When Kaleb Cost was 3 years old, he started playing around with his first piece of sports equipment — a soccer ball.
As his uncle observed the child dribble the black and white checkered ball between his feet, he could only fathom three words to describe the sight.
“He’s the one.”
As time would eventually tell, Cost — a UNC dual-sport commit for the class of 2023 — would fulfill his uncle’s early prediction, although his path to Chapel Hill didn't come by way of the soccer pitch.
Cost soon dropped the sport his uncle first watched him play for the likes of football and baseball.
‘He was special’
Cost recalls playing sports from the moment he could walk.
“I always loved the game,” Cost said. “Whether it was basketball, football or baseball I just loved playing sports because it took me away from reality.”
When he was 18 months old, Cost's family moved to Tyrone, Ga. Growing up in the heart of SEC country, the influence of football and baseball was prevalent in his everyday life. Cost began to fall in love with the two sports, and, by his pre-teen years, he was already drawing eyes with his talent on both the diamond and the gridiron.
In baseball, he experienced success on the big stage with the Peachtree City National squad. In 2017, Cost's travel ball team fell just one game short of a trip to the Little League World Series, losing in the Southeast Regional championship game.
Despite his team’s loss, Cost left his mark on the regional tournament. In his team’s semifinal game, Cost’s throw from center field to home plate to earn an out garnered the 12-year-old the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10.
While his name began to spread across the country for his baseball accomplishments, Cost returned home to Georgia and ramped up his football training.
Fresh off his run in the Little League World Series tournament, Cost connected with Glenn T. Ford Jr., a former professional football player and founder of iDareU Academy Inc. Ford’s academy in Atlanta focuses on position-specific training and has worked with hundreds of high school athletes seeking to play at the collegiate level.
Yet when Ford first met Cost, something stood out.
“The first time I saw him I was like, ‘This kid is special,’” Ford said. “The kid was one of those top-echelon athletes.”
High school transition
As Cost began his work with Ford and iDareU, his talks of playing at the collegiate level began to intensify. However, the discussions weren’t about just playing a college sport, but rather about earning a scholarship to play both baseball and football.
“We would talk about (his recruitment) all the time,” Ford said. “He was serious about playing both sports.”
In 2019, Cost enrolled at Sandy Creek High School where he looked to pave the path for his dual-sport dreams. As a first-year, Cost earned a varsity spot on his high school's football and baseball teams.
Just like Ford, Cost’s high school coaches had similar reactions when they first met with him.
“As a ninth-grader, we knew he was going to be pretty special,” Sandy Creek head football coach Brett Garvin said. “He could kind of do everything.”
On the gridiron, Cost saw initially limited action as the Patriots rostered a senior-heavy squad who posted a 12-2 record that season.
However, Cost refused to let his limited playing time impact his work ethic and dedication to the game. And as Garvin put it, Cost was always “soaking wet” after every practice, a testament to his mentality.
“I’ve always been an underdog and that’s what motivates me to keep playing,” Cost said. “Being an underdog makes you stronger, so I just stay solid and be myself. I’m an undersized kid... so people don’t look at me as the biggest kid, or biggest corner or biggest lead-off batter or biggest center fielder, but I’ve always had heart.”
Soon, Cost’s underdog mentality began to pay dividends.
In 2020, the first-year outfielder posted a .355 batting average and drove seven runs for the Patriots' baseball team. In the fall of that year, Cost — now a sophomore — caught the game-winning, 55-yard touchdown in Sandy Creek’s season-opening win against Northgate.
By 2021, Cost stood as the lone player on Sandy Creek's football team who started on both sides of the ball.
With every passing game, Cost looked to be getting more accustomed to the competition, and college coaches started to take notice.
‘Get one percent better every day’
Boston College, Tennessee and other major programs began to offer Cost football scholarships for his success on the turf, but Cost was still committed to playing football and baseball.
“I was going into the recruiting process wanting to play both sports in college, but I wasn't as big on (baseball recruiting),” he said. “About a summer ago, baseball recruiting started to pick up.”
In the aforementioned summer, Cost started to reel in dual-sport offers from numerous colleges, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. What was once a conversation between Cost and his trainer was now a reality, but navigating his recruitment proved to be difficult.
The bombardment of college attention, letters and phone calls became overwhelming for Cost, so he turned to his role model to help guide him through the process.
“(My mom) sacrificed so much for me, and she’s been through so much,” Cost said.
Cost said he committed to North Carolina to play football and baseball because of its family-like atmosphere, something that he holds as one of his core values.
In Chapel Hill, Cost will start the next chapter of his life, one in which he plans on attacking a new set of goals. He hopes to become one of few athletes to ever be drafted into both the NFL and MLB, joining an elite group that includes Dan Marino, Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.
And, to hear Cost say it himself, his vision and plan could have what it takes.
“I have to get one percent better every day,” he said. “I just live by that every single day. I got to get better every single day because there’s always someone out there trying to get your spot, trying to be better than you. There's always somebody out there working.”