As iron sharpens iron
Kyle Wilcox has overcome many on- and off-field challenges to end up playing at Penn
November 4, 2013, 9:37 pm·
Carolyn Lim | DP
Kyle Wilcox decided to take matters into his own hands.
Fifth-year senior Billy Ragone handed the rock off to the junior running back in the fourth overtime against Dartmouth, and the middle was completely clogged.
Kyle plunged downhill after taking the handoff. Using his speed and vision, Kyle bounced the run outside and reached the end zone to give the Quakers an historic victory that has kept the Red and Blue’s Ivy title hopes alive to date.
Like he’s done all his life, Kyle found a way.
Kyle, who was born in Hong Kong, bounced around from Indiana to Princeton, N.J., before he settled in the place he considers his true home, Florida, around the age of 10.
When he arrived in Florida, his mother stopped living with his family due to health issues.
Matters only worsened for the Wilcox family when Kyle’s father was sentenced to 45 years in prison on a series of federal charges when Kyle was in eighth grade.
Kyle was soon taken in by his former peewee football coach, Max Smith.
“Max is one of the most influential figures in my life,” Kyle said. “I can’t put into words how thankful I am of him.”
After Kyle lived with Smith — a single parent with two children of his own — for the first three years of high school, he moved in with his older brother Justin, who became Kyle’s guardian in August of 2009.
It would be an understatement to say Justin and Kyle have a special relationship. As parental issues frayed the fabric of the Wilcox family, the two developed an even stronger bond and Justin assumed the responsibility of being there for his younger brother at all times.
“Looking back, I see that he’s always been there for me,” Kyle said. “[He]’s been the biggest influence in my life.”
Justin, an “athletic freak” according to Kyle, had the chance to play football at Central Florida, but instead chose to walk on at South Florida in order to remain with Kyle.
“When Kyle and I lived together, there were times when we barely had any money,” Justin said. “We’re talking like 20 bucks in the bank account, and we need to figure out how to make that 20 bucks last like a week.”
The two made the most of their situation by sticking together and supporting each other unconditionally.
“We’ve always been there for each other,” Justin said. “We do everything together. We push each other hard.”
After Justin became his guardian, Kyle transferred from Wharton High School, where he played for three years, to Armwood High School, which had a better program.
Kyle adjusted seamlessly to his new situation, rushing for 616 yards on nearly 10 yards per carry and graduating as the valedictorian of his class.
Touching on his motivation for succeeding in school, Kyle said, “I’ve just always wanted to do well, and I just have that drive to compete with everyone, just like in sports, in the class room as well.”
It was none other than Princeton that appeared to be the likely college destination for Wilcox initially.
“Princeton was the only Ivy League team to recruit me in the beginning,” Kyle said.
He went on an official visit to the university, got along well with the coaches and was led to believe his future as a Tiger was basically a done deal.
But it was not meant to be.
Two days before signing day, and just after getting a last minute request from Princeton to write an essay about his challenging situation, Kyle was notified that Princeton would not work out for him.
“I was like, ‘You know I put everything into this,’” Kyle said. “But I tried to stay optimistic about it and be like ‘something’s going to happen, it’ll all work out.’”
Sure enough, something happened.
THE ROAD TO PENN
Patton Chillura, who played high school ball in Tampa and is currently a junior quarterback for the Quakers, reached out to Wilcox after hearing about his recruitment situation.
Chillura had recently committed to Penn, and he connected his recruiting coach, Mark Fabish, with Kyle.
Fabish and other Penn coaches liked what they saw and sent Kyle on an official visit to Penn.
On March 14, 2011, Kyle verbally committed to Penn. Kyle and his Armwood teammate A.J. King, who had an offer pulled by Purdue but was able to commit to Western Michigan, had their own signing day.
Like Kyle had thought it would, it all worked out.
NEXT POSITION PLEASE
His freshman year at Penn, Kyle came in as a running back and ended up getting most of his snaps on special teams, where he made five tackles and forced a fumble. The following spring, he was tested out at safety.
“I think the defensive coaches liked what they saw,” Kyle said, referring to his performance on special teams.
Kyle bounced around from offense to defense in his first two years for the Quakers until then-junior running back Brandon Colavita went down with an injury against Dartmouth. Kyle got his backfield reps on the scout team for the remainder of his sophomore season along with playing special teams.
Coming off a shaky spring season in which it took a while for the offense to click, and with a crop of talented and experienced running backs surrounding him, Kyle was unsure of his role entering camp.
Despite having less experience than fellow backs junior Spencer Kulcsar and fifth-year senior Brandon Colavita, Kyle said he kept the mindset: “I’m going to compete.”
Compete he has thus far, as Kyle is second on the team in rushing with 341 yards on the ground, also leading the team in yards per carry at 4.9 a pop.
“He’s one of the hardest working kids on the team,” Kulcsar said. “You’ll never see him walk around without a smile on his face.
“He’s a kid you want to be around.”
Justin, who watches all of Kyle’s games, is proud of what the Quakers’ running back has done this year.
“I’m really excited for him,” Justin said. “I was just waiting for him to get an opportunity, really. I know he’s a lot happier because I know it was a little hard for him at first, but now that he’s getting his playing time he’s been able to show what he can do.”
Another strong performance from Kyle could help keep the Quakers’ Ivy hopes alive when they battle Princeton Sunday.
“There’s always a revenge factor with Princeton,” Kyle said. “I can’t wait to run all over them.”
Despite being roughed up against Brown, Wilcox is set to play against Princeton as of Monday morning.
The most poignant representation of Kyle’s relationship with his brother comes from Justin, who explained a connection they have through a shared message.
“Kyle has a tattoo on his ribs from Proverbs 27:17 that says ‘As iron sharpens iron, man sharpens man,’ and I have it tattooed on my chest,” Justin said. “It’s a Bible verse that signifies our relationship. We’re always out there to make each other better.”
As they sharpen one another, may they inspire us — to overcome our hardships and to always be there for one another.