How Des Moines North's David Caulker went from unknown recruit to Iowa football commit
Des Moines North football’s David Caulker is not an overnight phenomenon.
It may seem that way, with the Polar Bears defensive end announcing his commitment to Iowa less than a day after picking up an offer at the Hawkeyes football camp on Sunday.
But there are lots of layers to Caulker’s success story, and while it appears that the rising senior came onto the scene practically out of thin air, those that know him best understand that Caulker has worked without recognition for years.
See, Caulker is a bit of a hidden gem, and he’s finally getting what he deserves.
How under-the-radar really was David Caulker?
Caulker is not a name many Iowa high school football fans would’ve known a few months ago, let alone a few years ago.
Unlike some of his high-level recruiting counterparts, the rising senior didn’t really get seriously involved in football until his sophomore year of high school, and even then, the past two years have been an uphill battle.
In the 2020 season, Caulker made North’s varsity roster. The Polar Bears went 0-2 before the remainder of their schedule was cancelled, and Caulker never made his way into a game.
Last season was his time to shine. But he played just five games, dealing with an ear infection and general injuries that prevented him from playing more.
Caulker finished his junior year with 21.5 tackles, including 16 solo tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.
After that season, Caulker wasn’t exactly a household name in recruiting circles. He didn’t crack the Des Moines Register’s ranking of the top 65 recruits in the 2023 class released in December. Division I college coaches weren’t really talking to him until the new year. Even then, his first D-I offer didn’t come until February, when Northern Iowa became the first program to offer Caulker.
“At first, I didn’t believe it,” Caulker said about receiving his first offer. “I had to ask my coach to make sure I heard it right. It was just crazy, like it didn’t feel real at all.”
While that first offer can sometimes open the flood gates for recruits, that wasn’t the case for Caulker. February ended without another offer. March and April passed with more of the same. But then came May.
Missouri offered on May 5, and Northern Illinois followed suit a day later. Iowa State offered on May 11, Minnesota on May 18, Nebraska on May 23. Kent State was the first offer in June, and on June 5, Iowa extended an offer.
A life-changing trip to Iowa City
Last Saturday, Caulker — along with teammates Kevin Quayee, Zack Seckee and Augustine Sleh — piled into North head coach Eric Addy’s car and took off for Lindenwood’s football camp.
The next day, fresh off the offer from Kent State, Addy turned into chauffeur once again, this time taking a couple of his players to Iowa’s football camp. The nearly four-hour round trip out to Iowa City would end up shaping Caulker’s future.
Iowa’s defensive recruiting coordinator Jay Niemann followed Caulker around for almost all three hours of camp that day, according to Addy. Caulker — who Addy describes as a sponge — absorbed everything he could from each drill. Every rep was better than the last, because Caulker didn’t want to leave camp wishing he had done more.
He showed out at camp, but Caulker doesn’t think it was just his skill that made him stand out.
“Probably I was giving the most energy out of everybody,” Caulker said. “Not just on my play, but I wanted to hype people up. Tell people ‘let’s go’ and get them going.”
What happened when camp ended is a bit of a blur for Caulker.
Defensive line coach Kelvin Bell gave Caulker a not-so-serious ultimatum: He had 30 seconds to decide if he was in or out. Caulker was shocked, but he told Bell he didn’t want to commit on the spot. With seven offers already under his belt heading into Iowa’s camp, he planned on taking at least a day to think about it.
But plans typically change.
Caulker went to Niemann’s office next. When Niemann left to get water for the group, Addy took the opportunity to give his player some advice.
“I didn’t think he was gonna make a decision that day,” Addy said. “But I was like, ‘You can do this or you can not do this, I don’t really care. But if this is truly where you want to be, what are you waiting for?’”
Those words must’ve impacted him in some way, because when head coach Kirk Ferentz joined the group, Caulker decided to commit on the spot. While his decision may seem rushed from an outsider perspective, that’s not exactly the full story.
