Michigan's Kalis a renaissance man
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan right guard Kyle Kalis did some of his best work at a converted warehouse in Avon, Ohio.
It was where he trained at former Ohio State offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley's gym while in high school. It's where he bulked up. It's where he got mean.
It's also where he did a lot of his painting. It's where he practiced his shading, texture and composition. It's one of the first places where people tried to put together the football-playing Kyle Kalis and the accomplished artist Kyle Kalis into, simply … Kyle.
"Kyle did all these," Bentley said, pointing out a few of his favorites on the walls. "Impressive, right? You wouldn't think that big kid could paint."
But the football player could paint. Or the painter could play football, depending on the vantage point.
It had been just a few years earlier that Kalis had arrived late to a workout. His explanation took Bentley by surprise.
"Sorry," he began to explain. "I had to stay late at school to work on an art project."
Bentley was skeptical. And why wouldn't he be? The 300-pound Kalis painted? He was in art class?
Kalis showed Bentley an image on his phone -- the large print with Albert Pujols nearly swinging off the canvas. His skepticism turned into amazement.
"He'd crush skulls on Friday nights," said Bentley. "Then he'd paint murals on Saturdays."
To understand Kalis' unique skill set, look no further than his parents.
His father, Todd, spent eight years as an offensive lineman in the NFL and was a three-year starter for Arizona State. His mother, Stephanie Schwarz, grew up in a creative family and has always had a pull towards arts, theater and music.
Though they divorced when he was six, both remained huge influences in his life as he pursued both athletics and the arts.
As a 5-year-old he once scribbled a mural -- drawn completely with permanent markers -- onto the family's brand new entertainment center.
"I couldn't be mad at him because it was so beautiful," Schwarz said. (The entertainment center is still in her basement.)
His natural abilities went beyond drawing and sketching. He could sit at the piano and play by ear. He could pick up a guitar and strum chord progressions. But at school, his Crayola drawings, when hung next to the other students, always looked like Todd or Stephanie had done them.
"Kids draw, kids use crayons," Todd said. "There's some kind of extra skill you're born with I guess, without any initial training. For some reason, he has that. … Sometimes you're just born with certain gifts."
And football ability happened to be another gift he was born with.
He didn't start playing until seventh grade, but even at his first game, Todd saw a quicker step and a natural instinct that kids who had been playing for years hadn't even started to display.
Within a few years, he was one of the top offensive line prospects in the nation.
A month before Kyle Kalis enrolled at Michigan, he sat in his Jeep, waiting for Bentley at his gym.
He was better known at the time for his Ohio State-Michigan commitment flip, changing his allegiance to Ann Arbor after former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel resigned. Every time his name was mentioned, it was "Kalis, who decommitted from Ohio State and then committed to Michigan" -- the asterisk he always carried with him. He just wanted to be known for being himself.
When Bentley arrived, Kalis jumped out of his car.
"You ever going to fix that license plate?" Bentley joked, referring to Kalis' personalized OSU plate, a gift from his parents when he was a Buckeye commit.
"Hilarious," Kalis said sarcastically. "You're late."
The two walked in through the front doors and the lobby and paid no attention to Kalis' paintings on the wall. Today was about football.
The workout began, and Bentley pushed Kalis harder and harder as Kalis got more and more exhausted.
Bentley understands offensive lineman. He won the Rimington Award at Ohio State. He was a two-time Pro Bowler. He had grown up idolizing offensive linemen and studying them. Now, he coached.
Bentley had a theory as to why offensive linemen are so similar and often so singularly driven: Many grow up bigger and different than every other child, so they often become introverts. A lot of those guys throw themselves into football and nothing else. Because of that, they can only be pushed so far.
Because of his artistic outlet, Bentley realized Kalis could be pushed even further.
"You find so many football players who are so self-destructive that are able to get into so many different types of trouble away from football -- it's because they don't know who they are with the helmet off," Bentley said. "When Kyle's stressed out he's going to come in, work really hard, lift and train his ass off. Then he'll go paint, listen to classical music; he will want to go to an opera."
Last spring, Kalis was admitted to Michigan's prestigious Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.
"I really don't have that many friends other than football players and so it's nice to just go over there and be in a completely different environment. A lot of them think sports are a joke -- I like that. It gets me out of my comfort zone.
He's incredibly proud of his accomplishment but doesn't feel the need to wear it on his sleeve.
Instead, he'll joke about how he brought diversity to the esteemed program, which is nearly 80 percent female and devoid of athletes, especially 6-foot-5, 302-pound redheads. He'll say that what put him over the top on his application was how he showed true commitment to the arts by enrolling in a ballet class as a freshman (but ask his mom and she'll say he enrolled to meet girls).
He took two drawing classes that allowed him to build on his previous work.
Some days Kalis would show up in his earrings and beanie cap, which fit in more with his classmates who were, as namely, "a bunch of hipsters, but they're great." He could never wear the skinny jeans that are so popular in the art school because, as he so astutely pointed out, "my legs aren't skinny."
During one prerequisite course, he had to leave early to get from north campus to the football fields for spring practice, which his teacher had approved -- but not without some jesting.
She'd proclaim his departure, imitating a play-by-play announcer. Students would jokingly chant at him. He'd grab his Michigan-issued backpack and head out the door with a smile.
"I really don't have that many friends other than football players and so it's nice to just go over there and be in a completely different environment," Kalis said. "A lot of them think sports are a joke -- I like that. It gets me out of my comfort zone."
Really, the idea of Kalis -- a football-playing painter or a painting football player -- pushes a lot of comfort zones. But both sides lend themselves to the other.
"When he's in his football mode, you won't find a person more competitive and more dedicated -- that's just not going to happen," Bentley said. "But he was able to leave that behind and escape into art and escape into things outside of football, what many would consider weird for a big, strong guy like Kyle to be interested in.
"I think that allows him to be so immersed in football when he's in it because he has that outlet."