Caldwell’s choice pays dividends in senior season

Published 1:36 pm Friday, December 26, 2008

TUSCALOOSA — Sometimes tough decisions look like no-brainers in hindsight. For instance, Antoine Caldwell’s choice to return to Alabama for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft.

Good call.

Caldwell earned first-team All-America honors and is one of the leaders on a team that has gone 12-1 and will play in the Sugar Bowl Jan. 2 against Utah. Plus, he got a second bachelor’s degree in consumer affairs/financial planning earlier this month.

“You can’t draw it up any better,” Caldwell said. “I just knew what kind of leaders and experience we had on this team coming back this year. I felt comfortable making that decision. I knew we were going to have a great team.”

The kind of season both he and the Crimson Tide have enjoyed will likely improve his stock with the NFL, too. Caldwell is one of six finalists for the Rimington Award given to the nation’s top center by the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

He has also been one of the stars of an offensive line that has been perhaps the Tide’s biggest strength this season.

Last season, he was voted a captain by his teammates despite being one of five Alabama players who served four-game suspensions for using their athletic scholarships to get free textbooks for others. Chances are, NFL teams are now more likely to ask him about the Tide’s turnaround than the suspension.

In announcing his decision to return, Caldwell said he had “a lot of unfinished business” at Alabama. Much of that has been taken care of, even though the Tide fell short of his goal of winning a Southeastern Conference title with a loss to Florida in the title game.

Caldwell earned All-America honors but wasn’t even a preseason first-team All-SEC pick. That honor went to Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas, who won last year’s Rimington.

“It’s a blessing. An incredible honor,” he said. “I was excited about it when I heard about it. I joke with everyone, it took me five years to get here. It was real exciting for me to be associated with a lot of guys on that list, because there were a lot of good football players on that list.”

The Montgomery native can chalk up another honor for the season. He was invited to participate in the Senior Bowl, a showcase for top senior NFL prospects.

It’s a game he has attended a number of times as a fan.

“That’s something I do, me and my family always go every year,” Caldwell said. “To actually go out there this time will be a huge deal for me and my family. They’ll be excited about it.”