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Levon Kirkland - NFL All-Pro
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Levon Kirkland on his High School Coach

Thank you for the invite to The Sports Family Club. There were several people that helped me in my development as an athlete, but I’d like to focus this article on my high school football coach, Terry Styles.

My athletic career would have never gotten started if it wasn’t for my high school head football coach, Terry Styles. I’m from a small town in South Carolina and when I played, the town had two high schools. One was Lamar High; the other was Spaulding High. Spaulding High had a student body of about ninety percent African Americans, and didn’t have much of a sports program. Although Spaulding was a good school and probably better academically, not many athletes from that school went on to play college sports. The community at that time wanted to consolidate the schools:  Lamar would be the high school and Spaulding would become the junior high school.  Lamar High had a more diverse student body and the sports programs were much better.

The consolidation happened my ninth grade year. This was my first time to play organized football but I understood the game very well, even if I did have trouble understanding where all the pads went into my football pants!  Coach Styles ran a very tight ship and demanded excellence from all of his players.  I had a good season that freshman year playing tight end and linebacker for the Junior Varsity team. The next year I was moved up to Varsity which was a big deal because only a few sophomores were granted that privilege.  I had natural ability and did a good job during spring ball and preseason. My biggest problem was I didn’t always go to practice. My father had a rule that clearly stated that I had to ask permission every single day to go to football practice. It was a difficult task doing that every morning and sometimes I would miss him before school. I wouldn’t dare go to practice without his permission but I didn’t think it was a big deal until the week of the Jamboree in Hartsville, SC.

The Jamboree was a huge deal where all the high schools from our county played the same day at Kelly Stadium.  The games were only two quarters long, but everyone would be there and frankly, even then, I liked playing in front of big crowds. Coach Styles called me in his office the day of the Jamboree and gave me some heartbreaking news. He informed me that I wasn’t going to suit up because I missed too many practices during that week. Of course being a kid, I thought it was really unfair, plus I could play!!!! I was upset, but Coach Styles was disappointed in me. Nothing hurts more than when a person you look up to is disappointed in you. Before I exited his office, with a frown on my face, he told me frankly that I had the ability to play college football but I had to be committed to the game. Man, that hit me like a ton of bricks!  I always loved the game and I had enjoyed my brothers and cousins playing high school football when I was younger, but this man was telling me I had the opportunity to play at a higher level – and this guy was white!  I had never ever heard a positive word from a white man regarding me.  I made a decision that day that I was going to be committed and go to practice every day. I know my father didn’t always want me to go, but I was determined to go to college and play big time football.

The rest of the year, I made it to practice all the time, I worked hard and had a great year. My favorite first catch was a touchdown, and I ended up catching the winning touchdown against our big rival, Mayo High School. Of course I went on to play at Clemson University, and then made it to the NFL for eleven seasons!  Man, I am not sure where I would be if it wasn’t for Coach Terry Styles. He will always be a big part of me.

 

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