Now that it’s finally game week for Oklahoma, we’re beginning a new blog series featuring Q and As with Sooners’ walk-ons.
First up is senior linebacker from Claremore Caleb Gastelum.
Gastelum figures to see plenty of playing time this season both on special teams and on defense, where he’s the backup to starting inside linebacker Jordan Evans.
He’s played in 33 games over the last three seasons, mostly on special teams. Last season, he had five tackles including two in Bedlam when he saw playing time on defense.
Gastelum was home schooled and played high school football for Tulsa NOAH
It wasn’t officially a part of this series but here’s a bit on walk-on safety Thaddeus LaGrone from Jason Kersey.
What’s it like to finally be a senior?
It’s great. I’ve been here since 2010. It’s my last go-round as a fifth-year senior. I had a greta camp, probably the best camp I’ve had yet.
What’s the journey been like for you as a walk-on and everything that goes along with it?
It’s been good. There’s been ups and downs and things like that but overall, you have some hard times but looking back at it, it’s an experience that I’ll never forget and I’ll cherish forever really.
Did you have a chance to play anywhere on scholarship out of high school?
In high school I didn’t really know about getting film out and stuff like that so didn’t really know anything about that so it was last-minute and by that time, universities had already committed their scholarships elsewhere. But I did get a partial offer from SWOSU. Went down there, toured the campus and watched a game. I just really didn’t feel like it was the place for me. So I told them no and just decided to come to Oklahoma and walk on after talking to coach (Brent) Venables.
What’s been the toughest part of being a walk-on?
Really financially it’s been probably the hardest. There’s a lot of student loans and it’s something that a lot of guys are fortunate enough to leave school and not have any debt and they’ll start out at zero where other guys, they’ll have to pay college tuition and loans for quite awhile but that’s one of the toughest parts.
How much has it helped this year that walk-ons are able to get unlimited meals and snacks?
It’s been good. They’ve been able to feed us a lot more than they used to. It’s been good for us. It definitely helps out in putting weight on and nutrition.
Do you feel like you’re more prepared because of the new rules?
I do. Coach Tiff(any Byrd) has done a really great job with preparing players and getting them right with what they eat and getting us to understand what we put into our bodies so that we can get the best output on the field. That’s been one thing that I’ve kind of noticed the most with the nutrition part of it.
Was that hard in the past to eat right when you weren’t getting good provided?
You have to want it. You have to want to do right by your body so that you can perform on the field and you definitely need that.
When you arrived here, did you immediately feel like you belonged as a Division I player?
As far as the game speed and adjusting to that, that was a little different. Obviously the transition from high school to college is a good speed different. But honestly I had gotten a lot of feedback in high school and I felt like I was in the right place. I had walk-on opportunities given to me through Arkansas and even Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. I sent my film in to Coach Venables when he was here. He looked it over and got back with me, really interested and seemed really eager that I come here, even though he wouldn’t be able to offer me a scholarship. I made that decision to walk on and I really felt like I belonged here at that time.
Why did you pick Oklahoma over your other opportunities?
The interest, the history of the program, the coaches were just really genuine and outgoing when I came here on a visit. Coach Venables seemed really interested and very genuine with me. I really felt like it was more of a family atmosphere here compared to the other two and it has been. It’s been a great experience here. It’s been like a giant family to me and the support system has been really great.
You were able to play relatively fast?
I did. I redshirted my true freshman year and after that I’ve been able to play a part on special teams.
What was last year like to play in every game and see time at linebacker?
It was great to help my team out. That’s the biggest part is what can I do to help this team in any kind of way, whether it’s special teams, whether it’s defense, it’s up to me to make sure that I’m prepared for that situation if I am to go into a game. I have to be responsible and accountable to my teammates.
What do you plan on doing after football?
I’m still kind of thinking about that but next year I would like to pursue higher education, looking to get a master’s. I graduate this December. I’m not exactly sure which direction yet. Coaching would be something I would like to familiarize myself with and really learn so that I am able to do that. We’ll see what happens.
What level do you want to coach?
High school is kind of my thought now. I really don’t know. I’ve kind of got to take things as they come.
When did you start thinking about that?
Probably about a year ago. I’ve kind of been pondering what my future holds. When you’re junior year rolls around you’ve really got to start deciding and thinking and planning on what you’re going to be doing in the future.
Has the time here gone by quick?
It has. When you get here and that first fall camp rolls around and summer, you go through a tough workout or a tough practice and you think to yourself ‘Man, this is never going to end.’ But you see older guys ahead of you graduate and move on and before you know it you look back and you’re looking down at freshman and sophomore guys and you’re already in your last year.