Cal inside linebacker Kaleb Elarms-Orr can pinpoint the most memorable piece of advice he has received without hesitation — “To stay patient.”
Empowered by the fortitude of patience, he has steadily powered the pursuit of his aspirations.
In 2017, Elarms-Orr took the field to play tackle football — for the first time ever — as a freshman at Moreau Catholic High School. Flash forward to 2021, and the former four-star prospect was nursing an ACL injury from the sideline during his first year at Cal. But even last year, as a healthy, active player on the roster, he saw minimal action on special teams without a single snap on the defensive end.
Today, Elarms-Orr is not only the commander of the Bears’ defense but takes the Pac-12 defensive podium, slated third in the conference for tackles per game.
A breakthrough deemed rare and remarkable by the Cal football coaching staff, Elarms-Orr’s leaps and bounds of progress may seem like an unsuspected whirlwind. But these massive strides in his redshirt sophomore campaign were formed step by step. With the faith he maintained in himself through an appreciation of the “little milestones,” Elarms-Orr’s burst to the big stage is a tale of perseverance, preparation and patience.
His “mentality tenacity,” as his mother Kameelah Green attests, has propelled Elarms-Orr through his lifelong athletic journey.
Although the fruits of his labor are now blooming on the gridiron, a young Elarms-Orr was in no rush to plant the initial seed. Unlike many football players, his introduction to the sport was postponed to his teenage years — as the potential for injury worried his parents.
“In middle school, he began with flag football. He loved it, he begged us to let him play full-out football with the pads, but we were not a fan of doing that too early just because of all the injuries that we had seen,” Green explained.
But with athletic prowess in his blood as the son of two former track and field athletes at UC Davis, a three-year-old Elarms-Orr nonetheless found a love for sports in YMCA basketball, soccer and tee-ball. In fact, it was baseball that captivated the youngster — he played for 12 years, excelling as a designated hitter and center fielder. Practically inseparable from his baseball bat, Elarms-Orr’s major league dreams were only to be halted by one factor: a shot at football.
When the Hayward, California, local entered high school, he tried his hand at tackle football under coach Dethrick Slocum for a successful Moreau Catholic program. It was game-changing.
“After I started playing football in high school, I fell in love with it,” Elarms-Orr recalled. “Then, I quit baseball to focus on football … I realized I had some potential in the sport.”
Even with a late start to the game, he was a quick learner — and his progress and potential were immediately apparent to Slocum.
“He was very athletic, very driven. Even as a young man who didn’t know much about football at that time, his motor was always running,” Slocum said. “I didn’t need to see him in a game. I knew based on his work ethic at practice that he was something special.”
Just a year into his football journey, Elarms-Orr was accelerating. A year-round athlete also balancing high school basketball and track and field, he was an impact player with a presence all over the field, as a two-way player at tight end and linebacker.
“Once he got through that learning curve of the freshman year, it exploded after that,” Green said. “He played both sides of the ball — he never really got a break. You’d see him get a touchdown, then all of a sudden on the other side, get a sack.”
To Slocum, it was Elarms-Orr’s self-motivation, dedication and ambition that built his promising football career from scratch.
“With how Kaleb practices, at times, we would say ‘Hey, go a little easy,’” Slocum laughed. “I always felt like he was probably going to be playing on Sundays.”
The four-star recruit had collected 17 Division I offers by his senior year. With the next level on the horizon, Elarms-Orr made Cal his next home.
But as a matter of fact, it had already been for years.
“He was literally born at Cal. When I was going to Cal, I had him while I was there and I would take him to school with me,” his mother said. “He was nine months old when I graduated, and he was there on the stage with me.”
The full-circle decision just made sense — harmonizing the things most important to Elarms-Orr: family, academic opportunity and football. Once raising her son on the Berkeley campus, and now a school district administrator in the Bay Area, Green instilled the importance of academics and familial love in her son — long before letting him play football.
“My mom has had a big influence on me … she would always hammer in on academics,” Elarms-Orr said. “My hero is my mom. (She’s) someone who keeps me humble, someone I look up to and I know has my back no matter what. She’s my best friend.”
Inspired by his mother and motivated in his daily life to be a role model for his two little brothers, family is Elarms-Orr’s driving force.
“I especially value quality time with my family,” he said. “I love usually about once a month having family get-togethers at my grandparents’ house, and it’ll be small — like 10-15 people — but we get to just eat, play games and joke around together.”
Now taking the big stage for the Bears, Elarms-Orr’s “village” of supporters admires his strength, perseverance and patience with immense pride.
“We don’t miss a home game — even when he wasn’t playing. Even when he was hurt his first year (or) when he was only playing on special teams his second year, we went to every game. And now that he’s starting it is even more exciting to be there,” Green said.
“There’s always at least 15 people — he’s always begging for tickets because there’s so many family members and friends that want to be there,” she laughed.
Elarms-Orr has dedicated the last seven years to football — devoted his hours to film, the weight room, to grinding each day. But even so, he has learned to find a balance and enjoy his life off the field.
His NFL aspirations rest next to a passion for nature, shopping, taking care of his house plants and his passion for maintaining his spiritual well-being. He is always mindful to keep faith in himself and lean on a balance.
“I am just amazed at how he’s been balancing it all,” Green said. “Football is a different world with the amount of hours that are put in … so he’s just made us really proud with how he’s been able to excel at the sport and make time for other things that are important to him.”
Proud of his rise and defensive production — but not yet satisfied, Elarms-Orr will keep working. Balance, peace and patience at the forefront of his values, he knows miles of progress can be made inch by inch.