Caleb Williams was just a boy, 12 years old and a seventh-grader.
But his prowess and sportsmanship on the wrestling mat were already recognized around the country a status, according to those who knew him, that was much less important to him than his goals in school, church and the outdoor activities he loved.
He died Friday night after a tunnel dug into a dune at Juab County's Little Sahara Recreation Area collapsed, burying him under the sand. Williams was at the popular camping and recreation spot with members of a Boy Scout troop from Mapleton.
Though not a member of the troop, Williams was the weekend guest of his good friend, the son of his longtime wrestling coach, Craig LaMont.
LaMont, a health-care worker from Mapleton who had coached Williams the past four years, was deeply shaken Saturday as he spoke of the youth he described as "exemplary" and "one of a kind."
"Honestly, he could not have been a more perfect young man," LaMont said. "Despite the accolades that came with his success at wrestling, he was focused on being a straight-A student, had goals to serve an LDS mission and was working toward becoming an Eagle Scout."
Williams was on the weekend trip with the Mapleton Scouts to continue his work toward that Eagle Scout award. Juab County Sheriff Alden Orme said the boys were playing in the dunes after dinner Friday evening as the adult leaders were cleaning up. The Scouts were tunneling into a sand dune despite warnings posted in the park about the dangers of doing so. Warnings also are posted on the park's Web site.
Williams was inside the tunnel when it collapsed. Some of the Scouts began digging, while others went to tell the leaders. Because of poor cell-phone service in the area, one of the adult leaders had to drive to the park's visitor center, about three miles from the camp, to call for help.
Orme said that both a helicopter and an ambulance from West Juab were dispatched to the park. The Scouting group and members of the Juab County Sheriff's Department were able to uncover the boy after he'd been buried for 45 minutes, but he was already dead. Police on Saturday were still investigating the accident.
Williams had just begun seventh grade at Mapleton Junior High. His family was in the process of moving from their home in Wellington, and he was staying with the LaMont family in Mapleton until the move was complete.
Kerry Jensen was principal at the Wellington Elementary School where Williams attended through sixth grade. Jensen, who is now a school principal in Price, had not worked at the Wellington school for a couple years, but he remembered Williams and said Saturday that he was shocked and saddened at the news of the boy's death.
"He was just a really nice kid ... a kid everybody liked," Jensen said. "He was the kind of boy who looked out for other students."
That kindness extended into the arena of wrestling the sport at which Williams had virtually no equal. Bill Kilpack operates the Web site, www.utahwrestling.org, and had known Williams since he started competing. Kilpack is also a good friend of Craig LaMont, and like him, coaches wrestling. Kilpack said the success Williams was achieving at wrestling was virtually unprecedented.
"Utah is a state that has a long history of wrestling," Kilpack said. "It's turned out some great ones ... but Caleb really may have been the best ever."
The list of Williams' awards, titles and accomplishments in wrestling is extensive. He had just this month been named the 2008 Youth Wrestler of the Year, after compiling a record of 152-12 in the '07-08 season. While piling up the victories, he earned four state championships, five national titles and three Western Region runner-up finishes.
These most recent stats had brought his cumulative awards totals to 32 national championships, 17 state championships, 42 All-American finishes and he had previously been named Outstanding Wrestler in the 11-12 year old division in Greco-Roman at the USA Wrestling-Utah State Championships. Kilpack said Williams had a reputation for being a fierce competitor, but he was equally well known for his graciousness on the mat.
"Some kids just don't know how to win gracefully," Kilpack said. "But Caleb ... he always had a kind word, and usually a hug, for his opponents ... no matter how the match ended up."
One of the boys who Kilpack coaches, 13-year-old Justin Schwendiman from West Jordan, had competed with Williams.
"The first time I went out there (on the mat), I didn't know him, didn't know how good he was," Schwendiman said. "Then the next thing I knew, bam, and all of a sudden I was on my back and knew I was in for a fight."
Schwendiman lost that match, and all the other ones against Williams. But that's not what he said he will remember about his wrestling opponent.
"I'll remember him for what a good person he was ... both on and off the mat," Schwendiman said.
Schwendiman's mother, Alison Schwendiman, also admired Williams' sportsmanship. "He was a great kid who knew how to win in a way that didn't make the other kid feel bad," she said.
His compassion extended beyond the mat, said LaMont."Caleb knew a younger kid who was also a wrestler whose family's house burned down," LaMont said. "He found out that the boy lost all his wrestling awards in the fire ... The first thing Caleb wanted to do was give his awards to the boy ... so he wouldn't be sad about it."