SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- When Jaleel Kyles showed up for Putnam Vocational Tech’s first football practice three years ago as an unassuming freshman, the Beaver coaches didn’t pay much attention to him, that is, except for making a few mental notes regarding his dimensions. Kyles stood 5-foot-2 and barely reached 90 pounds.
“At that size at the time we didn’t know how much he was going to help us,” said Putnam head coach Bill Watson, who served as assistant under head coach Lou Malvezzi when Kyles arrived on the scene.
Prior to Kyles’ junior season, he had a growth spurt which bumped him up to 5-foot-6, 140-pounds. To the coaches that was progress but questions still lingered.
“Funny thing is when we as coaches continued to doubt if he would be able to play for us, Jaleel always believed and just kept working,” Watson said. “He ran track to get faster and continously worked out during the off-season with weight lifting and doing agility work and then he had another growth spurt.”
Fast forward to the present, and with the start of pre-season camp just a few short weeks away, Watson’s reflections of Kyles have changed dramatically. No longer the scrawny little kid whom many felt might get injured if he played, Kyles, thanks to yet another growth spurt this past year which now puts him at 5-foot-10, 160-pounds along with a vigilant off-season conditioning program, has emerged in becoming the featured player on the Putnam squad.
Taking part, along with 40 other area players, in Saturday’s Super 7 Showcase at Central High’s Fred Berte Field, Kyles showed off the abilities which should make him one of the top two-way players not only in Western Mass. but most-likely beyond.
Because of his pure athleticism, Watson says Kyles will play all over the field this season and will rarely come off. As of now, his primary position is slot receiver but he will also see time at running back and quarterback as well with the various offensive packages Watson wants to use. On the other side of the ball Kyles is a shutdown defensive back.
“It doesn’t matter where I play,” Kyles said. “I just want to put this team on my back and let them know I’m ready to lead them.”
With the addition of Sci-Tech High players merging with Putnam this year, automatically the Beavers’ numbers regarding depth will increase. Putnam will need those extra bodies after being moved up to Western Mass. Division 2 this season, joining the likes of powers Longmeadow, Central, East Longmeadow and Westfield.
“We’re going to have more numbers which is huge because last year we would only practice using half of field because we didn’t have a lot of numbers,” said Kyles.
Early in his life Kyles, like so many other kids, experienced his share of hardship. Just nine months old at the time, his father left him and his mother Shakira. In time his mother met another man (Kwame Kyles) and they were married. The younger Kyles regards his stepfather, whom he refers to as dad, as a pure blessing and in fact, recently had his last name which use to be Brown changed to Kyles.
“He’s not my true father but he helped raise me,” Kyles said. “He’s always been there for me as is my mom. He took me under his wing and I’ve always been his. He’s like my real father. My mother works very hard and always does her best to get me and my siblings everything we need. She comes to my football games and track meets and supports me in everything I do.”
Kyles says without Kwame being a major presence in his life, he doesn’t know if he would have ever become the football star he is today. As a youngster, Kyles was extremely hyper and Kwame searched different high and low to try and put that energy to good use. Early on, Kwame got him involved in karate and boxing. Then one day Kwame saw an advertisement on a billboard about Springfield youth football. Kwame immediately signed Kyles up and the rest is history.
“Playing football at a young age, my dad taught me everything about football and a strong hard-work ethic,” said Kyles. “We would do drills and he would set up cones in our back yard to help me run precise routes, etc.”
Going into last season, Watson had Kyles listed as his third receiver but suddenly all of that changed.
“Going into camp we had two kids in front of him who were college scholarship type of receivers,” said Watson, who has coached at Putnam for 17 years. “In the scrimmages Jaleel played well and we had him play running back sparingly and he still ended up being our leading rusher last year (544 yards on 102 carries, 9 TDs). In my mind I believe he needs to touch the football at least 20 times a game. If he doesn’t then we’re not doing our job. He’s tough, physical, fast, quick and just a great kid to coach.”
Kyles’ hard-work and dedication to make himself better has already begun to pay dividends. He recently received an offer from AIC. Watson, who played at AIC, said UMass and UConn have also shown some interest.
“I want to play college football and get an education,” Kyles said. “My dad has always steered me in the right direction. So whatever offers I get on the table we will deal with. If it’s not something of my interest then I may go to a private school for a year.”
With a full high school season ahead of him, it is highly-likely a few more offers will come his way. No matter, Kyles has become a role model for others, who also may be a bit undersized, to follow and fulfill their dream.
Notable performances: During Saturday’s Super 7 Showcase, under the direction of Watson, other players besides Kyles, had very productive days. Ansonia (Conn.) running back Arkeel Newsome, who recently committed to UConn, stood out along with Holy Cross (Conn.) receiver Isaiah Wright, who will attend Kingswood-Oxford School in East Hartford next fall. Others who grabbed attention included quarterback Cody Williams and lineman Khaleel Walker of Central, Putnam tight end David Spears, East Longmeadow receiver Sam Blake -- who will PG at Williston-Northampton School -- and Windsor (Conn.) receiver/defensive back Terrell Huff, who will suit up for East Coast Prep in Great Barrington come September.