Then he looked in the mirror and saw why.
The Jacksonville State running back had grown in ways that weren’t necessarily good for his health or his game. It was time, he decided, to take action.
Gone were the stops to the burger joints and the snacking during idle times. When he got back in the summer, he was a trimmer version of his 2009 self — some 25 pounds lighter — and the change is expected to make him the ball-carrier everyone in the Gamecocks’ camp wants him to be.
“He took ownership of it,” running backs coach Jimmy Ogle said. “He wanted to try to become a complete player and felt that’s what he needed to do for it.”
Middleton used to be powerful and flashy, but as he put on weight, flashy went away and just the power remained. If he remained at the weight he was carrying — or got bigger — he was going to be a fullback and split time there. But he wanted to be a running back and the Gamecocks wanted him to be more explosive, so something had to give.
There was no special diet, just paying better attention to what he ate. He just cut out fast food “for a good month,” ice cream and late night snacks. When the Gamecocks face Ole Miss in their season opener Saturday, Middleton will line up at a svelte 220 pounds, which fits more comfortably onto his 5-foot-11 frame.
“It’s something I needed to do,” he said. “I knew I had to step up.
“To play and make the moves I used to make in high school, I knew I had to do it sooner, so I might as well do it now. My quickness is going to be a lot better, and I can make the cuts I used to make.”
That message hit home last year during the UT-Martin game when Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe called him out on one particular play. Middleton had a 43-yard scoring run that day, but he might have had another score if he’d been a little quicker on his feet.
“He tried to make a cut and Coach Crowe was like, ‘Calvin, if you were 15 pounds lighter, you’d have scored,’” quarterback Marques Ivory recalled. “It’s the truth. I’ve seen him make that cut before.”
It wasn’t easy giving up old habits. The thing Middleton said he missed the most during his self-imposed diet was the Quarter-Pounder. He admitted he backslides a little on the regimen — “I have my bad habits every now and then” — but he knows he’ll be a whole lot better — for himself and his team — by driving past the drive-thru.
Middleton’s power helped him become an efficient fullback back as a freshman, scoring three touchdowns in 16 carries. He played both spots last year and became the Gamecocks’ leading rusher (629 yards). But he wants to be a running back, and now has the chance to be the one back in addition to the lead back.
“We felt like he would be a better player smaller,” Ogle said. “He was in shape, just bigger than what we wanted. He’s still a big back, just not as big. He has seen the fruits of his labor on the field. He moves better. He’s more versatile now.”
With a trimmer Middleton, the arrival of Darius “Tig” Barksdale and the availability of Jamal Young and Richard Freelon, the Gamecocks have the potential to enjoy a run of backs similar to the one that produced Rondy Rogers, Kory Chapman, Oscar Bonds and Clay Green in the early part of this century. In the seven years they led the Gamecocks in rushing, they averaged 1,142 yards and 206.5 carries a season. In four of those years, they rushed for 1,250 yards or more.
“At that spot, I think we have four guys who can go in and really make a difference,” Ogle said. “I think we’re getting back closer to that kind of backfield.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.