Photography: Simeon Kelley
It doesn’t matter where tight end Kyle Pitts lines up on the field, nor does it matter where he receives the pass. If the 20-year-old is in the game, he’s impacting the play. And if the football is thrown anywhere near his orbit, he’s making the catch. Standing at about 6’6” and 245 pounds with 4.44 40-yard-dash capability, Kyle is “a unicorn,” as his former Florida coach put it.
Recruited from high school in Philadelphia to play down south, Kyle didn’t begin his journey in the position that earned him hype and attention. After playing quarterback and linebacker during his first two years of high school, he requested to try tight end and was denied. So, he transferred to another high school, used camps to learn the position, went through a sizable growth spurt and began to spread into his 83-inch wingspan. After becoming a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Class 5A champion and getting countless D1 offers, Kyle moved to his new home in Florida.
Kyle broke out in his second year with 54 receptions, 649 yards and 5 TDs, though his 2020 season was the stuff of legend. Despite only playing eight games due to a facial injury, Kyle caught 43 receptions for 770 yards and scored 12 touchdowns without dropping a single pass.
His ability to line up inside or outside makes him a constant mismatch threat. And his blend of size and speed makes him virtually unguardable against corners, linebackers or safeties. That versatility has helped cement his name throughout UF’s history. With 100 total catches, he finished with the most career receiving yards, career touchdowns and single-game yards by a tight end.
Those numbers earned him the Mackey Award for college football’s most outstanding tight end, placed him 10th in Heisman Trophy votes, made him the first tight end to be a Biletnikoff Award finalist for the best wide receiver in college football and placed him as the eighth player in UF history to earn unanimous first-team AP All-American honors.
Kyle will continue his journey with the familiar Jumpman logo on his cleats, the same one he wore in Florida. Welcome to the family, Kyle.
What does it feel like to be a part of the Jordan Brand family?
It’s amazing. There’s only a select few of us. To have the opportunity to represent this great brand is something special.
I wore Jordan in college, and I just loved it. Not everybody gets to wear it. It’s a unique situation, to be able to wear it at the next level.
Speaking of unique, one of your former coaches called you a “new prototype.” When did you realize that your singular versatility was such a strength?
I have a unique strength because I have ways to go against different people — to get open and score in pretty much every game. I make a game plan. I watch a lot of film of my opponents, and I know what they like to do.
You’re a very strategic player. When you’re studying and preparing, what are some of the things you focus on?
I look at the weak spots, where they get beat a lot of the time. I look at whether they’re slow out the brakes, have tight hips or like to grab down the field. Just the little things that really add up.
At one point, people told you that you couldn’t be a tight end. What has always given you confidence in knowing that’s the position you were meant to play?
That’s easy. Because I love scoring, and I love a down. To be able to suss them and change their mindset, that’s something I want to do every game, every year — just elevate my game to the next level. There are always going to be doubters. At the end of the day, I know what I do.
What was it like to win the Mackey Award, to be the first TE to be a Biletnikoff finalist, and to be awarded a unanimous first-team All-American brick at the Swamp?
Those are all goals that I put on the sticky note in my locker. That’s what I was working towards all year, every year, since I got to Florida. I wanted to win the Mackey, I wanted my stake in the ground — something that’ll never leave Florida. Being awarded unanimous All-American was something from this year that I came up with. The Biletnikoff was a shock to me. I didn’t think I was going to be nominated this year.
Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I eat one peanut butter cup, three pieces of bacon and a scoop of eggs. I’ve been doing that since college. I can’t eat too much. I’ll eat the second peanut butter cup at halftime.
In your Mackey Award acceptance speech, you mentioned that you didn’t know if you were even going to college. What has that journey been like, and how have sports been a beacon of hope for you?
It started young for me. Every kid wants to go to the NFL, be on a magazine cover, those types of things. As you get older, you’re not thinking about that. You’re not thinking about college. You’re thinking about high school. Football is important, and school is important. That helped me. School is the brain side of the operation.
Despite being somewhat shy off the field, you like to talk on the field. What gets you to start talking?
I would say if I start winning early, then it’s going to start running. For the most part, I’ll let them start it off.
What did Jordans represent to you as a kid, and what was your first pair?
Everyone wanted to wear Js, and everyone wanted to wear the newest ones that came out each week. Now, I have the opportunity to help somebody else get them. I’ll help somebody get Jordans that they couldn’t normally get or be able to afford.
Do you remember your first pair of Air Jordans? Which ones and why?
I would say the Top 3s. Those are the ones I always wanted. When I finally got them, I didn’t even wear them that much. I like those and the Concords. They’re classic and go with a lot. I also like the 1s, 4s and 5s.
What are you most looking forward to in terms of wearing Jordan cleats on the field?
I’m definitely thinking of some 1s. I know I’ll feel amazing wearing them. Maybe I’ll get a Top 3 in cleat form. Maybe a peanut butter cup version. [Laughs]
There’s a certain style and swagger that comes with being a Jordan Brand athlete. How would you describe that?
It’s multifaceted. There are different types of swagger. With Jordan, it’s just different. Not everyone can have that type of swag.
In addition to football, much of your social media focuses on positivity, life advice, helping others and community. Jordan Brand has committed to a mission of “action over words” when it comes to supporting the Black community. Why is giving back and spreading inspiration to others important to you?
It’s important because there are people who helped me when I was younger. They led me in the right direction. To be able to give back, to help someone else, is special. Someone helped me, and now I’m in a space to help somebody else. It’s only right to do that.
Who are some of those people who really made an impact on your life?
My mom, dad, trainer and many others. Those are the people who gave me a lot of advice. I was young. Throughout my football career and the different obstacles I faced, they told me, “Keep your head down, keep going. You’re going to be fine. Your work ethic will carry you where you want to go.”