Creating a new path

Published by Tyler Howe, Date: October 3, 2022
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The year is 2019, and The Rock football is in the midst of what became their best season in program history. The wide receiver core is stacked with three of the best players in Div. II football at their position. There’s a freshman there, soaking up everything all around him.

That freshman, Kyle Sheets, is now in the position that they were in. Sheets, a 6’4,” 215-pound, receiver had all the tangibles that were needed to be successful at The Rock. But coming from Conneaut Area High School, he knew exactly what to expect coming in.

“I decided to come to The Rock because the family setting is not something you get everywhere else, and we talk about that a lot on the team,” Sheets said. “But it’s a home here, out of all the other offers I had, I figured this was the best opportunity for me, it’s close to home, I know people here and it’s definitely one of the best decisions of my life.”

One of the people he knew here was Henry Litwin. They had been teammates in high school, and by coming to The Rock they were now teammates again. Sheets was there for some of Litwin’s biggest moments, and through the years their relationship just got closer and closer. Sheets still asks Litwin for advice, even after the latter graduated.

“He really opened up a path for me to be able to strive to get where I’m at but being able to go home with him every summer really helped me take strides,” Sheets said. “I mean he’s one of the greatest to ever do it, so to have a chance to follow in his footsteps is a big opportunity.”

Last season, Sheets earned his way to sharing the field with Litwin. Sheets became part of that wide receiver group with Jermaine Wynn Jr., Cinque Sweeting and Litwin that was so hard to cover. Each brought a different skill set, but Sheets knew he still had a lot to learn.

“Those veteran guys were a huge part of this program, and we know what they did for this school, but to have them come back was just another of being able to learn and see how we’re supposed to attack this program.”

When the season concluded last year against Notre Dame College, Sheets knew that it was his time to take over. But the receiver room would be a lot different. Maybe he didn’t know if he was ready for that change, but he took it head on.

Sheets got lucky because only a few short months later, Cohen Russell, who started his collegiate career with Sheets at The Rock before transferring away, came back to Slippery Rock. That was step one to finding out what receivers he’d be playing with.

It was nice to have a familiar face around, and then Jacob Odom came onto the scene. Now there were three. Each brought their own skill set, and in a way, there are shades of the dangerous trio that once was.

“It’s definitely hard for a defense to adjust to [us], because you have Cohen’s speed [and Jacob’s as well], then Jacob’s has such great technique in his routes,” Sheets said. “So to have someone so fast, someone 6’3”, and someone who has great routes and can go attack the ball, the defense has a hard time adjusting to that.”

Defenses have had a lot of trouble with the three this season. They’ve combined for 38 receptions, 746 yards and seven touchdowns. All of that has come through just four games.

All three are on the receiving end of balls from Noah Grover, someone who Sheets views as one of the hardest working players on the team.

“Noah brings a lot of things to the table, but his work ethic is something that I have never seen in my life,” Sheets said. “That leads us to success on the field, and out of anybody, I’d want him to be throwing us the ball and leading us to where we want to be.”

Sheets brings knowledge and experience to the team this year. Sheets is one of the few players left from the 2019 title team, and because of that he knows what it takes to get back to the top.

“The biggest thing I took away from 2019 is that we definitely have to do more this year to get where we want to go, whether that’s lifting more, practicing harder or taking extra reps after practice,” Sheets said. “There’s always something more you can be doing to get to where we want to be in December, and that’s McKinney, Texas.”

In summer, you could find Sheets on the field working on his craft every day. Much like Litwin, Sheets knew he had to take extra steps to prove himself more and more each day. That work paid off on the first drive of the season when he caught a slant from Grover to score The Rock’s first touchdown of the season.

While Sheets takes pride in his catching ability, he also knows how important it is to make the big block.

“We take pride in getting those perimeter blocks to open up holes for those guys like Chris D’Or and Tim Smith and those guys,” Sheets said. “I really think that our blocking is playing a big part in what we’re doing.”

Sheets has started to become one of the leaders on this team, and it’s easy to see why. A lot of the way he approaches being one of the leaders on the team is how his friend, Litwin, did.

“I was around Henry Litwin a lot, and his leadership was a different kind of leadership, it was by example, he never really said anything, but if he needed to he would,” Sheets said. “That’s the kind of leadership I’ve adapted to, I’ve never been one to yell at somebody, but I’ll do my job and hope that you follow after me.”

For Sheets, he couldn’t be where he is without the support he’s had, however.

“Anything that I do on the field comes from that confidence in what everyone thinks I can do, but anything that happens for me on the field is a testament to what everyone has planned for me,” Sheets said.

All in all, though, his sights are set on one thing, getting back to the PSAC title game and bringing it home once again.

“I think for this team, the sky is the limit,” Sheets said. “I’ve never been around a team that has this much chemistry and that has this much depth at every position, so personally I think where we can go to everyone on this team wants to be.”

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Tyler is a senior converged journalism major. This is his second semester as the sports editor of the Rocket. He has written well over 150 articles with the paper, while covering every sport SRU has to offer. He also covered the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, while the Rocket went to New York City in March 2022.

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