Kyle Wallace, above all else, was a great guy.
And with unfathomable sadness, I now have to refer to him in past tense because my friend passed away on Wednesday due an apparent heart attack.
When Jason Patterson, my boss, came into my office and said, “I have terrible news,” I expected him to tell me something went wrong with the football magazine we were pushing out the door or a player was out for the season due to a twisted knee on a basketball court or anything else, really, other than what he told me.
When he said, “Kyle Wallace just died,” it felt like someone hit me in the sternum with a sledge hammer, leaving me breathless and a little bit empty.
It was a situation where my mind started scrambling to figure out what those words meant in a sentence together. It was as if they didn’t belong, and I had obviously misheard the information.
Surely, it wasn’t the Kyle Wallace I had talked to and laughed with on Tuesday out at Yazoo County when I took their team photo, the Kyle who was so desperately looking forward to the Battle of Yazoo, where he would be pitted against his former team, the Kyle that loved football a lot but loved his family more.
Though I knew the information was rock solid, somewhere in the back of my mind I was convinced it wasn’t true.
Still, hours went by, and no one told me otherwise. On the contrary, information that supported the original claimed kept trickling in, leaving me no choice but to deal with a cold reality.
I lost a friend, his wife lost a husband, his children lost a father, a number of kids lost a coach and all of Yazoo lost a fantastic ambassador and mentor.
I have a good working relationship with all of the coaches in Yazoo County, but my relationship with Kyle was different than my other coaching relationships.
We became good friends.
It started when I went to my first Yazoo City High football practice during my first summer at this gig.
Tony Woolfolk was coaching there back then, and I will admit that I was a little nervous. It was one of the first practices I had for the first magazine I was in charge of, so I wanted to make sure I did a good job.
The problem was, other than Tony, I didn’t really know anyone there, coaches or players.
To say I was anxious would be a pretty large understatement, so I buried myself in my camera.
While walking past the sled where the lineman were working, I was glancing down at my aforementioned camera when a big paw of a hand slapped me on the back.
I jumped, a bit stunned, and looked up at the laughing face of Kyle Wallace, hand extended, welcoming me to Yazoo City High.
We hit it off immediately, as was easy to do with a guy that likable, that funny, that kind.
Fast forward a year or so, Manchester Academy’s head coaching job opened up with Benny McLendon leaving, opening the door for Kyle to get his first shot as the head honcho of a football program.
He did well that first year, taking his team, which had won one game previously, to the playoffs, surprisingly.
At the beginning of the following summer, I wanted to do something unique to create content.
I wanted to go through a high school strength and conditioning program.
It was probably a silly idea, but I felt that some might find it humorous.
The tricky part was trying to find a coach to give up their free time in the summer to put me through one.
Kyle Wallace did so with no questions asked.
For 1.5-2 hours on Monday-Thursday for seven weeks, Kyle put me through a grind, working me as hard as I have ever been worked before.
He taught me things during those weeks, like the “Fat Boy Shuffle,” a way of walk-running that makes you look to spectators (a.k.a. coaches) like you’re extending more energy than you really are, and other tricks of the trade.
Our time wasn’t just used for working out, however.
We bonded during that summer.
He would quiz me on my life and history, all while opening up to me about his own without reservations.
He would beam when talking about his family that was so dear to him.
He would laugh when talking about his playing days at Mississippi State and Delta State.
He would fall deep into thought when remembering times when he was a child.
And when he did these things, I would listen and laugh along with him.
Our friendship didn’t end once that summer did, though we didn’t see each other quite as much.
But he was always around to talk if I needed a conversation or a pick-me-up.
In fact, he surprised me with one of those as recently as Monday.
After getting a rather drastic haircut over the weekend to change a hairstyle I had been sporting for years, I was a bit on edge, not yet comfortable in my own skin.
Rushing to finish up the football preview magazine, I had to go out to Yazoo County High to snag some photos at a practice.
After a few minutes of walking around with my eye in a lens, I looked up to see Kyle grinning from ear to ear, as he was apt to do.
With his big thumb raised up for all to see, he shouted, “I like that do, man,” from across the practice field.
Again, like the day I met him, when I was self-conscious and maybe a bit nervous, he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable because that’s just the kind of guy he was.
They say everything happens for a reason, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what good could come to this world without Kyle in it.
I jokingly tell myself that God must have had issues prepping his right tackle.
But I know deep down that we needed him more.
Your life’s worth isn’t measure by the money you acquire or the fame you garner.
It’s measured by the impact you have on others.
As a coach, a friend, a father, a son, a brother, and a husband, Kyle touched people with his kindness from the farthest reach of Yazoo County and beyond.
And while so many in this community know Kyle far better than I did, his impact upon me was profound, for I am a better man for having known him.
This isn’t my goodbye to Kyle. It’s just a farewell for now.
Until we meet again, friend...