball on offense. He was used primarily at free safety and then all over the place on offense. Downs would log 30 or 40 snaps on offense at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and as a slot receiver as a junior in 2021.
MaxPreps.com placed him on their 2021 Junior All-American Team. He also made the 2020 Sophomore All-American Team after 57 tackles and four picks.
Downs has 14 career interceptions in his time at Mill Creek. He does know what type of role he wants to play in college. That’s what he has already told Georgia.
“I see myself just being near the ball,” Downs said. “So whether it is at a ‘Star’ or at safety, I just want to be where I can make the most plays. That’s where I told them I wanted to play.”
What is the message ringing in his ear from Georgia?
“Stay home and get developed here,” Downs said. “I think the analogy they use is if you’re a shoe shopper and going to a mall which mall are you going to go to? The one that is 45 minutes away? Or the one that is four or five or six hours away? You get that same type of quality close to home.”
Does he feel like those development boxes are checked there for Georgia?
“With Coach Muschamp and coach Smart?” he said. “Yes. That’s some of the best right there to ever do it.”
5-star Mill Creek safety Caleb Downs has a football family. His brother, Josh, was a first-team ALL-ACC receiver at North Carolina in 2021. His father, Gary, is a college assistant coach and a former running back in the NFL. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Caleb Downs: A side of Kirby Smart that a 5-star gets to see
The rising senior did visit UGA during the 2021 season. When he did, he got an earful from 2022 Georgia DB Ja’Corey Thomas on the field before that game.
“He was really trying hard to share with me all the reasons why he chose Georgia and why it was such a very good fit for him,” Downs said. “Give him credit. He was really trying hard.”
Downs was at Georgia’s championship celebration on January 15. He said he’s never felt a trophy that heavy before.
He believed it weighed about 30 to 35 pounds. He said it felt “special” holding it.
“Having recruits there for their championship celebration was the ultimate flex,” Downs said. “It did prove to be a big thing to see that. Because I’ve never seen that. They were surprised at how many people showed up. So to know that people cared about their championship game and to know that you were specifically invited to that as a recruit was a very big thing for me.”
He had the chance to talk to Smart both before and after 33-18 against Alabama.
“The day before the celebration Kirby was at my school,” Downs said. “But then I talked to him in the weeks leading up to when he was preparing for the national championship. After that game, I asked him what it feels like now. He said ‘I feel so much relief’ after they won it. After the ceremony, you see him holding the trophy and you feel it. You feel that. You really see that he did what he always wanted to do and he proved himself to everybody.”
Downs did not visit anywhere this past weekend. He was trying to get a chance to visit Alabama, but it is not certain that will happen before the dead period arrives again.
If not, he will pick everything back up in March and April. He’s been looking to take his official visits this spring.
Check out his junior highlight reel below against 7A playoff juggernauts Collins Hill, North Gwinnett and Grayson.
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