By Bobbie Brown
Sometimes players stand out and seem larger than the actual game. Sometimes it’s because they are really athletic and sometimes it’s just the amount of heart and effort they put forth. I decided it was time to take a trip down memory lane to not that long ago. A tiny Cougar caught my complete attention. Tiny #1 got knocked down over and over and kept popping back up for more (https://www.1afan.com/thezone/the-little-guy).
Kylar Pepper. Klondike Cougar. Big heart. Never-give-up attitude. Huge smile.
The year was 2017. Kylar was a freshman. He stood a whopping 5’2 and weighed maybe 90 pounds. The Cougars found themselves hosting the eventual State finalist Balmorhea Bears, and it was brutal. It was Coach DeGraffenreid’s first year in Klondike. He had some athletic players, but nothing was really expected of them that season or that night. I went into that game expecting to enjoy watching the great 2017 Bears team and came out with a newfound respect for a little freshman I nicknamed Mighty Mouse.
Fast forward to 2020 and me and the Black Beast made our way south to Klondike to check in with Mighty Mouse and the undefeated Cougars. Klondike is literally in the middle of a cotton field. I always enjoy visiting the small community. The people are very kind and welcoming. It is a huge bonus that the Junior class parents make homemade ice cream and sell it at a table set up right beside the concession stand. Great stuff! There were seven flavors to choose from. I made my choice and enjoyed it while watching players begin warmup.
I found Coach D and the Cougars warming up. Although I’d kept up with Kylar, and he had grown his sophomore and junior years, I couldn’t pick him out of the group. Coach D let me know that Mighty Mouse had a growth spurt during the stay at home orders earlier this year. He said when he saw Kylar in August, he had to look up at him, and it almost brought him to tears. I quickly glanced to the end zone and found #7 (he switched numbers his sophomore year). Ol’ Mighty Mouse had grown to at least 6’0. He had also grown as a leader on the field. I watched him direct the Cougar offense as QB and contribute on defense. The Cougars have a very cohesive team this year and came out on top at the end of the game last night. And Kylar was right there in the mix on every play.
I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Kylar. He still loves Milk Duds. He has expanded his musical taste to include rap and rock but still listens to country. His love of brisket may have contributed to that growth spurt. And he’s moved from a love of history to really liking science.
Beyond the basics, Kylar learned a lot as a little guy and applies his experience to his play this year. Kylar said, “Having been so small I was a little bit restricted. I wasn’t the strongest or the fastest. But I did use what I could to my advantage. I tried to play smart and work on good mechanics, such as my throwing form, making correct reads, finding open receivers, in order to improve my game. Now that I am bigger and stronger, I feel that those fundamentals are more natural. I feel like having gotten that experience at a young age and only being able to work with what I had, I make a lot smarter decisions now since I’ve experienced different situations.”
He also has great advice for those little guys out there right now, “Just be patient and don’t get frustrated. Eventually you will grow and get stronger and be one of the biggest on the field. Don’t get down on yourself now and think that you’re too small to play. Some of the best players from high school all the way to the pros have been small guys with big hearts!”
Coach DeGraffenreid has enjoyed watching him progress, “Kylar is just one of those kids that coaches dream about. He never gets out worked, he has a natural ability to understand the game, and is a coach on the field. From the time he was a tiny little freshman, I knew he just had that “it” factor about him that makes him special. He has grown not only as a quarterback the last four years but just as a player in general. He has come up big for us on the defensive side of the ball this year and it’s just because he has such a high understanding of what people are trying to do offensively.”
Kylar and the Cougars expect to make a run into the playoffs this year. I asked him if he could give one message to his team, what would it be. Kylar said he would remind them of how they were not expected to be this good and, “We were expected to be a decent team but every time someone doubts our abilities it really motivates us to prove them wrong. Look to our ultimate goal of playing in the state championship. That always gets us fired up.”
Kylar plans on attending Texas Tech after graduating in 2021. He hasn’t decided his major but is steadfast in using the leadership skills he’s learned to help others as much as he can.
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, I wrote about Kylar Pepper. In many ways, he represents six-man football in this great state of Texas. Small in stature with a huge heart. He is not small anymore, but he definitely still has that big heart! Kids like Kylar make us want to go forward and do Good!
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