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Clinton's Dustin Caldwell, left, wrestles against North Scott's Jakubb Farenkrug during a match in the 2013-14 season. Caldwell will be the River Kings' head wrestling coach this winter.

Less than five years ago, Dustin Caldwell was a senior in Clinton High School's wrestling room working to make a run at a state championship.

Now at 22, Caldwell has been selected to lead the River Kings' program.

The 2014 Clinton graduate was announced Tuesday morning as Eric Lueders' successor in a press release by the school.

"Obviously, I'm pumped and excited," Caldwell said. "I've always loved wrestling and I love to compete. I'm ready to get in the room and get the guys back into a wrestling mood.

"We've kind of been in that middle to upper pack of the (Mississippi Athletic Conference). I want us to be at the top, and I'm excited to get us there."

Caldwell was a four-sport athlete at Clinton, a starter on the football team, a fourth-place state finisher in wrestling in 2013, a participant in track and a starting infielder on Clinton's last state baseball team.

After graduation, he played football at Ellsworth Community College and spent a semester at Grand View University before returning to Clinton. He has been a volunteer coach in the River Kings' wrestling program the past two seasons.

"Once Eric stepped down, I had a few conversations with him about it," Caldwell said. "I thought this was the right time to step up."

Given his young age and lack of experience, Caldwell understands there will be a steep learning curve initially. He plans to lean on several of his mentors and assistant coaches.

"I might take a few lumps here and there," Caldwell said. "Going through the program, I really admired what coach (JD) Lueders and all my club coaches did. They were great role models for me, and it made me realize I want to do the same.

"When the opportunity opened up, I wanted to take it."

Clinton placed fourth at last year's MAC tournament. It had two individual champions in senior Ben Chapman (152 pounds) and sophomore Ethan Barry (195). Junior Isaac Larkin (138) was a state qualifier along with Barry.

"I like our young guys," Caldwell said. "We lost a couple good leaders from last year, but we're going to look to a couple juniors and a senior to really drive the program.

"I really like our drive as a team. It is a close group of guys."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.