Over the past few months, VAVEL.com has brought you some exclusive player interviews with 2016 NFL Draft hopefuls. Today we bring you an interview with Kile Willett, a player that has dreamt of playing in the NFL since he was a young boy. “So what, every college football player has had the same dream since they were a child", I hear you say. Yes you’re right but Kile’s tale is unique, his dream may be the same but his path has been very different.
About Kile Willett
Kile was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida. He was born Christopher Kile Mathews and was the son of Richard Alan Mathews and Victoria Willett. His father was a talented musician, a drug abuser and an alcoholic who would violently abuse Kile’s mother. Kile recalls how his father would call him names in front of his friends and can never remember him being sober.
His father caused nothing but hardship for him and his mother. Kile and his mother finally got away from his father when he was seven years old. His mother single-handedly raised him and taught him how to be a good person. She always worked hard and would take Kile to school before work and pick him up from football practice every day when she had finished. She did her best for him, always supported his dream and was like a best friend to him. She was Kile’s first love and was always there for him.
With Kile growing up in Gainesville, the home of the Florida Gators there was no surprise that he had a passion for football at a very young age. He grew up watching former Gators Travis McGriff, Terry Jackson, Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard, Jaques Green, Willie Jackson and Earnest Graham play ball at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (The Swamp) and dreamt of nothing more than to someday be out there playing himself.
It was in kindergarten that Kile first began to focus on sports and he knew he had talent from the outset. He would always push himself to be the fastest runner, the one that jumped the furthest or the highest and would love winning at anything, he was naturally competitive. Kile would play football, basketball and run track, anything to keep his mind focused and off his life at home. From the age of five, in his own words, his love for sport became his only way to survive.
Kile attended P.K. Yonge High School where he excelled in both football and track and field. He lettered four years in football and was a team captain. Kile played at fullback, safety, linebacker, running back, wide receiver, and contributed on special teams. He also lettered three years in track and field. Kile won the State 1-A Championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007 with the P.K.Yonge high school track and field team. In his senior year (2007) he placed first at the Regionals in the 100m, 200m, 4x 100m relay and the long jump. Whilst playing football in high school, Kile was given the nickname “White Lightning” because of his blazing speed. In his senior year of high school, he was voted the school’s most athletic pupil.
At the end of high school, Kile was considered to be one of the top prospects in the state and was heavily recruited by Clemson University, Charleston Southern University and the University of Florida. In 2007, Kile enrolled at the University of Florida as a walk-on athlete and would play football and run track. He would be close to his mother and it was a dream come true to have the chance to be a Gator. In June 2007, Kile joined the football team for their spring / summer workouts and he attended summer classes as he prepared for his freshman year.
For Kile, everything was finally taking shape, all his hard work and training was paying off, he was going to be a Gator. Until tragedy struck, Kile’s grandfather became ill after his grandmother passed away and was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. After talking to his mother it was agreed that Kile would move to Charleston, South Carolina to live with and help his grandfather.
Kile still had a burning desire to play football so he contacted Jay Mills the head coach at Charleston Southern University who offered him the chance to compete for and earn a scholarship at the school. As a freshman, he played as a slot receiver and as a return specialist. Unfortunately for Kile after his freshman year, the scholarship was given to another player who was entering his senior year. Kile then returned home to Gainesville and attended Santa Fe Community College to further his education; it was all he could afford.
When Kile lost out on that scholarship at CSU, he inevitably lost out on his chance to play college football ever again.
Paul Frances (VAVEL): Kile, I’d like to thank you on behalf of myself and VAVEL.com for giving up your time to take part in this interview today.
Kile: Thank you, sir. I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to you on what is my greatest passion, the game of football.
VAVEL: When and how did you first start playing football?
Kile: I grew up in a college football town in the North Western part of Florida, called Gainesville. I was five years old sitting in front of the television set watching the Florida Gators. I knew at a young age I would compete just like those guys. It has been my dream to be an SEC caliber football player. I value the style that I have created over the years watching my favorite Gators play the game.
VAVEL: Growing up as a kid, playing football and watching the NFL, who were the players that you admired and looked up to?
