South Warren’s Caden Veltkamp signs with WKU, will soon enroll and compete in Hilltoppers’ spring drills


Caden Veltkamp can’t wait.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior just closed the door on his splendid prep career at South Warren High School. Veltkamp guided the Spartans to a KHSAA Class 5A state championship, capped by a 38-26 victory over Frederick Douglass High School earlier this month in Lexington.

And now he’s moving on to Western Kentucky University.

Almost immediately, it turns out.

Veltkamp was joined by Spartans teammates Jake Jackson, a senior defensive lineman/tight end, and Avrin Bell, a senior wide receiver/defensive back, for a signing ceremony on Wednesday afternoon at the South Warren auditorium.

“I’ve decided to graduate early,” Veltkamp said, “and attend WKU in the spring … As I reflect on my time at South Warren, I couldn’t ask for much more.”

Jackson, a rugged interior defender, also is graduating early and will be rooming with Veltkamp at Hilltopper Hall in the next few months. Jackson signed as a “preferred walk-on,” but it seems likely he’ll get a good chance to join the ranks of the Hilltoppers’ scholarship players, including Veltkamp, Bell and Colt Jackson, his elder brother who is already playing for WKU as an offensive lineman.

South Warren coach Brandon Smith was thrilled for his three players, who happen to be headed to his alma mater, too.

“This never gets old,” Smith said while presenting the athletes. “This is really a rewarding part of coaching, fulfilling goals and dreams of young men. Every group of senior players has a different journey. These kids worked with a purpose, and drive … You get to use football, as a tool, to get where you want in life.”


Jake Jackson was about as versatile talent you’ll find in his senior year at South Warren High School.

The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive tackle also logged snaps at tight end and fullback, and also was part of the punt return special-teams unit that twice thwarted fake punt attempts from Frederick Douglass in the KHSAA Class 5A state title game on December 3 in Lexington.

Jackson led the Spartans with 12 sacks, and 25 tackles for losses, and those totals likely would be significantly greater if South Warren coach Brandon Smith had a tendency to keep Jackson on the sideline for the fourth quarter of games. The Spartans really had just two competitive games all season, the victory over Frederick Douglass during KHSAA Championship Weekend, and a 27-20 defeat at the hands of Hendersonville (Tennessee) on August 27 at South Warren’s home field.

The Commandos basically challenged South Warren between the tackles in the fourth quarter, and Smith admitted the Spartans’ interior defense was a critical part of that loss.

From there, it’s hard to say the Spartans had a more productive player than Jake Jackson, certainly on defense.

“I can’t wait, to see what my future holds,” Jackson said. “I want to thank (WKU) coach (Tyson) Helton for giving me this opportunity … I can promise you, I’ll give it my all.”

Jackson excels at shedding blockers and getting to the ball at the point of attack. His elder brother, Colt Jackson, is recovering from an extensive knee injury sustained in practice earlier this season. Western Kentucky faces Appalachian State in the Boca Raton Bowl on Saturday morning.

“When Colt told me about his experiences there,” Jake Jackson said, “I knew (WKU) was the place for me.”


Avrin Bell, the Spartans’ speedy wide receiver, was used extensively in the secondary late in the season, when South Warren was rolling through its postseason opponents before the hard-fought game with Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington.

Bell was joined on the stage by his foster parents, Gage and Megan Howell of Scottsville, and overcame an awkward moment in thanking the crowd on hand.

“Man, this is hard,” he said.

The 5-11, 180-pound Bell competes in track and field for South Warren in the spring months, looking for a shot at the KHSAA state track and field meet in the sprints, long jump and triple jump.

“I’m going to Western to be an inside receiver,” Bell said.

Bell led the Spartans in receiving this season, catching 45 passes for 743 yards and nine touchdowns. Defensively, Bell finished the season with 22 tackles, 13 assists and four tackles for losses.

Bell also led South Warren with four interceptions.


South Warren’s Caden Veltkamp is always careful to credit his teammates after victories, and he decided it was in his best interest to enroll at Western early after the Spartans’ journey to the KHSAA Class 5A state title.

Veltkamp had played power forward for the South Warren basketball team in the last two years.

Veltkamp often yielded to freshman quarterback Brice Button in the fourth quarter of blowout games during the fall months, and South Warren coach Brandon Smith said Button will begin spring drills at the top of the depth chart but “we’ll have competetion at quarterback.”

Veltkamp said the three greatest influences on his athletic career have been his predecessor as South’s quarterback, Duke University backup QB Gavin Spurrier, Brandon Smith and his father, Jason Veltkamp, who is in his fourth season as the Hilltoppers’ strength and conditioning coach. Jason Veltkamp couldn’t attend the ceremony because WKU is already in Boca Raton for its bowl game, but Caden Veltkamp was joined on the stage by his mother, Kristen Veltkamp.

Caden’s younger brother, Colton Veltkamp, is a freshman wide receiver for the Spartans.

“Gavin kind of started the tradition, at South, and the mental approach about what it takes to be successful,” Smith said. “After looking at the game tape of the Frederick Douglass game, I’m convinced it was the best game of his career at South. He’s carried on after Gavin moved on, and that’s really the biggest part of his legacy.

“That even goes beyond wins and losses.”

Ah, but the wins came, in all three of Veltkamp’s seasons at quarterback. The Spartans went 30-4 in those games, with the 2020 season cut short by the KHSAA’s COVID-19 protocol. This year, Veltkamp stepped into the spotlight and provided plenty of stability for the Spartans offense. He completed 173 of 254 passes for 2,456 yards and 35 touchdowns, adding seven rushing TDs. He was intercepted only five times.

“I’d pretty much made my mind up, about graduating early,” Veltkamp said, “but when we got on the bus, after the Frederick Douglass game, then I knew for sure. It’s been a great journey, really rewarding, but we’re looking forward to the future.

“I’m just going to have to put my head down and get to work.”