Before Caleb York ever started a varsity football game at Providence High, coach Justin Hardin gave his future quarterback advice he doesn’t give out to just any player.
York was in the equipment room last summer trying to pick his jersey number when Hardin stepped in to offer a suggestion.
“I remember him asking me, ‘Coach, what number should I take?’ ” said Hardin, who was in his first year as the Panthers’ head coach at the time. “I immediately said, ‘Well the best number on any football team is No. 16.’
“Of course, that is the number I wore when I played quarterback (at Kannapolis Brown). I won’t just let any player wear that number; you’ve got to be tough.
“Caleb plays the game the right way, he’s very competitive. So I knew he could handle wearing that number.”
York, who Hardin calls “1-6,” accepted the challenge.
“When he told me the best player wears No. 16, I knew I had to have it,” said York.
Hardin loved the number because of former NFL quarterback Joe Montana. “When your head coach tells you something like that, how are you going to say no? At first it was kind of an inside joke between us, but now I love the number.”
York, 17, has lived up to his jersey number’s reputation from his first game.
In last year’s season-opener against Hough, York ran the ball 20 times for 83 yards (passing for only 23 yards), but took some vicious hits from the Husky defense in a 34-21 loss.s
“Caleb really got beat up in that first game, but he kept getting back up and kept playing hard going right at their defenders,” Hardin said. “He showed he had a lot of heart. Even though we lost that game, he proved he was tough and he was going to be a leader for us.
“When you have a tough quarterback like that, the team rallies around it and it spreads throughout the team. That is exactly what happened for us.”
York went on to pass for 1,740 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, while rushing for 761 yards and eight more scores.
The most important number to York was the 8-5 record for the Providence High team, which surprised some in the area by finishing second to Charlotte Catholic in the SoMeck 8 conference.
The Panthers, who had combined for seven wins in 2011 and 2012, also beat West Mecklenburg 14-7 in the opening round of the 2013 playoffs before falling 42-27 to eventual 4AA state champion Mallard Creek.
More motivated that ever, York and the Panthers practically lived in the weight room and on the practice field this summer. The Providence senior, now 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, is more experienced and much stronger.
York increased his bench press from 155 to 235 pounds and his squats from 285 to 410 pounds within the last year; he also runs a 4.75-second 40-yard dash.
“Coach Hardin constantly preaches to us about getting bigger, stronger, faster,” York said. “It’s all a part of the physical mentality we have at Providence now. We might lose a game, but it’s not going to be because a team is stronger or more physical than us. No one is going to out power us.”
Through his first three games, York is 31-of-53 passing for 549 yards and four touchdowns and has 138 yards rushing and five scores. York has averaged 183 yards passing, 46 yards rushing and three touchdowns per game with a 95.6 quarterback rating while leading Providence to a 2-1 record going into the game against Myers Park on Sept. 12.
York’s top performance to date was in a 40-2 rout of Porter Ridge, when he rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 128 yards – including a 56-yard touchdown – in three quarters.
York gets a lot of help from offensive teammates, including tailbacks Brian Mattar (averaging 120 yards rushing per game), Jack King and Connor Johnson, and wide receivers including York’s best friend, John Biasucci, and Drake Deluliis.
York says his success would not be possible without the offensive line: junior Danny Johnson and seniors Jacob Bernstein, Jackson Boguski, Grant Dixon and Benjamin Tomerlin.
To keep his line motivated, York often rewards the players for a good game with a buffet of “about 200 chicken wings, which are always devoured quickly,” he said.
While York gets a lot of inspiration from Hardin and his teammates, his father, Jason York, has also been instrumental to his success. Jason York played quarterback in high school in New York.
“My dad always reminds me that you only get a few opportunities in life to make a big difference,” said York, who spent most of his freshman and sophomore years at Providence as the junior varsity quarterback, playing a few varsity games when then-starter James Haigh was injured. “I think about all the time. We practiced like 300 times this year, just to play in a guaranteed 11 games. That means I’ve practiced 1,200 times for 44 games in my career. I’m not going to take even one of those games or opportunities for granted.”
It’s that kind of focus, intensity and toughness that has York ready to make this a season to remember at Providence.
“I get chills just thinking about this being my last (high school) season,” York said. “It’s a great feeling to know we have a team with chance to challenge for a conference championship, going far in the state playoffs and maybe even win a state championship. I’m going to do everything I can to accomplish those things.
“But you’ve got have that focus on every play, and get up and be ready for the next play.”