Wiles to play university lacrosse
After two years studying and playing lacrosse at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y., Orillia's Caleb Wiles has landed a full athletic scholarship to Florida Southern College.
Orillia's Caleb Wiles hasn't always been a team player.
The 23-year-old lacrosse star has been through more than his fair share of ups and downs over the years, but if there's one thing he's learned, it's that people have got your back.
A standout player in his early teens, Wiles was invincible. What he didn't consider, however, was that his father might not be.
When Steve Wiles died suddenly from a heart attack eight years ago, his youngest son found himself at a crossroads.
"You just don't know what to believe in anymore," said Wiles, who spent the next six years floundering, trying to figure out the person he wanted to be.
Steve had been more than just a father to Wiles and his two older brothers Jason and Luke. He had been a friend and mentor, both on and off the field.
"It was never, 'Go do this,'" Wiles said fondly. "He would go out and do it with us.
"The way that he taught us and how he did things with us gave us the love that we have for the game."
Jason and Luke pushed Caleb, hoping he'd take an interest in school, but that was never at the top of his agenda.
"I just had a hard time growing up. Basically, I didn't want to. I didn't want to do anything."
Thinking back, Wiles said he barely recognizes the person he was then.
"I just had to work it out and realize you can't really live life that way."
After two years studying and playing lacrosse at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y., Wiles has landed a full athletic scholarship to Florida Southern College.
Wiles' time at Onondaga did wonders for him, said his mother Sandy, who thinks the chance to "start fresh" was essential to her son's success, but it wasn't without some rough patches.
Used to playing box lacrosse - played five-on-five in an arena - back home, Wiles had to adjust to a whole new ball game.
"I didn't understand what was going on," he said of his first taste of field lacrosse, an outside version of the game where each team has nine players and a goalie.
"Here, there's a 30-second shot clock and there you just basically go until someone engages with you or you go to the net."
But with Wiles' newfound drive and determination, he focused all his efforts toward getting a better grasp on the game and simply put, improving.
"Caleb was someone who came and grew up a lot here," said Chuck Wilbur, head coach of the Onondaga Lazers. "I think he's a much better student. I think he's a much better lacrosse player and most importantly, I think he's a much better person and a lot of it's come from him, within."
Wilbur, who coached Wiles to National Junior College Athletic Association Championships with the Lazers in each of the two years he was there, said it was never a question of talent.
"I think he grew up on some teams where he was the scorer," Wilbur said. "He was so used to scoring all the goals and he had to change his way a little bit by being here because there's so many talented players."
As time went on, Wiles learned to be a very "unselfish" player.
Realizing he didn't have to do everything was an eye-opener for the star. He began to work the ball more, passing to his teammates and racking up assists in addition to goals.
In less than 25 games in the 2011 season, Wiles scored more than 130 points.
"I think people look at him as a huge goal scorer, but the one thing he does have is great vision. He sees the field very well, finds the open man," Wilbur said of Wiles, who received All-American honours.
Wiles said it was hard for him to put things in perspective when he was younger, and is thankful he got the chance to re-visit the game at a higher level once he was more focused.
"As a player, there's so many things you can look forward to," Wiles said, singling out the National Lacrosse League (NLL), a professional league in which his brother Luke plays.
When they were kids, Wiles and his brothers were dead-set on playing hockey. But lacrosse grew on them.
Jason also did a brief stint in the NLL, before moving on to pursue a career outside of the sport.
From batting around rolled-up socks on the hardwood floor of his house, playing the game with his siblings, Wiles has come a long way.
"The thing that probably got me through it was knowing I have a really strong family behind me," said Wiles, who has two sisters - Holly and Tamara - in addition to his two brothers.
"Trying to push myself through that and see a different avenue in life has helped me get to where I am right now."
Wiles, who has already been down to visit Florida Southern, said the chance to study there on scholarship and play the game he loves, is "a dream come true."