WMU QB Kaleb Eleby has been a winner since he first went to the track

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — Kaleb Eleby won't be the first quarterback drafted this year. He's not going to be selected in the first round and is a longshot to hear his name called on Day 2. Still, the Western Michigan product has an intriguing enough skill set to be selected at some point next month, with some analysts calling him one of the position's sleeper prospects. 

Eleby prefers a different description. 

Western Michigan quarterback Kaleb Eleby is considered a sleeper at his position in next month's NFL Draft.

"Like a dark horse?" Eleby said during his media session at this week's NFL Combine. "Funny thing is I actually love horses. I really do, seriously. When I was young, my granddad, he took me to a race track. I was just a little kid and he'd say, 'What horse?' I actually chose the horse, No. 4. 

"I remember it like it was yesterday, horse No. 4," Eleby continued. "I'm just a little kid, horse No. 4, it was yellow, and horse No. 4 ended up winning. From that point on, I fell in love with horses. It's a beautiful animal."

Because numbers are assigned alphabetically at the combine, Eleby happens to be wearing No. 4 at the event this week. He can't help but smile at the coincidence, but it's somewhat fitting, since being in Indianapolis is the result of another bet paying off, a bet on himself. 

More: Detroit Lions 2022 scouting combine preview: Quarterbacks

A four-year starter and three-star recruit coming out of Pattonville High School in Maryland Heights, Missouri, Eleby narrowed his options to Iowa State, Illinois and Western Michigan during the recruiting process, ultimately settling on what would seem to most outsiders the least likely choice for an athlete with dreams of playing professionally.

Of the many factors a recruit could take into consideration with their decision, Eleby placed a premium on having a shot to compete for a starting job as a freshman. That attitude is bound to resonate during interviews with NFL decision-makers, who are always seeking players who embrace competitiveness. 

A self-proclaimed goal-oriented individual, Eleby did everything he could to put himself in position to win that job, including graduating high school ahead of schedule to enroll early at Western Michigan. But he fell short of his lofty aim, losing the battle to returning redshirt junior Jon Wassink.

Still, the preparation paid off when Wassink went down with a foot injury midseason. Eleby would start the final five games, completing a respectable 62.6% of his passes with 1,092 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. 

Eleby had to learn patience the following season when Wassink returned to reclaim the starting job. Redshirting that year, Eleby would serve as the Broncos starter the next two seasons, thriving in 2021, where he threw for 3,277 yards, 23 touchdowns to just six interceptions. That included a star-making performance in an upset victory over eventual ACC champions Pitt, where he racked up 337 passing yards and three scores. 

"This past season, one of my goals was to beat a Power Five team," Eleby said. "Coming from the Group of Five, the MAC Conference, everybody kind of has that mentality, that chip on their shoulder that they want to execute and show they can play. To be able to get that Pitt win, against a good team, great quarterback (likely first-round pick Kenny Pickett), that was big. It just felt like hard work and dedication does pay off."

Now Eleby is on the doorstep of the NFL. It's a dream he's had since he was a young child, fostered by his mother Kenyatte, who made him a CD for his fourth birthday. 

"On the CD, it said, "And now, starting quarterback from the St. Louis Rams, Kaleb Elby,'" he recalled. "I played that every day. From that point on, I felt like this is what I want to do, this what I love to do. I'm thankful for that. The game of football has done a lot for me. It's provided me with an education, provided me with lifelong connections and friendships and it got me here. That's something I value and something I don't take for granted."


Twitter: @Justin_Rogers