Kyle Wallace was probably the only guy younger than me I’ve ever looked up to.
You might think that I mean that literally – he was about a foot taller than me – but Kyle was someone whose presence in my life made me a better person.
Wallace, whose death this week at age 36 leaves a void in this community even larger than the man himself, was someone who clearly understood the things that are truly important in this life.
I had a unique opportunity to observe these things about him.
As a journalist I watched his career as a coach and developed respect for how he encouraged kids.
Kyle played football at Mississippi State and Delta State so he knew plenty about athletics. But I think his real gift was the influence he had on his players that lasted after they left the field.
When Kyle started his coaching career at Yazoo City High School he was often the only white guy on the field. That made absolutely no difference to him, and he fit right in. I’ve heard countless stories from former players reflecting on how he encouraged them, and how he always stressed that all the athletic ability in the world is meaningless if you can’t graduate. One of those players is Philadelphia Eagles star Fletcher Cox, who regularly recalls Wallace’s influence on him.
As a fellow church member I had a chance to see how his faith guided him. In our Sunday School classes Kyle wasn’t always a big talker, but when he said something it was usually something meaningful. When he experienced setbacks and things didn’t work out the way he wanted, he had faith that God had a plan for him and his family.
As a friend I had a chance to appreciate how much he loved his family.
When Jamie and I were first married and she moved to Yazoo City it was hard for her at first because she didn’t know anyone. She was thrilled to discover that Kyle’s wife Jamie, who my Jamie became friends with in college, lived in Yazoo. They became really close, and that of course meant that before long I was attending social events.
Kyle and I immediately hit it off. He was a down-to-earth guy with absolutely no pretensions. He was a tough guy who never tried to talk tough, and he wasn’t afraid to be a little goofy if the situation called for it. His last birthday party was a 1980s themed costume party, and Kyle was dressed in those too short, too tight high waisted shorts that every coach wore in those days with a pair of high socks to complete the look.
Another reason I liked spending time with Kyle is that like me, when he had kids they became his priority. When our families spent time together it was often kid-friendly with our children playing together.
Kyle loved his family. His relationship with his wife was an example of how a marriage should be – two people who love and support each other and also have lots of fun together. He was a great father to his young children. When I think of him I always picture him holding his daughter Myla and being just as proud as the father of a beautiful little girl should be.
It’s times like this that I’m thankful that I have faith in God, and I accept that there are some things that I’m not going to understand no matter how hard I try. I can’t understand how this tragedy fits into any positive plan.
Only God knows why. Maybe I’ll get a chance to ask Him one day, but then again maybe it won’t even seem as important when we all see each other again and realize what a short ride this life was compared to eternity.
For now I’ll just try to honor my friend’s memory by making a commitment to always remember the things I learned from him and to stay true to those principles that made me admire him so much. Just like so many of his players over the years, I want Coach Wallace to be able to say that he is proud of me when the game’s over.