Dynamic defenders Tyrell Adams, Darrius Caldwell spark West Georgia

Tyrell Adams (24) is West Georgia's leading tackler this season. (UWG Athletics)

Tyrell Adams (24) is West Georgia’s leading tackler this season. (UWG Athletics)

Tyrell Adams rarely puts athletics ahead of academics, but he’ll have to miss West Georgia’s fall graduation ceremony on Saturday.

He was set to walk after earning degrees in finance and accounting, but something else came up.

Adams is West Georgia’s leading tackler, so his athletic skills will be needed when the Wolves (12-2) play at Colorado State-Pueblo (12-1) in a Division II semifinal at 6:30 p.m.

“That’s OK (about missing graduation) because we’re playing to win a national championship,” Adams said. “This is a tremendous opportunity.”

West Georgia’s unlikely path through the tournament continues with its trip to Pueblo.

As the sixth seed from Super Region 2, the Wolves have had to defeat three higher seeded teams, all on the road, and now face the ThunderWolves, the No. 2 seed from Super Region 4, who have won seven consecutive games.

West Georgia, which has won six straight, and Colorado State-Pueblo are remarkably similar in that both rely heavily on their running and return games and defenses.

And for the Wolves, their defense is led by Adams and former Mays High teammate Darrius Caldwell, a

Darrius Caldwell, who has a team-leading 12 sacks, played with Tyrell Adams at Mays High. (UWG Athletics)

Darrius Caldwell, who has a team-leading 12 sacks, played with Tyrell Adams at Mays High. (UWG Athletics)

defensive end who is eighth in Division II with 12 sacks.

Adams, who has 87 tackles, and Caldwell were both all-Gulf South Conference first-team selections – the second consecutive year for Adams – are two reasons why the Wolves shut out Delta State and Valdosta State in the second half of the past two games.

“They play as hard as they can play on every play,” West Georgia coach Will Hall said. “They are both really talented and have great attitudes. When the game’s over, you know their tanks are empty. There’s nothing left. It’s good to have good players who play so hard. That filters down throughout the program.”

Both grew up near Adamsville on the west side of Atlanta – Adams on Wilson Mill Road and Caldwell on nearby Tarragon Way — and have known each other since middle school, although Caldwell was a year behind Adams.

But everybody in the neighborhood knew Caldwell, Adams said, because of his height – he’s 6 foot 6 – and his athletic ability.

“I’ve always called him my big little brother,” Adams said. “We’ve been the best of friends.”

When Adams graduated from Mays, he signed with West Georgia, where he’s played all four years and has led the Wolves in tackles the past two.

“Tyrell is a really great human being. That’s No. 1,” Hall said. “He’s not only a good player in this league, he’s been a great player this year, and a great leader. He makes winning decisions every day, not only in football, but in life.”

Caldwell was heavily recruited and ended up at Illinois, where he played as a redshirt freshman.

He left after that year and transferred to Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss., where he played one season before committing to South Carolina.

SEC rules kept him from signing with the Gamecocks, so he signed with Arizona State, but found out in July he was ineligible there.

Caldwell remembered his friend Adams at West Georgia. And Hall and his staff certainly knew about Caldwell.

“He’s extremely talented, and I’ve felt he’s been the best football player in the conference. All year long,” Hall said. “He’s a matchup problem. You can’t block him one-on-one and he’s improved defending the run. The sky’s the limit for him.”

Caldwell is third on the team with 67 tackles, 17½ of which have been for loss.

“This season has been so surreal,” he said. “I didn’t think I could have dreamed of a season like this. It’s a pleasure to play ball here and know that the guys next to you will do their jobs. We’re getting something out of everybody in that locker room.”

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