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Talented teen on and off the turf

Caleb Smalley lines up for a play during a recent scrimmage. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Caleb Smalley is talented in many areas. But bragging isn’t one of them.

The high school senior from the High School for Creative and Performing Arts can serenade with the saxophone or tickle the ivories of a piano with the best of them. He also shows his rugged side as one of the best players on South Philadelphia High School’s football team. 

You have to dig deep to hear him boast about it, as Smalley is wrapped in layers of humbleness.

“There’s not too much to know about me,” said Smalley, who lives in the Frankford section of the city. “I’m not really that interesting of a person.”

He’s also a bad liar.

Smalley is one of the smartest students at CAPA and plans to study pre-law in college, where he will also hope to continue his football career. He has a knack for robotics and science after participating in clubs as a middle schooler. He says his biggest goal, however, is to simply be a good person.

“I look up to my brother and my father as role models,” Smalley said. “I want to follow them and become good people like they are.”

Caleb is trying to navigate his brother’s footsteps closely, as Matthew Smalley cracked the NFL with the New York Giants after excelling on the field at Father Judge High School and Lafayette College. Caleb didn’t start playing football until age 11, when Matthew was in college, but he’s had his sights set on following his older sibling. Caleb also plays basketball for Southern in the winter.

Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“My brother played college football and made the NFL so I really wanted to follow in his footsteps and help out the family,” Caleb said.

He actually already does in simpler ways. Caleb enjoys cooking at home so his family certainly benefits when he has the time to whip up a dish. Baked chicken and rice is his favorite recipe, which is great for replacing the calories he burns on the field. This season at South Philly has been a bit more demanding on Smalley as the team is young and inexperienced. He’s being asked to do more, because his coach Mike McKeen knows his 6-foot-3, 200-pound wide receiver and outside linebacker can handle it.

“He’s one of our leaders,” McKeen said. “We’re very young so we’re looking to that small group of seniors that we have to lead this group.” 

The Southern Rams carry the banner of a partnership of multiple schools that play under the school’s name. They draw from South Philly schools like Prep Charter, Horace Furness, Girard Academic Music Program, Universal Audenried, String Theory and CAPA as well as other schools outside of South Philadelphia. 

It’s many personalities and egos coming together from many different neighborhoods.

“It’s the double-edge sword,” McKeen said. “The numbers are great but we’re putting ourselves behind the eight ball putting kids together that have never played together. There might only be 15 kids back from last spring. We’re putting a whole new team together and it’s cleaning everything up and getting it where we want.”

Caleb Smalley makes a tackle during a recent scrimmage. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

Smalley is one of the glue guys, keeping things positive as the team endures its growing pains. He simply enjoys being out on the turf each week.

“It’s a mix of different personalities,” Smalley said. “But all the guys want to come together and play the sport that we all love. We just want to win.”

For Smalley, it’s getting the chance to play again. After getting some time as a freshman, he didn’t play his sophomore year because he said there were some complications with the partnership between schools. Junior year was pushed to spring and limited by COVID. That leaves just one more slate of games to make an impression this fall as a senior.

“This is my last year so I’m just looking to play football again,” Smalley said. “I just want to improve and impress.”

A late August scrimmage against West Philly was his first taste. It left him hungry for more.

“It feels amazing to be back on the field,” Smalley said. “It’s been a long-awaited couple of months with COVID and it’s been a crazy time. It’s just nice to be back out here playing with all the guys.”

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