Play ball

A leader on and off the hardwood, senior Caleb Mosley also has a penchant for performance.

Senior Caleb Mosley (right) talks with junior Brenna Collins (left) during a performance of “Middletown.” Along with his theatrical feats, Mosley also plays varsity basketball.

Amy Jones

Senior Caleb Mosley (right) talks with junior Brenna Collins (left) during a performance of “Middletown.” Along with his theatrical feats, Mosley also plays varsity basketball.

By Jackson Posey, Smithson Valley High School

The heart monitor flatlines. A sharp buzz echoes throughout the room, piercing the ears of weeping witnesses. The lights go out on stage left.

Caleb Mosley plays varsity basketball, but his biggest accomplishments come two hallways and a flight of stairs away, in the auditorium.

“My favorite (story about Mosley) is just seeing him perform on the stage,” varsity basketball coach Ike Thornton said. “Because he’s good at it. He’s good at it. And it’s always great to be around someone who finds their passion, and they go for it, and things start happening for ‘em.”

Mosley’s success story began long before many kids can read. 

“Ever since then, my dad has been my coach, so I was of course a leader at 4 years old,” Mosley said. “Growing through that, it’s always just stayed with me. And in middle school, I was a leader in basketball and theatre. I’ve always been like that.”

That penchant for leadership stuck with him. Part of a demographic known as not the most respectful, something about Mosley makes people step beyond conventional social norms.

“Caleb is a very well-spoken person, so no matter what he is talking about, people always seem to listen and respect his opinions,” said senior Olivia Aliassadi, in theatre with Mosley and who has known him since 2015. “He is also the type of person to offer help to anyone and everyone, which makes him easy to talk to and well-respected.”

As a successful, charismatic senior, Mosley could easily mistreat underclassmen. But his modus operandi has always been to help those who can’t help themselves.

“He came up to me (the first day I met him) and gave me a huge hug,” freshman Chaya Powell said. “At first I was scared, because there was this random person hugging me, but then it felt like I was being hugged by a long-lost friend.”

Mosley credited his mother with his leadership.

“Growing up, my mom always taught me I was born to be a leader, so it kind of just was instilled in me,” Mosley said. “It was never me trying to be a leader. That’s just how I am. So wherever I go, it was always like, ‘I’m gonna try to lead as best as I can, in the best way possible, rather than just falling to the back.’ So I was coming from, learning from my mother, seeing my parents lead so much, and it just being instilled in me.”

That leadership helps encourage younger members of the theatre company to find their confidence and voice, an invaluable asset to a program that hopes to perpetuate a winning culture.

“He never made us feel like we were just ‘the freshmen,’” Powell said. “It felt like we were automatically his family. We never had to prove ourselves, because he treated us like we were enough and that we didn’t have to change.”

Mosley’s cultural contributions go beyond backstage, however. They also permeate the locker room.

“He’s a hard worker,” Thornton said. “He’s vocal. And the other teammates kind of see him as a leader, and they follow suit. They almost expect his leadership. He recognizes when the team (needs) to get more energy or something is lacking, (and) he encourages everyone to pick it up so we can stay on pace in practices, and in games as well.”

Such unusual activity changes a culture from the inside out. Just a season ago, varsity basketball needed 32 chances to win just eight games. This season, the team needed just 14 contests to reach that mark. And a lot of that was attributable to a culture of hard work, one perpetuated by a single man’s “buckle-down-and-do-it” leadership.

“It definitely (helps build a culture),” Thornton said of Mosley’s punctilious work ethic, “especially when you get a situation where the person saying the things doesn’t actually do the things. He says them and does them.”

Mosley’s fierce competitiveness allows him to shine in the spotlight while still laying a winning foundation.

This past year’s UIL One-Act Play competition saw Mosley take home enough hardware to fill a toolbox. The then-junior received three Best Actor plaques, as well as an All-Star Cast appearance, all while leading theatre to its second-best finish in program history. But past successes must be set aside—or, as Mosley would say, “exhaled”—in favor of future dreams.

“I’m more focused on… advancing,” Mosley said. “Because all of the awards and stuff, I was like, ‘OK, but did we advance?’ That was my thing. And so, coming into this year, I’m not focusing on that, because… if I focus too much on the awards I got last year, it’s not going to do anything for me this year.”

Those awards might not be the goal, but they create positive momentum heading into future shows. And, much like a snowball gathering size as it rolls down a hill, that momentum develops into a strength – specifically newfound confidence in his craft.

“I do use that momentum (as) confidence coming into this year, this one-act season especially,” Mosley said. “You always want confidence onstage. So, yeah, using all that success from last year and bringing it to this year as motivation, of course I want to do better. Of course the awards are nice and stuff. But I want to do what I can to advance rather than do whatever I can to get individual awards.”

As humble as he is, the awards did pile up. And if Mosley won’t be his own hype man, theatre director Casey O’Bryant certainly will.

“I really do think that (Pete Gint) was one of those roles that was tailor-fit,” O’Bryant said of Mosley’s award-winning role. “It was one of those perfect matches. You don’t always get that, but I think with his physicality, and his willingness, his natural ability, his physique… that definitely make him pop. It just kind of worked perfectly. Lightning struck.”