Remember how Division I college coaches weren’t really talking to Caulker before the new year?
Well, Iowa was the first in the door with Caulker way back in early January. Niemann was the first Division I coach he had a conversation with, so even though the Hawkeyes were the last team to offer Caulker, they were the first to make an impression and, clearly, it paid off.
What is Iowa getting in its newest commit?
Caulker is listed as a three-star edge and the No. 10 2023 prospect in Iowa by 247Sports. The 6-4, 256-pound rising senior with a nearly 7-foot wingspan was recruited as a defensive lineman by the Hawkeyes.
Breaking down the five games worth of film he has, Caulker is a menace for offenses. He’s quick off the line and has a knack for exposing the weak spots of opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen. He moves well for his size and doesn’t have trouble getting past larger players. Caulker also has the speed and vision to be disruptive as a defensive end.
So, those are the tangibles. But what does he bring outside of a game situation?
“I’ve been thinking about how I can tell people about David, and coaches might know what I’m talking about,” Addy said. “He’s just got 'it.' I don’t know what it is, but I know he’s got a lot of it.”
Caulker can best be described as this: A great recruit but an even better teammate.
That’s what sets him apart from other prospects. Sure, he has the talent on the football field to back up eight Division I offers. But it’s not every day a coach gets a rare combination of perseverance and talent.
“David faced a lot of adversity where he would probably crumble like a lot of people, but you would never know that talking to him,” Addy said. “He is truly tough. A lot of kids would have quit … and the work that he has had to put in to get to where he is at is really what makes him special.
“David wasn’t very good when he started and that was fine. But I told him I did not care how good of a football player he ever became because he is a person that I want on our team because he’s just a great young man.”
Hard worker. Extremely coachable. Infectious personality. That’s how Addy describes one of his star players.
Caulker is starting to see that in himself. He’s emerged as an inspiration for current and future Polar Bears players. He understands that he’s representing something bigger than just himself.
“Not even just me, all these seniors, a lot of young guys look up to us,” Caulker said. “We have to set a good example, whether that be on the field or in the classroom, being good students and good citizens.”
A new chapter for Des Moines North football
It’s not always easy for players from the Des Moines Public Schools to stand out from the crowd.
But players like Caulker — and Quayee, Seckee and Sleh — are marking a new era of Polar Bears football. They had a teammate of their own to look up to: Deavin Hilson, a running back at Iowa and a 2021 North grad.
Before Hilson, a Division I football recruit hadn’t come out of Des Moines North in nearly three decades.
Now the Polar Bears have two in three years, and more on the horizon.
“I take a lot of pride (going Division I from North) because there’s a lot of doubters out there who think it can’t happen,” Caulker said. “But clearly it can and it has, and it probably will again. So yeah, I do take a lot of pride in that.”
A lot of the credit for that can go to the players. But there’s a chance those players wouldn’t be where they are without Addy, who has served as coach, driver, hype man and a father figure for most of the players on his roster.
When asked why he takes so much of his time to get his players exposure, Addy said it was never a question because Polar Bears recruits deserve to get the same looks as everyone else.
“I was one of these kids,” Addy said. “I try to be the coach that I needed and that I had right here at North, coaches that cared about me. This is home for me. …Why do I drive them places? Because they deserve every opportunity. I just get them to the door and they take it from there.”
Addy got Caulker to the door at Iowa.
Caulker stepped up and proved he deserved an offer.
It’s the extra effort that’s left a lasting impression on Caulker, who described Addy as the best coach in Iowa. Caulker recognizes that his head coach takes time away from his own wife and child to help his football family.
“I’m going into my senior year with these teammates I love even more than I did last year,” Caulker said. “I love football more than ever. Now that I’m committed, I can just focus on getting better, having fun with my teammates, and winning some games together.”
Alyssa Hertel is a college sports recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at email@example.com or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.