Burton, Texas, is a little town in the rolling hills of western Washington County, around 15 minutes outside of Brenham.
According to its website, Burton is home to “The Official Cotton Gin Museum of Texas,” where the main attraction is a 1925 Bessemer Type IV diesel engine that has been restored and is the largest internal combustion engine of its age still operating in the United States.
The city, with a population of 297 according to the latest census, may need to update its website with a paragraph about Caleb Harmel soon. The fifth-year senior is nearly a lock to end his career as a three-time All-American.
How did Trinity coach Jerheme Urban find out about Harmel?
“I knew going into my senior year that I wanted to play football in college. I didn’t have a lot of attention being at a small school,” Harmel said. “I started emailing coaches each week, letting them know my stats and how the team was doing.”
“It was pretty evident watching his film to see that he’s a heckuva football player,” Urban added. “The hardest part at times is projecting a leader of his high school team who had so much success at quarterback to believe in where we think he’d fit our team.”
Trinity recruited Harmel as an athlete and invited him to one of their camps. He impressed the coaching staff with his ability to throw the football. But Urban had other plans and saw the making of someone special on defense.
“He’s got a big arm. We let him take some other fakes on the punt team, and he could throw it if he wanted to,” Urban said. “But his defensive film and football IQ were tremendous.”
“Coach Urban caught wind of me, and I was able to come see a few games at Trinity. I got to see what Trinity is about with great academics and rebuilding the football team,” Harmel said. “What really sold me was the people here and making the program better every year.”
Harmel has excelled on the field and twice earned D3Football.com All-American honors. A third straight appearance on the team is a near certainty, with Harmel having his best statistical season while leading the Tigers to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. He has already registered career-best numbers in tackles for loss (13), sacks (3), and interceptions (3). He’s 13 tackles away from breaking his career-high of 76 tackles in a season.
“I’m pretty sure I told him that if he bought into this, he could be an all-american middle linebacker,” Urban recalled. “It’s a testament to the defensive line keeping him clean and allowing him to make the plays that are there. They give him a lot of opportunities to make plays.”
“We can play free on offense because we have Caleb and ten other guys we trust on defense to get stops. When the offense can play free, and each unit can lean and depend on each other, it creates big opportunities,” Trinity quarterback Tucker Horn said. “We get the best work Monday through Thursday because we’re going against these guys in practice. It gives us an opportunity to get better each day.”
Harmel has also excelled off the field and is a two-time Southern Athletic Association Honor Roll member.
“What is unique about Caleb is that we don’t get a chance to recruit a lot of guys (because of academics). Caleb was the valedictorian of his class, and he let us know early on that academics were important to him,” Urban said. “His family wanted him to have an opportunity at Trinity. Knowing that he was intrinsically motivated to be pushed on the academic side gave me further confidence that he could make the transition to this level.”
Trinity will rely on the leadership of Harmel and Horn as the Tigers meet the reigning national champions, North Central, in Naperville, Illinois, on Saturday with their season on the line.
“They’ve only lost two games since 2018 and won two titles. They were close to winning a third, and they’ll be the best team we’ve played this year,” Urban said. “But these guys came back for this opportunity. We’re going to respect the dog out of them, and we’re going to need a great week of practice because they’ve earned that respect.”
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