Name: Kaleb Kim
School: Mill Creek
Position: Offensive line
Weight: 285 pounds
College choice: Auburn
Place of birth: Austin, Texas
Role model: My dad
Favorite restaurant: Shogun
Favorite store: Bass Pro Shops
Favorite teacher: Brent Leitsch
Favorite subject: Science
Number of text messages I send in a month: Around 2,000
Twitter handle: @KalebKim
Superstitions: “If there’s a Hawk painted on the practice field, I have to step on it. If I don’t, an injury will be inflicted upon me.”
Life’s dream: Win a national title with Auburn
Info file: Paved the way for a Mill Creek offense that led Gwinnett’s Class AAAAAA teams in scoring during the regular season. An early commitment to Auburn, where he likely will play offensive guard or center, Kim is an anchor at tackle for the Hawks. He has earned first-team all-county honors the past two seasons.
Coach Shannon Jarvis’ take: “Kaleb has as much experience as any kid I’ve ever coached because he’s been starting since his ninth grade year. He’s progressed and gotten better each season, but the things that never changed are his character, how good of a person he is, how he treats others and what a good teammate he is. The thing this year is he’s become more vocal, which we are happy about. He’s just a wonderful young man who is as good a person as he is a player.”
The Touchdown Club of Gwinnett’s season-ending banquet is annually a gathering of some of the South’s top football recruits, high-schoolers who are showered with the usual applause as they receive awards.
The cheers are genuine, and polite, but they’re repeated at virtually the same level for two hours. No single top-ranked player, even the nation’s No. 1 prospect, gets more applause than the others in the room.
On occasion, there are wow moments, though. The player who limps on stage on crutches gets more recognition. The Ivy League-bound scholar-athlete with the 4.2 GPA gets the oohs, ahhs and other comments.
Mill Creek’s Kaleb Kim was the focus of one of those moments at the 2012 celebration.
The first-team offense took the stage with its five linemen, most fitting the usual mold for the honor as seniors. Every now and then, a junior lineman sneaks on the first team, but it’s generally a parade of hulking seniors.
When Kim was introduced as a sophomore, the crowd reacted with gasps that someone so young received that level of recognition.
“I was not expecting that at all,” Kim, now a Mill Creek senior, said of the 2012 all-county banquet. “I was so happy. It was a huge honor. It was definitely something else, the experience of a lifetime.”
As exciting as it was for a sophomore lineman to make first team in talent-rich Gwinnett, it was also unique that Kim got one of the biggest reactions during an evening that also featured the nation’s top recruit, Grayson star and Ole Miss signee Robert Nkemdiche, as well as Central Gwinnett’s Trey Johnson (Ohio State), Norcross’ Alvin Kamara (Alabama) and Lorenzo Carter (Georgia) and more than 30 others who would later sign with schools from the power conferences.
“I remember that well,” Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said. “Kaleb got that his sophomore year and it was well-deserved. He had a very successful year that year. He played very well. Not many sophomores make all-county and if you’ve gone to the all-county banquet, honestly it’s usually the top recruits in the Southeast.
“For a player to win those accolades so young, you wonder if they’re going to stay focused and develop, but that’s exactly what he’s done. I can speak for Kaleb on this, he doesn’t care about all these awards. He’s more embarrassed by it. He cares more about this team.”
The accolades came early for Kim, as they do for many top recruits these days. He was an Eastbay eighth-grade All-American, but most linemen don’t jump right into the starting lineup as freshmen in difficult Region 7-AAAAAA.
Kim was one of the few, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who started for the Hawks as a ninth-grader.
“At first, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty scared, especially as a freshman, 15 years old playing against 18-year-olds,” Kim said. “But once I realized I could hang with those guys, it got a lot better. My confidence went up and I was able to compete against those guys.”
That debut season only brought more attention.
Jarvis remembers meeting with Kim’s father, John, who played high school football at Walton and then at Gardner-Webb (N.C.), about the subject back then.
“I’ll never forget after he started for us as a freshman, I called his dad John in because I knew what was about to happen in recruiting,” Jarvis said. “To have a freshman lineman starting in our league, it’s going to happen. There’s going to be a lot of pressures coming up. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.
“John said, ‘Coach, do you really think he’s that good? I was just hoping he’d get a chance to play at (an FCS school).’ I told him, ‘Yes, your son is going to be a top-level recruit.”
Jarvis’ prognostication proved true.
Kim continued to grow physically — he’s now 6-4, 285 pounds — without losing his athletic ability. He also performed well on the field, repeating as a first-team all-county selection last year as a junior.
The recruiting attention came, too. He got offers from Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State among many others, but committed to reigning Southeastern Conference champion Auburn in late April.
“It’s just a really great place,” said Kim, who had Georgia as his second choice. “I’m really comfortable with the offense they run, with the coaches. They seem like they care a lot about me as a person and not just as a player. I thought that was cool.”
Kim is content in his decision and plans to attend every Auburn home game this season. His choice also rekindled some old friendships for his father, who played at Gardner-Webb when Ellis Johnson, now Auburn’s defensive coordinator, was head coach and Charlie Harbison, now Auburn’s safeties coach, was a graduate assistant.
Those relationships made for a unique story, but Kim said that didn’t really affect his recruitment. He didn’t find out about his father’s ties to Johnson and Harbison until a week before his commitment, plus he was more concerned with relationships with the Tigers’ offensive coaches, including head coach Gus Malzahn.
Kim said the Auburn coaches like him as a center or guard — he plays left tackle at Mill Creek — to take advantage of his mobility in the Tigers’ up-tempo offense. He runs a legitimate 4.9-second 40-yard dash and his explosiveness was shown in track and field when he finished third in the state in the discus as a sophomore.
“I think Kaleb’s better days are ahead of him,” Jarvis said. “He played with a broken wrist last year that required surgery and he’s been very limited what he can do in the bench press compared to his legs. I’m not saying he’s weak, but he’s a very thin 285 pounds. He will gain 20 to 30 pounds very easily and I don’t think it will affect him athletically. He works very hard in the weight room, but he has some catching up to do because of his wrist. He ended up missing about 10 months in bench press. But it doesn’t show on the field.”
With college plans locked up, Kim can focus on his senior football season. He and the Hawks have high hopes, and their enormous offensive line fuel them.
Mill Creek’s starting five offensive linemen averages just 6-foot-4 and 289 pounds, with its lightest member at 265 pounds.
“(Our size) definitely turns some heads,” Kim said. “When we’re at team camps and offensive line camps, we’re always towering over people. It makes us feel good. It’s a confidence thing and it’s a good advantage, too. … I’m just really excited about this season. I just want to enjoy it and make some memories.”