CARBON HILL - Caleb Sides of Carbon Hill High School's golf team still worries about his short game - but he appears to have what it takes for the long game of life.
Sides, 18, who will graduate from the school later this month and was voted "most likely to succeed" by his classmates, is teeing off to eventually go to college and then make his way to the U.S. Air Force to be a pilot.
Deb Jacks, counselor of the high school, described a mature young man who is planned for the future and focuses on the task, while also pushing himself more than the average student.
"Caleb is the kid you can ask to do anything and he will complete a task without you having to stay behind him or on him about it," she said. "Caleb is also very trustworthy. He's liked by all his peers. I've never known him to have an enemy."
Jacks said he can be put in charge of anything as a leader and will stand out.
"He will do it to the hilt and kids are going to follow him and his lead. To me, that is a big character of a leader," she said. "He is a leader who knows how to work. He doesn't just bark orders; he works beside the person he is leading. He is just really a great all-around young man."
Sides, the son of Eric and Kim Sides of Carbon Hill, was born on Jan. 4, 2001, at St. Vincent's Birmingham, and grew up in Carbon Hill.
"My grandfather (Ronald Knight of Nauvoo) started me off playing golf when I was really young," Sides said. "I was between 6 and 10, I think. He would take me out to Arrowhead, the golf course out there." After Arrowhead shut down, he went to Musgrove Country Club (where lessons from a pro helped him with his swing in time) and played in a couple of tournaments.
He stopped playing as he took up football, and would eventually on the varsity football team for four years. However, he also took up golf again in high school.
"Not many other people do it and its fun to watch on TV, like the pros, the PGA tour guys. They do really well at it and are really popular."
Moreover, he said it is not like other sports, which are usually physical. "It plays with your mind. You have to not let the game beat you, but you beat the game because it's hard. It's not easy," he said. The short game was his weak point to work on, approaching the hole from within 100 yards, he said.
Starting with his sophomore year, he has been active and progressing on the golf team, which has seven members this year. He noted he started practicing three times a week.
"We would play around. We would go home, and we would play a match maybe two times a week," he said. "I started out pretty low. The top five, their scores count. I think I started sixth."
As he got familiar with his clubs, and then got new clubs and a new bag after the first year, deciding he could actually be good with more practice. "I've been playing threes and fours," he said, referring to the top five scores, with one the best.
"We've won the county tournament the past two or three years in a row," Sides said, noting it was second place the year it wasn't. His career highlight was getting on the All-Tournament Team this year, tying for fifth place at Horse Creek after shooting a 97 over 18 holes.
"I kind of feel I am a pretty competitive player. I try to get an edge," he said.
Asked for his strong point, he said it would be his "irons in the middle of the fairway," while he is still weakest at chipping. Sides feels he has most improved at getting more distance in his drives, increasing from "180 to 200, and now they go to 220 to 230."
As a team, he said, "We do well together and we do bad together. If someone is off, it affects most everyone else a little bit. Somebody has got to be good."
He praised his coach, Bill Madsion, as a good leader. "I like him a lot. Anytime we need him, he is there," he said.
Not all has gone well at times. He recalled practicing for sections in Montgomery this year in the rain, which put him off kilter.
"I get to the second hole; I think it was Par 5," he said. "I had hit my second shot and it actually went into the fairway - but it was this far in the mud. It was sitting halfway in the mud."
Knowing he needed a strong swing to get out, he swung hard with his 7 iron.
"I topped the ball and it stuck straight down in the ground. It didn't go anywhere," he said, laughing. People with him looked off in the distance to see where the ball was supposed to go, saying, "Where is it?"
He said, "It's right there," and pointed downward. "I stuck my club in the ground and pulled it up like a shovel." He then turned to someone and said, "I want to go home."
As for his academic achievements, he placed in sixth place out of 106 students, with a GPA of 4.1. He made a 27 on the ACT on the first try - his highest score to yet - and he has a Presidential Scholarship to Bevill State Community College, which just accepted him. (He will have four courses under his belt under dual enrollment when he graduates this month.)
Sides also applied and has been accepted into the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where he has a Charger Scholar Scholarship to finish his education.
His list of academic achievements is actually long, with Jacks noting he goes to leadership forums to learn and not just socialize. His achievements include, in part, Youth Leadership Walker County, Alabama Governors School at Samford University (one of the first that Jacks can remember representing Carbon Hill over the past five years), Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, National Academy of Future Scientist and Technologist Award of Excellence, and the National Youth Leadership Forum on National Security, Diplomacy, Intelligence and Defense in Washington in 2018. He has been invited this summer to attend a leadership summit at Harvard University.
Sides also has a long list of clubs and volunteer service. A partial list includes the Daily Mountain Eagle Shoe Fund, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, National Honor Society, National Beta Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Future Business Leaders of America, Salvation Army and Operation Christian Shoebox, as well as reading weekly to first and second grade students at Carbon Hill Elementary School.
He also played football all four years of high school football at strong safety and wide receiver, and also served as a manager this year for the basketball team.
As for describing himself, he said, "I like to think of myself as a leader. People look up to me. A lot of time when people have a question, they come to me to find an answer. Whenever we are doing a school project, I'm in charge of the group sometimes."
He said he likes to go to the movies, and he likes to go fishing with his buddies in local places after church each Sunday.
Sides has definite plans for the future.
"I would like to study aerospace engineering and get a master's degree in that from Huntsville, and after that I would like to join the United States Air Force and become a commissioned officer and train to be a pilot," he said.
His attraction to that was simply video games, some of which allow you to "fly around in a plane and shoot stuff. But also I really love adrenaline. I love adrenaline rushes.
"I went to Six Flags one time and rode the Acrophobia, the one that shoots you way up in the sky 300 feet. That was so fun. That was the most fun ever. I love roller coasters. I've only been to Six Flags once, but I love roller coasters. I want to go skydiving, but that is a little bit expensive."
While his high school golf career now is expected to come to an end, he noted that he will still play.
"That's something else I like about golf: It is not like football, where if you don't get a scholarship you can't play anymore," he said, adding one can continually progress in the game as one gets older.