Lightning did strike, but the storm almost never happened at all. Mosley was still in Theatre II as a sophomore, but O’Bryant approached him about joining Production. And that’s when everything changed.

“I didn’t even get into production until the second semester of sophomore year, because I was focused on basketball at the time,” Mosley said. “But then we did ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and I was like, ‘I have to join.’ And then (O’Bryant])asked me if I wanted to, and I was like, ‘Psssh, yes!’ And so next semester I did.”

That semester was historically successful for the theatre department. “Man From Nebraska,” the company’s one-act entry, advanced all the way to the regional finals, the best finish in school history. But Mosley still credits his success to his formative years, before “Middletown,” “GINT,” or even his eighth grade show, “Zink: the Myth, the Legend, the Zebra.”

It stretches all the way back to second grade, in an Arkansan elementary school.

“I was not the best kid,” Mosley said. “I was actually a bad kid. You wouldn’t expect the kid in Arkansas to be me today. I went to school early. I don’t even know why I was there so early, but my mom dropped me off super early. I was in second grade, and my teacher had this really good candy, and I said, ‘This is some good candy. Why not?’”

Mosley snuck into the room and grabbed a few handfuls of goodies. Everything was going according to plan.

“Then I heard the door start opening.”

The teacher next door  noticed a disturbance in the would-be empty room, and had swung by to investigate. But rather than hide, the young protagonist decided to play it off. 

“I started looking in a mirror as if I’m looking at something,” Mosley said. “(The teacher) asked, ‘What are you doing in here?’ And I was like, ‘Uhh, I don’t know, uhh, looking at a pimple?’ And I start walking out, and she said, ‘What do you have in your pockets?’ And I pulled out the candy. I was like, ‘Dang.’”

A harsh penalty was levied for his crimes: ISS, an apology letter to the teacher — and corporal punishment.

“I got paddled,” Mosley said. “I don’t even think that’s legal anymore.”

But the lessons he learned would stick with him for life. As much as those swings hurt, the marks they left would leave a lasting impact on his character.

“That’s how I learned the big difference between wrong and right,” Mosley said. “Even though I already knew it, it was like, ‘OK, I don’t need to do this anymore.’”

So is he pro-paddle?

“No,” he said, shuddering.

Working hard is something that Mosley, a dual-wielding extracurricular fiend, is quite familiar with.

“(Theatre and basketball come into conflict) all the time,” he said. “It’s so exhausting, too. But this year, I promised myself and my parents that we were going to prioritize both…. But committing to both, I’m still going to work as hard as I can…. it’s really overwhelming and tiring, especially at such a young age, but I like being busy. I don’t like being at home all the time.”

The fine line he walks — giving full effort to theatre, basketball and school—takes a toll. But when your two biggest time commitments are also your two favorite stress relievers, it gets a lot easier to manage.

“With basketball [and theatre], they’re both things that are stress-relievers,” Mosley said. “I can go to theatre and then be fine, and then go to basketball and be fine. And so, seeing both as (things) I can succeed in, it’s just been a really positive outlook on both, because I have such supportive people in both of them, so it’s not so difficult.”

Basketball practices in the mornings, and theatre in the afternoons, so the issue is manageable. But it does take its toll on the program leaders.

“He misses rehearsals every now and then. Weekly. But you just take it,” O’Bryant said . “Like most people in [Production], you know what they have to offer, so you work with it. And that’s good that we have kids that do other things. That’s not a bad thing. It gets in the way sometimes, but I’d rather him be well-rounded, do other things too.… It has been difficult, but understandable.”

Thornton is just as welcoming to the idea. In fact, his mantra reflects just that: ”your gifts make room for you.” 

“No, (it’s not a conflict), because it’s a passion of his,” Thornton said. “In my eyes, if a kid has aspirations to do something other than his sport, then you try and make it work.”

And it’s worked well. After a recent audition at Greater San Antonio, an opportunity for senior thespians to show themselves off to colleges, Mosley received 14 callbacks, including from Oklahoma State and his first-choice Southern Methodist.

“I was waiting for like two weeks for an email back to see if I got it or not,” Mosley said. “Then I got an email on Saturday [Dec. 7] saying that I did get in. I was on a bus at the time, at a tournament, and I screamed. It’s such a difficult school to actually get into for theatre, because they’re so good, so I was amazed. I was going crazy.”

Mosley himself might have been surprised, but those who knew him best were always confident in his success. 

“No, I wasn’t surprised,” Aliassadi said. “Caleb is extremely talented, and I always knew he would be recognized for that.”

Taking a break from that level of talent is difficult. But Mosley always mademakestime for other people.

“He acts like our big brother,” Powell said. “Feeling welcome was so easy around Caleb, because he was always making us laugh and (jokingly) threatening to beat up anyone who made us upset.”

The talent is undeniable. The work ethic is unquestionable. And his leadership? Unparalleled. Thus is the story of Caleb Mosley, who turned Troy Bolton’s dreams into a visceral reality. 

This story was originally published on Valley Ventana on February 11, 2020.