For much of his high school career, Tay Calloway has been a football nomad.
After contributing regular reps to Capital’s Class AAA semifinal team as a freshman running back and defensive back in 2016, Calloway kept moving farther away from the school system where he grew up, perhaps looking for the perfect fit.
First, it was off to South Charleston for his sophomore season, where he was a starter as the Black Eagles went 4-7. Then when his mother’s job prompted a switch, he headed over to Nitro as a junior, and even though he rushed for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns, the Wildcats went 3-7.
For his senior season, Calloway started looking homeward, and proved that in some cases, you can go home again.
Exuding experience and maturity for a 17-year-old, Calloway has become a pillar on and off the field for the Cougars, who have shot out to a 3-1 start and again hope to contend in Class AAA.
Capital coach Jon Carpenter thinks Calloway’s winding road was part of a personal journey.
“You’re happy for him,’’ Carpenter said, “because he’s a talented kid. He just followed the easy money for a while. But he’s matured and come back up here to go someplace to win.
“I felt bad for him, because he hasn’t had a lot to cheer about for the last two years. But you see how he’s matured. It’s like when your son moves away — moves far away. But then he comes back, and you’re glad to see him. And because he’s a good player, it makes you happier to see him.’’
Calloway said the move back to Capital — his home base — made sense for him.
“I just felt like coming back home would be best for me and my family and my friends,’’ he said. “I wanted to finish out with them.’’
As an added bonus, he rejoins a program that’s made deep playoff runs an annual event. The Cougars have reached the playoff semifinals six straight seasons, the longest current streak in Class AAA.
Calloway has already boosted the Cougars’ stock before the season’s midway point. He leads the team in rushing with 388 yards and five touchdowns and has turned in long-distance scores the last three weeks — a 62-yard run Friday against Parkersburg, a 50-yard run against Hurricane and a 50-yard reception against SC. He’s posted three straight 100-plus-yard rushing efforts.
In addition, he mans a position in Capital’s strong defensive secondary, which also features two more college prospects in Kerion Martin and Karrington Hill.
But Carpenter values Calloway’s contributions in the locker room as well, for his work ethic, attitude and leadership for the younger players on the squad.
Calloway acknowledges what he’s gained in maturity since he’s been away from the Cougars program.
“It’s helped me a lot in my decision-making,’’ he said, “and the way I go about things on and off the field. Carp always talked to me about it, but I never thought about it until now. I look back and I see he was right.
“For example, last week against Hurricane on the first play for the offense, I fumbled. But then on the next possession when we got back on offense, I scored the first time I got the ball. A couple years ago, after that first fumble, I wouldn’t have wanted to play any more.’’
When asked what he thinks he brings to the team, Calloway didn’t hesitate to respond.
“I bring a lot of energy,’’ he said. “I don’t like seeing people down, or not having a good time in the locker room, or in school. I just play around a lot when the time is needed.’’
Speaking of energy, Calloway might not find himself lugging the ball 20 or more times in a game because he’s so vital to the defense that it’s imperative he remains fresh. Thus far, he’s averaged just 12 rushing attempts per game.
“I could do either one and it’s fine with me,’’ Calloway said of playing offense and defense. “But we have other backs who can do just as much as I can. Young guys, too, like Shawn James.’’
Carpenter didn’t think the coaching staff was necessarily limiting Calloway’s touches at running back, even if the numbers reflect that.
“Not really,’’ Carpenter said. “He’s a senior now, so he’s good to go. We’ve got three pretty good ones with James and [Zion] Smith, too, so really we’re going with who’s hot, and he’s been hot lately.’’