Saint Francis golfer printing unique story
By Josh Rowntree, Director of Communications  • May 11, 2024

They say you can’t be a lover and a fighter. But Caleb DeBass is living proof that you can, in fact, be both.

DeBass grew up in the octagon, competing in mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in an attempt to satisfy a hunger to fight. But out of the ring, DeBass found some other activities that peaked his interests and were, well, far less violent.

One of those was golf, an outlet to continue to athletically compete in a sport based on individualism and, eventually, in a college setting.

“I’ve always done MMA my whole life, that was my main sport,” says DeBass, a native of Forest, Virginia who has a powerful 6-foot-3 frame that you might expect from an MMA fighter.

“This will sound weird, but I love fighting. I never really did well at team sports coming from that. So golf seemed like a really viable option, too.”

DeBass began golfing around seven years old. He got serious about the sport around 12 and realized in high school that he may be able to play at the next level.

“My high school golf coach, I told him that I wanted to do Pre-Med, and he said, ‘you have the grades and you have the talent, somebody would definitely be willing to pick you up,’” says DeBass.

Enter Saint Francis University, the Loretto, Pa. school located about five hours north of his home just outside of Lynchburg — and SFU’s Division I golf program.

“I never thought it would be somebody at DI,” DeBass recalls. “That seemed a little absurd. But (DeBass’ coach) said, ‘you just need to try a little more.’ That was the push that gave it to me."

But the athletic individualism, the desire to fight, that’s only part of the junior’s developing story.

A Pre-Med major at Saint Francis, DeBass’ biggest love is helping those in need. And that’s what sparked his educational journey, and the unique side project that has taken off in the last year.

“I’ve always been into 3D printing,” says DeBass, who — along with two Saint Francis classmates and friends — co-founded a company called EcoPrint, a 3D printing business that redistributes recyclable goods into 3D printed objects.

“Before I got into medicine, I was into engineering. I had a 3D printer and had some buddies at school, Carson (Elbin) and Nate (Poplos), who helped me found EcoPrint. I was like, ‘dude, we are broke college kids and filament (the material used in standard 3D printing) is so expensive.’

“So we started brainstorming ideas, like would it be cheaper to make our own filament? I texted Nate one night about using (plastic) bottles, because they’re made from the same material, and he was like, ‘go to bed, have you been drinking?’”

When DeBass woke up, he and the team realized that his late-night dream could be a reality. They began to collect empty 2-liter bottles — of which there are plenty in trash cans and dumpsters on most college campuses.

“We’d just go to people’s trash or text our friends,” he says, with a laugh. “Even the golf team, I said to them, ‘hey, if you have a bunch of 2-liters laying around, I’d love to have them. And, man, people are really willing to give you their trash, so that was super helpful.”

They began prototyping a machine to turn used bottles into 3D printer-capable filament in March of 2023. By June, the machine was ready.

Before long, a simple desire to find a cheaper way to produce filament to make 3D printed items took a turn for the good.

“It really evolved into something much bigger than we expected,” DeBass says. “It turned into, ‘wow, we have the opportunity to print some really cool things, help people and help the environment.’"

And the trio did just that.

DeBass and EcoPrint were able to take their products into Guatemala as part of a medical mission trip this summer.The group fundraised $10,000 in order to be able to serve an underdeveloped part of the world.

“We got to print toys for the kids, which was really fun,” DeBass says. “It’s so sad, they have nothing there. But we also got to make medicine bottles and finger splints that the people over there can use.”

While EcoPrint makes plenty of goods — such as a functional computer mouse, baskets for hanging plants around the house, etc. — it has been able to craft a sustainable niche in aid.

The venture has now doubled in size from a personnel standpoint, with six college students working with the blossoming company. And ideas on how to integrate recyclable 3D printing into the game of golf have been at the top of DeBass’ mind.

“(Saint Francis coach Jonathan Kulas) reached out to me and asked if I had any ideas, and I said ‘absolutely,’” DeBass says. “Golf tees were one of the easiest things for us to do. You can make 10-12 golf tees from one 2-liter.”

But DeBass also thought of more permanent items that wouldn’t result in being redeposited into the ground, as so many golf tees eventually do.

“Ball markers were a really cool option, divot repair tools, clips for golf bags, brushes for cleaning clubs, hat clips for ball markers,” he says. “It’s just, ‘what do you want and can I make it?’”

DeBass’ future may not be in golf — there’s bigger ventures on the horizon for him — but the way he has been able to balance being a Division I golfer with the labor of pre-med instruction and helping others through EcoPrint is unique and admirable.

And, while he doesn’t quite know what lies ahead for EcoPrint, he is ready to continue fighting — this time for others.

“All of us want to help people,” DeBass says. “You don’t have to be a doctor to help someone. We’re not doctors yet, but how can we help people in our field that we love, with our hobbies that we love?

“That’s how EcoPrint got born, that was the driving force… If I can take people out of pain, that would make me happy at the end of the day.”

For media inquiries, please contact WPGA Director of Communications Josh Rowntree.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.