Kile: I went to a small high school by the name of P.K. Yonge High School. The sports teams were called the “Blue Wave”, and have produced many great athletes. Travis McGriff, Jacquez Green, Terry Jackson, Willie Jackson, Chris Doering, Ike Hilliard were a few of the athletes I used to help mold my game around. Travis, Willie, Terry, and Chris were all P.K. Yonge Alumni. Willie Jackson played a very influential role towards the end of my high school career, coming out and coaching the wide outs, which helped me develop into a more aggressive wide receiver.
VAVEL: In high school you were a two-sport standout, playing football and as a track and field star. On leaving high school you were recruited for both sports, what made you choose the University of Florida?
Kile: Wearing orange and blue for my hometown team, the Florida Gators, has been my dream since I was five years old. The Florida Gators actually recruited me to run track and field and to play football. I received handwritten letters from the coaching staff each week of the regular season and was at every home game in a top recruit seat right behind the south end zone. I took these letters to heart because this is what I wanted more than anything, and a full scholarship anywhere else was of no interest to me.
VAVEL: After your grandfather became ill you made the decision to move to Charleston, South Carolina and live with him. How difficult was it to leave your dream of playing for the Florida Gators behind?
Kile: My dream was to play football for the Florida Gators. I was always the first one at practice and the last one to leave. I worked my way into the eyes of the Florida coaching staff. I won three state championships in track and field at P.K. Yonge High School. I put in the time to build a strong foundation for myself, but I can’t take all the credit for that. My mother, Victoria Willett, on one paycheck, raised me and made sure I had every piece of equipment necessary to be able to chase my dream. My Grandfather, Curtis L. Willett Jr. would send me a letter once a month describing the importance to look after my mom, help out as much as I can around the house, and show respect. He told me in every letter that I must be the man of the house. He would full willingly send my mother and me extra money every month to make sure we could afford gas and groceries. My Grandfather was one of the most influential people in my life, and being able to play college ball and have him at my games was important to me. When I became aware of his illness my mother and I decided I would then transfer to Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina to help him when needed. My Family has always been important to me. It was a decision that was made from the heart; you do for your family before you do for yourself.
VAVEL: Shortly after arriving in South Carolina you contacted Charleston Southern University and was offered the chance to earn a scholarship in your freshman year. Unfortunately, the scholarship was given to another player and you were forced to return home to Gainesville where you then attended Santa Fe Community College. Ultimately this ended your chances of playing college football. Tell me how you were feeling, what were you thinking at this point?
Kile: I never lost the vision of the person that I wanted to be. I did what I thought to be right within my heart, and I always try to live in the forward. My situation was far from easy; however, I focused on the future. Everyone that has ever been great had an obstacle to overcome. Anyone that had ever been successful had a barrier to climb over. I continued to tell myself that one day I would be where I want to be. My focus was helping my mother, and getting my education. I kept faith in the Lord and told myself every day that this was all in God’s plan.
VAVEL: What sacrifices have you made for football? What sacrifices do you continue to make?
Kile: Football is a game that requires much endurance and strength conditioning. I am always the first person at practice and the last one to leave. I take pride in putting in an extra set, our pushing for another rep. I train my body to have a strong foundation, and I see every training session as an opportunity to add a brick to my foundation. I have put in countless hours to my craft, and I never get tired of training. It is what I love to do, and I am good at it. I thank God during my workouts to feel the burn and continue to have the desire to finish the workout. God has put this dream inside of me for a reason. I thank him every day for allowing me to make time to train, and to have the support from my family to put in the mornings and late evenings to train. I sacrifice my body and time, important time with my family to reach my goal.
VAVEL: During your football career, you have played on offense as a running back and a wide receiver, on defense as a defensive back and as a returner on special teams. What is your preferred position and why?
Kile: I grew up playing both sides of the ball, and contributing on special teams. The way I learned to play the game was from every position on the field. My point of view is that the only way you can get a true understanding of the game is to know everything about it. If you aren’t willing to learn every position and understand its importance, well then you don’t love the game. I practice technique constantly, and I have always trained to do little things well every day; however, my game is speed. When the ball is in my hands I feel the most dangerous on the field. I prefer to play as a return specialist as the ball goes right into my hands, and it gives me the opportunity to do what I love most, running full speed through traffic. Special teams are very important because football is a game of field position. I was always told special teams are “Special”. Lining up 40-50 yards deep waiting for the ball to land in my hands is what I dream about.
