Kyle Adams is following in the footsteps of many, but remains on a unique path.
His mother, Anne, was a highly decorated volleyball player and Purdue’s first female recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor who continues a successful career in the nonprofit sector. His father, Rob, rowed competitively for Purdue Crew and is a noted author, consultant, and faculty member at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.
Kyle Adams attended the same high school in Austin, Texas, as Drew Brees, but a decade later. He then spent two years as the backup for Purdue’s Dustin Keller, now starting for the New York Jets, and an NCAA redshirt year recovering from a knee injury.
Following a personal-best 2009, he enters his final season as team co-captain and ranked among the top 20 tight end draft prospects in a year when the NFL drafted more players at his position than any before.
In between, Adams has maintained the team’s highest GPA, made three mission trips to Haiti and another to South Africa, and given back far more than he’s received.
When Purdue offered him a scholarship before his high school senior season, Adams wanted to commit immediately, but his parents urged him to consider his options before making a decision.
“We didn’t pressure him to go anyplace in particular,” says Rob Adams, pictured at right with his son. “It was his call. His mom and I both know the pressures of being a student-athlete. He had a lot of great offers, but you have to go where you want to be.”
Following his parent’s counsel, Kyle waited — but only for three days. His heart already knew where it belonged.
“Once Coach Tiller offered me a scholarship, coming to Purdue was an easy choice,” he says. “I was initially interested in engineering, but Krannert is a great school, and I thought business would combine everything I like to do and give me a broad education and degree that I could put to good use.”
Today, Adams continues to look to his parents for guidance.
“Whenever I need advice, my parents are great resource for me and a great source of motivation because they know the ups and downs of college sports,” he says. “Athletics takes up more time than you can imagine, but they taught me the value of hard work while still enjoying yourself in college. Managing your time, earning good grades and getting a diploma are critical.”
Adds Adams’ father, “Kyle is a smart, hardworking guy, and the only thing I keep telling him now that he’s learned so much is that sometimes you have to look at all the data and then trust your instincts as to what you should do next. With so many good options available, you need to step back and examine the details.”
On a mission
While always considering the details, Adams also has stepped forward in service to others. When most other students were relaxing or heading to the beach for spring break in March, Adams was preparing for a mission trip to South Africa with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
Led by Purdue athletics chaplain Marty Dittmar, who has been taking student-athletes on such trips for the past 17 years, Adams and his traveling companions interacted with and taught sports to more than 70 children at an orphanage, helped remodel homes at an adjacent mission, and provided food and labor to impoverished villagers.
Adams followed that with his third trip to Haiti after finals week in May, when he and other FCA members (above right) returned to a large farming complex and mission called Double Harvest. The group had raised more than $20,000 to help build homes at the mission, which also operates a fish farm and Haiti’s largest greenhouse.
Although Adams had witnessed Haiti’s poverty on his previous trips, the devastation left by January’s catastrophic earthquake was “unimaginable,” he says. “There are so many more issues to address there following the earthquake. Thousands of people are still living in tent villages and in desperate need of help.
“Haiti has opened my eyes to the harsh realities in our world and challenged me to grow in my own faith,” Adams says. “There is nothing more fulfilling than knowing you made a difference in someone’s life, and the mission trips allow us to do that. You also get to know your fellow Boilermakers on a very deep level and share an experience you’ll never forget.”
Adams’ efforts have not gone unnoticed. “It has been wonderful to see Kyle’s growth over the last few years,” says Dittmar. “He has developed a deep burden for young people in Haiti.”
In recognition of his service, Adams has also been nominated for the 2010 Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, which is widely recognized as the most prestigious community service award in college football and represents the “best of the best” among more than 50,000 student-athletes participating in the sport at all four-year institutions.
“The class and character displayed by these young men is inspiring,” says Guy Hill, vice president of sales and service for Allstate, who also serves on the Good Works voting panel. “We applaud the commitment of student-athletes like Kyle Adams to positively impact their communities with innovation, creativity and passion that reflects so well on their sport and their respective institutions.”
The next level
Considered a strong draft prospect for 2011, Adams hopes his next mission will take him to the NFL.
“If the chance to play football after college is available, I’ll jump on it,” he says. “My goal is to help people better their lives, and an NFL career would help provide me with those opportunities. Even a third-string tight end makes $300,000 a year, so it would give me a level of income that I couldn’t get in any other job out of college, as well as influence and a great platform to bring about positive change.”
Adams already has an NFL role model in Keller, who’s in his third season with the Jets. “Dustin was a great mentor during the two years I was his backup,” Adams says. “He’s a grade-A guy and has been a very positive influence on me — and not just as a tight end, but also as a student-athlete. If I have questions or just want to talk, I still call him. It would be an honor to join him in the NFL.”
Upon his parent’s advice, however, Adams is keeping his options open. Should an NFL career not materialize, he plans to pursue a post-graduate Rhodes or Fulbright scholarship and eventually begin a career in economic development and social entrepreneurship.
“After seeing the level of poverty that exists in a lot of developing countries, I’d love to use business solutions to find ways to employ people, improve their standard of living and give them some disposable income,” he says. “That’s obviously a great challenge, but my plan is to somehow make it work.”
By Eric Nelson