Note: The following appears in the South Carolina gameday football program
At the top of the all-time career passing yards list for high school football in the state of Georgia sits current Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, immediately followed by former Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson. But they aren’t the only recognizable names on the list for Tiger fans, as a little further down the list, one can find Kyle Wilkie.
Yes, that Kyle Wilkie, the current backstop for the Clemson baseball team.
Wilkie, a standout on the gridiron and the diamond at Creekview High School in Canton, Ga., joked that “football was fun, but I walk around campus now and see these huge football players and know I had absolutely no shot.
“I knew baseball was going to take me the furthest. It was always my first love and my passion.”
Growing up in an athletic family that includes a little sister, Emily, who is a two-time Georgia AAAAAA softball player-of-the-year and Florida commit, Wilkie learned to love baseball at an early age. He used to watch the Braves play every night and “tried to mimic what they did in the living room.” Fast forward to now, and he wears #10 in honor of “some guy named Chipper Jones.”
But while Jones was a legendary third baseman, Wilkie chose catcher, because it was the one position that would allow him to “touch the ball every single play” and have a constant and direct impact on the game.
He was able to have that impact on games early in his Tiger career, replacing an injured Chris Williams during the first May homestand of his freshman year and never looking back, serving as the Tigers’ starting catcher for the entirety of his sophomore campaign in 2018.
“I got thrown into the fire when Chris got hurt, but I think it helped me. Going into last season, I had a lot more confidence. Still, during the first few months of the season, I was hitting really poorly, below .200, so my confidence wasn’t there at the plate.
“But coach (Monte) Lee said that as long as I was catching well, he was confident in the rest of my game. So, I focused on catching and working hard, and the hitting eventually came. You have to have confidence if you want to succeed, and that’s what helped me.”
That confidence showed on the field, as the sub-.200 hitter soon turned into the team’s hottest bat and ended the year leading the Tigers in batting average (.324) and multi-hit games (22). Wilkie was a Third-Team All-ACC selection and won the Tiger Baseball Award, given to the team’s best leader. He also takes an active 29-game hitting streak into the 2019 season, the fourth longest in school history.
As he approaches his third season, Wilkie is looking forward to continuing to be a leader and imparting some of that confidence on what is going to be a young Clemson team.
“We have a lot of young guys, and I want to help them along. Setting an example is the best way to be a leader…showing them the right way to do things. And on the mound, it’s me and the pitcher. No one can affect the game as much as we do. The better I get to know those guys, the better I can help them on the field. Because of that, I also want to be ‘that guy’ who everyone can talk to.”
Despite the number of newcomers, Wilkie said there is already “a strong bond on this team…we’re really close, and that’s going to help us succeed.”
Regardless, he is “excited to play” and continues to represent the school that has given him opportunities to grow.
“Coming to Clemson is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’ve seen myself grow as a person and as a player, and that’s why I came here…to become a better human being and get better at baseball. The relationships that I’ve built are priceless…you can’t top them. It’s meant everything to me.”