VAVEL: Evaluating you as a player, what are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
Kile: My style of play is high intensity, being aggressive, and dominant. If I have the opportunity to beat my opponent three and four times in a play I will take it. I take pride in being able to kick it into 3rd and 4th gear every play. Everyone has weaknesses; however, it is about knowing your weakness and to balance it with your strengths.
VAVEL: What do you feel sets you apart from other NFL hopefuls?
Kile: I have dreamed of being an NFL athlete since I was five years old, and I know I share that dream with millions of other athletes. I have watched the game for over 15 years, watching athletes make big plays. I have always wanted the chance to showcase my abilities. I train six days a week and on three out of those six, I train twice a day. My training program consists of anaerobic endurance conditioning. My conditioning will set me apart from other NFL hopefuls. I will never put my hands on my knees, or even take a knee. If I get the opportunity to showcase my abilities in front of an NFL team they will not see tired in my eyes.
VAVEL: Have you been able to reach out to veterans, current or former players for advice?
Kile: I am constantly asking questions and seeking advice. I have always been the kid who asked too many questions. I have reached out to my former coach Willie Jackson (former NFL WR), Travis Jervey (former NFL FB/HB), Master Trainer Stacy Dove who has trained multiple Pro Bowl players like Travis Jervey and Robert Porcher, and my old high school football coach, John Clifford (former Florida Gators safety). I reach out to guys all the time, to pick their brains. Knowledge is everything, and if I get the opportunity to take a few tips here and there from someone, I will. I say there is no shame in asking. Knowledge is something no one can ever take away from you.
VAVEL: Are there any NFL players (past or present) that you study, model your game after, or feel you draw comparisons to?
Kile: I grew up in a College town that loved football. Gainesville, Florida is home to “The Swamp”, one of the loudest stadiums in the country. The Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (the Swamp) sits 80,000 plus fans who LOVE football. I grew up modeling my game after Travis McGriff (former P.K. Yonge and Florida Gator standout), Jaques Green (former 1,200 plus yard WR and return specialist for the Florida Gators), Ike Hilliard (former Gator), and Earnest Graham (former RB for the Florida Gators). These Gators did eventually make it to the NFL, but they were similar to me in size and were exciting to watch. Wes Welker was always one of my favorite wideouts. His ability to run crisp routes and use his speed to elude defenders was great to see because we are similar in size. Plaxico Burress is to this day one of my favorite wideouts to play the game. His ability to catch the ball in traffic was something I really wanted to model my game after. The ball won’t always be where you want it to be. Finally, Randy Moss was a wide receiver I have followed since I fell in love with the game of football. I have watched countless film on him from his time at Marshall University and couldn’t get enough of him in the NFL.
VAVEL: Are there certain NFL teams that you feel you are a good fit for?
Kile: I have always been a New England Patriots fan. I feel their offense has the ability to use every guy on the field. They have a terrific offense which is led by an outstanding quarterback, Tom Brady. Bill Belichick is great to watch, and his passion for the game has shown throughout his career. The Tom Brady, Wes Welker era was great for me to see because I modeled some of my game on Wes Welker. Tom Brady now has Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They have always shown a way to incorporate slot receivers and return specialists in their game. That has always been intriguing to me. I would love to be a Patriot and feel I could fit in there very well, go New England!
VAVEL: What role do you see yourself playing on an NFL team?
Kile: I see myself as a standout on special teams. I will go out on the practice field and outwork everyone I come across. I feel as if my work ethic speaks volumes, and is one thing people always notice about me. When I step onto the field I come to work, and I expect to bring out the work in others.
VAVEL: What can an NFL team and its fans expect from you? What are you hoping to bring to the pro level?
Kile: The team and fans can expect that I will bring a high-intensity style of play, which the NFL is used to seeing. I will take every second that I am on the field as an opportunity to go full speed and show the world how fast I truly am. The style of play in the NFL and what the fans expect to see has already been set to those standards. I think I will fit in just fine.
VAVEL: You have overcome so many obstacles in your life; how have you stayed focused and positive through it all and how will you continue to do so?
