Callan WindhamClinch County High School
by Robert Preston Jr.
photography by Merrell Photography
Clinch tight end embraces his roots as he forges his own legacyCallan Windham isn’t a kid who blends into a crowd. At 6’5”, Callan stands head and shoulders above everyone else – literally. His boyish good looks, accentuated by a mop of blonde hair that isn’t quite coiffed but not disheveled, either, sets him apart. Then there’s his surname: Windham. Clinch County knows exactly whom Callan belongs to – former professional wrestler Barry Windham, who married Callan’s mother, Kebra, and settled in Clinch County many years ago. Barry and Kebra divorced seven years ago and he left town. Kebra and her son stayed behind, and she has devoted herself to raising him.
The hard work has paid off. Windham stands at the cusp of his senior year facing the kind of decisions most kids can only dream about. He’s a talented football and baseball player. He’s not bad on the hardwood, either, although he hasn’t played basketball since ninth grade.
Windham has benefitted from the best of both of his parents, inheriting size and athleticism from his father, while his mother made sure he studied hard and stayed out of trouble. The branches of the Windham family tree are littered with wrestlers and football players who seem to follow a common pattern: football first, then a career in the squared circle. That was the path taken by his grandfather, the legendary Blackjack Mulligan, whose real name was Robert Windham. Mulligan played college football at Texas Western University, then spent the 1966 preseason playing for the New York Jets. When his football career ended, he turned to professional wrestling. Mulligan is now a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
Barry Windham played college football until a knee injury ended his gridiron career. He also went into wrestling and is best known for his appearances with the National Wrestling Alliance and World Championship Wrestling.
Callan Windham is following in the first few footsteps established by his father and grandfather. His talent on the football field and his 4.0 grade point average have attracted college scouts from the Southeastern Conference to the Patriot League. Right now, he’s more worried about building on the success the Clinch County Panthers enjoyed last year, a season highlighted by an appearance in the semifinals of the state playoffs.
Windham has played football since he was old enough to strap on a pair of flags and play in Clinch County’s flag league. He played every fall except his seventh-grade year. “You know, I really can’t remember why I didn’t play that year. But I haven’t missed a season since,” he says.
At every stop since the flag league, Windham has been a tight end. Once he entered high school, he expanded his gridiron horizons. Now he lines up at tight end, wideout, and every so often, defensive end. Windham’s size, speed and football knowledge make him a formidable player, but that hasn’t always been the case. In ninth grade, Windham stood at 5’10” and weighed 150 pounds. Given his genetics, everyone waited for him to hit his growth spurt. It finally happened in tenth grade. By the time his sophomore year ended, he was 6’2”. In the year since, he’s added another three inches and watched his weight climb as high as 225, though he’s now at 215. He’s still bigger than his father was when he was in high school. “I’m larger than my dad was when he was 21 years old,” says Windham. “Blackjack was small, too. They were both late bloomers.”
Windham worked his way into head coach Jim Dickerson’s starting lineup in his sophomore season. He started seven games and enjoyed a great deal of playing time. Each year, he’s gotten a little bigger and a little stronger. This season, Dickerson lists Windham as one his most important offensive weapons and expects him to have a breakout year. Windham had 13 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns in 2009. His goals for 2010 are to improve in every facet of the game. He wants to block better, make more catches and do everything he can to put the Panthers in a position to win a region championship.
“Winning the region this year is going to be tough. We’ll have to beat Charlton and Wilcox to get there. But we’ve got a good team coming back this year and I think we can do it,” Windham says.
Clinch’s 2009 campaign was filled with highlights after the Panthers shook off losing three of its first five games before an eight-game winning streak. Of those games, Windham’s favorite was a quarterfinals match against Holy Innocents. With the Panthers on the 5-yard line and threatening to score, Windham was supposed to go to the goal line and look at quarterback Vintavious Cooper. When Cooper took the ball from the center, Windham noticed the goal line was crowded but the back of the end zone was clear. He headed to the open territory. Cooper spotted Windham and lofted the ball in his direction. Two Holy Innocents defenders converged but Windham went over them and grabbed the ball for a touchdown. The Panthers went on to win the game, 35-27. “That catch made the Atlanta news,” laughs Windham.
Windham has also made a name for himself playing baseball. He was an All-Region selection last year, finishing the season with a .350 batting average as a left fielder. Dickerson believes Windham could have the opportunity to play either baseball or football in college.
Windham sees one sport in his future – football. “I play baseball because it’s laid-back. I also love to hit. But football is my favorite. I’d like to play football in college.”
Windham’s grades have played perhaps an even a bigger role in his future than his athletic ability. Currently number two in his class, he has a solid 4.0 GPA. He made his lowest grade last year in AP biology, a 91. “We weren’t sure I was going to get an A out of that class but I pulled it out,” he says. Despite his motivation, Windham doesn’t think he will catch the likely valedictorian. “She likes to study more than I do,” he laughs.
If Windham’s athletic ability came from his father, his attention to academics comes from his mother. “I haven’t had to stay on him about his grades,” his mother says. “When he was little we set a pattern. He would do his homework right when he got home from school. Today, he still gets his homework done when gets home. He’s always done it himself. I want him to play sports but schoolwork comes first.”
His mother’s lessons have stuck with Windham. “I love my mom and really look up to her. I want to do something for myself after high school. Mom taught me that would happen through education,” he says.
Windham has plenty of options. He has no formal offers but he’s heard from Georgia, Florida, the Naval Academy, Lafayette College and several Division I-AA schools. He isn’t leaning toward any one school just yet. He’s content to weigh his options and see what offers officially land on his table. No matter what he decides to do, he has remained well grounded and headed in the right direction. His mother has made sure of that. “I’ve tried to instill Christian values in Callan. I haven’t just wanted to take him to church but also to model a Christian life for him. Callan has always kept his head on right and has made good decisions,” she says.
Windham is active at New Vision Church of God in Homerville and is also a member of the Beta Club. When he has down time, he enjoys retreating to his grandmother’s property in Fargo on the Suwannee River, where he rides his four-wheeler and occasionally hunts. “It’s a good place to get away and unwind,” he says.
The unanswered question for Windham is whether he’ll decide to climb in the ring. When asked, he just laughs. He would like to study something like sports medicine in college. “I want to help people. I definitely don’t want to sit behind a desk,” he says. “As far as wrestling goes, that might be something to fall back on. I’ll leave that to the Lord. He knows what I need to be doing.” •
Head football coach Jim Dickerson says that if Windham played basketball, he would probably be the best basketball player on the team. The irony about Windham’s fledgling basketball career is that he played in ninth grade, when he was 5’10”. He hasn’t played at all since he flew past six feet, but that might change this season. “I think I might play this year. It might help my footwork and speed for football,” he says.