Kile: I believe once you become comfortable where you are you will lose. I am never comfortable and I will always work to get better. I feel each day is another day that you are blessed with, and it is a chance for opportunity. Tomorrow is never promised, and I would never take a day to train, work or love family for granted. I do like to tell myself to live in the future, and I use my imagination every day to put myself closer to success. This is what gives me the motivation to NEVER stop.
VAVEL: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Kile: Five years from now I see myself in a football uniform, suiting up for practice, and ending my week with a game standing next to guys that want to win just as bad as I do. I will be playing football because this I what I have worked for. I have the numbers, and I am physically able to perform at a high level. There is no doubt in my mind that five years from now I will be signed to a team and in an organization that respects the game of football. This is my dream! If I was unable to see this in my future the dream wouldn’t be right for me.
VAVEL: Who is currently integral to your football success?
Kile: The support of my family comes a long way in my ability to perform. Knowing that they are my backbone throughout this process allows me to stay focused and perform at a high intensity. It is easy for me to go out and train, feel the burn, add a set, and continue on with my day. They are the ones that sacrifice for me by being such a help around the house and to do daily activities while I am training. In my opinion, they sacrifice more than I do. I am going after my dream while my wife Megan Webb Willett, my two-year-old daughter Avery Brooke Willett, and my new-born daughter Ainsley Grace Willett fully support the time and effort I put into training. Without them by my side, my dream wouldn’t be worth chasing. They are the reason I will succeed, by following the dream God has placed inside of me. Also, my in-laws David and Jodi Webb have been so supportive of my dream and are always on hand to help in any way that they can. Finally, my life-long friend James Huff has been like a brother to me and has always pushed me to acknowledge my blessings and to not take them for granted. It’s all in God’s plan, and God has made me a loving father with the dream and desire to play professional football.
VAVEL: Describe the role of football in your life?
Kile: Football was my release from the world. I prayed to God early on in my life to give me the opportunity for a better life. My home life was disrupted by alcohol and violence. My mother did everything in her power to send me to a good school and to make sure I was taken care of. Having my father around was very stressful and saddening. I would leave the house and run for hours in hope to come back home and things would be normal. I never felt that sense of normality until I stepped onto the football field. I was able to work with a team, and focus on the points of the game. It was my home away from home for so many years. Now I see football as a part of my life and the reason I have become the man I have today. Football saved my life. The only way to repay the game is to play hard every single play, for the game and the respect of the ones who played before me.
VAVEL: Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life and career so far?
Kile: My mother, Victoria Willett, has by far been my greatest inspiration. Her focus and determination every single day to wake up and get me to school, and work a full day from 7am-5pm, and come home making sure my homework was done, and dinner was served all by herself was so inspiring to grow up around. My mother never complained, and always made sure I had what I needed. She woke up like every day was a new day, and that day was her day. She raised me by herself for 18 years and passed away in 2013 of liver failure when I was 23 years old. She was my role model, my best friend, and a terrific mother. She always supported my dream to play professional sports, and I never noticed I didn’t have two parents in the stands because she was always cheering loud enough for two. I think daily about her ability to keep going after such a hard marriage and raising a single child all by herself. After she passed away I chose to change my surname to Willett in her honor. She is the reason I will never give up!
VAVEL: What would you be doing if you weren't pursuing a career in the NFL?
Kile: I am a coach at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina. I am currently coaching the Cyclones Bantam Football team, which consists of 6th and 7th-grade boys. I also coach the Cyclones Track and Field team. I am a jumps coach for the varsity boys and girls. I have always believed in paying it forward. I take pride in everything I do, whether it is my own training or helping another athlete develop. In the past three seasons, the Cyclones Bantam Football team have lost just one regular season game, and the Cyclones have four jumpers that have qualified for state. Coaching is something I can take passion in because of my love for sports. Seeing the kids progress athletically and develop good characters through the process is very rewarding.
VAVEL: Away from football, what other life goals do you have?
Kile: I came from a small family, and was a single child. I have one half-brother, Travis Atkins and a half-sister, Raven Moore. My goal since I was a young child was to have a big family one day. I always wanted two girls and a boy, so far I feel like I am right on track. I want to be a good father to my children, and the best husband I can be. My mother taught me how to treat a woman, and I have always wanted the opportunity to have a house with a beautiful family one day, that I could call my own. Coaching has always been a goal of mine after football; however, I am gaining experience in that field as well. It is all a process and in God’s plan. I continue to keep the faith, and I give the Lord all the praise!
VAVEL: Why do you want to share your story with VAVEL.com?
Kile: I have always wanted to share my story with the public, and I knew one day I would have the opportunity to do so. I never thought about boring an audience with the details because nothing in my life has ever been dull. I always felt I would gain a level of respect for my perseverance, and maybe I could change someone else’s life if they heard my story. I feel as if I could show someone else that I have been in his or her shoes and I made it through the dark times, well maybe they could use that to help guide them through. It was never easy and some days in my youth when I was just seven years old, I would ask the Lord to take me because it was unbearable. I was determined to follow my dream and become the man I am today. I spent many days and nights on my knees praying for strength. It is all about paying it forward and I am grateful to have the opportunity with VAVEL.com to share my story in the hope that it will inspire another somewhere down the line.
VAVEL: Finally Kile, what’s next for you? What are you doing right now to help reach your goal of playing football in the NFL?
Kile: Right now I am training with master trainer Stacy Dove at Big Work Fitness Factory in Charleston, South Carolina. I am training six days a week and on three out of those six, I train twice a day. The NFL draft is weeks away, and I anticipate being in the best shape possible. I am currently doing anaerobic endurance conditioning that entails a lot of lifts, cleans, cable work, box jumps, jump rope, and treadmill exercises. Our goal is to program into the body explosive and powerful movements while continuing to stay conditioned. I am training harder than I ever have in my life and I am progressing really fast.
VAVEL: Kile, once again I’d like to thank you for taking part in this interview today; it’s been great getting to know you. Good luck for the future.
Kile: The pleasure is all mine. It has actually been very rewarding for me to be able to sit down and tell my story. It has been a long journey, and yet it feels like it is just starting. Thank you for taking the time to listen, and giving me the opportunity to have an audience.
VAVEL: It’s an honor to be a part of your journey Kile.
If you would like to keep up to date with Kile’s journey into the NFL you can follow him on his Facebook page. This is a public group page that he has created for family, friends, and fans to be able to keep up to date with his current training sessions, 40-yard sprints, field drills and anything else football related.
Kile currently lives in Charleston with his wife and two beautiful daughters and he pays homage to his wife, children, and in-laws David and Jodi Webb for all the love and support they give him. He gives tribute to his mother for all the support she gave him, how she looked after him and was always there for him until she sadly passed away on February 13th, 2013. She was a strong woman and still to this day one of the strongest people he has ever met in my entire life. Kile loved his mother and credits her for inspiring him to become the man he is today.
He is 5’ 10 ½” and 210 lbs. He has a 4.37 FAT laser 40-yard dash time and a 41” vertical leap. Kile has great speed, is very dynamic, has amazing hand-eye coordination, is a proficient route runner and can make any catch on the field. He is also a return specialist, making him a dual threat player.
Kile is always training and keeps himself in peak physical condition so that he’s ready when he gets “The call”. He trains at the Big Work Fitness Factory with Master Trainer Stacy Dove. Dove has a world of experience and has previously trained former pro-bowlers Travis Jervey and Robert Porcher. Kile coaches football and track at Porter-Gaud School under athletic director Larry Salley. He inspires, teaches and motivates pupils and athletes every day.
After talking to Kile and hearing his amazing heartfelt story you can feel his determination it oozes from him as he talks. This kid has been through some torrid times, his childhood was disrupted by alcohol, drugs and violence yet he has never given up. As he said before “Football saved his life”, it was his release from the world. He believes he owes football and wants, no needs a chance to repay that debt and play in the NFL.
He has worked so hard for an opportunity to show the world what he can do and after watching him practice he deserves one. Football is his life and he feels he is in the best position both physically and mentally to play now. He has never given up on his dream and never will.
From a broken home to summer camp with the Florida Gators only to give it all up selflessly to look after a family member. Kile Willett is an inspiration and a true role model for all youngsters, showing that you never give up on your dreams, keep fighting and working to achieve them and always strive for greatness.
Kile deserves the chance to play pro football; he may not have the college numbers that teams look for but if you look past that, he has the talent and work ethic to make an NFL roster. He is available in the upcoming 2016 NFL Draft, Kile just needs one shot, one opportunity, and one NFL team to take a chance on him.