US linebacker Kyle Bilchik is 5 feet and 10 inches tall, which he admits is a vertical stretch.
“If I was at the NFL Combine, I probably wouldn’t come up with that number,” Bilchik says. “Actually, I am about 5-9 years old.”
Which leads to searches of the opponents. It has been called “Midget Linebacker” and “Short Stack”. Bilchik’s personal favorite was a line delivered by an opponent from UC Davis.
“Have you always been the shortest guy in the room?” Said the lineman.
“This,” Bilchik says, “was definitely more creative than the others. “
The beards – along with the skepticism of his own high school coach – fueled a fire inside Bilchik. In fifth year of Chaminade College Prep in Simi Valley, Bilchik is in his third season as a starting middle linebacker with the USD.
He led the team in tackles last spring and heading into the Pioneer Football League opener against defending champion Davidson, Bilchik is the Toreros’ third-best tackle.
Even at the FCS level, even in the non-stock PFL, 5-9 is undersized as linebackers disappear. So how does Bilchik do what he does?
“First of all, he’s a tough guy,” said USD head coach Dale Lindsey. (Bilchik performed last week despite strains in his shoulders, thighs and abdomen.)
“Second, he studies and knows what to do. He takes the lead very well too. He’s not the tallest, he’s not the fastest, but he’s doing a hell of a job for us on Saturday. He makes parts just because he works on them.
Bilchik is inspired by his father, Richard. Richard is the co-owner of a second generation family flooring business. Bilchik remembers that his father woke up at 5:30 a.m. every day and was in the office at 6:30 a.m.
“Being sick, if there were any problems, he never took a day off,” Kyle recalls.
Richard was a good athlete himself, playing baseball at USC. Richard played shortstop in high school, transferred to first base at USC, and then was asked to advance to third base because the Trojans had a decent first baseman. A kid named Mark McGwire.
“They probably made the right decision,” Richard jokes.
Fearing injuries, Richard didn’t like Kyle playing football in his youth.
“I didn’t want him to approach football,” says Richard.
But one day, when Kyle was about 6 years old, father and son were working at the snack bar at a youth baseball field. Another father spotted Kyle dragging ice packs weighing at least 35 pounds.
“Dude,” said the father, “you have to get this kid to football. “
Kyle quickly found his passion for sport.
Kyle says he had anger issues as a kid. Two grandparents died when he was young. He was overweight as a child and bullied.
“I was a bit of a hothead,” Bilchik says. “I spent time in the principal’s office.
Bilchik has been playing tackle football since the age of 7 and immediately took to the sport.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I can hurt people without getting in trouble for it. It’s awesome,’
As a junior in high school, Bilchik weighed 260 pounds.
“I was just a very slow, very heavy linebacker,” he says.
He says his high school coach told him he was too fat and too slow.
“I told him I was going to prove him wrong, and I did.”
Bilchik would get up at 4:30 a.m., go to 24 Hour Fitness for a workout, then go to school and work out for an hour with his position trainer. In his senior year, he had lost 65 pounds and won all section honors.
“He has the heart of a lion,” said Richard. “If we were in Roman times, he would be in the arena fighting. He’s just that kind of guy.
Bilchik said playing for Lindsey, a former NFL linebacker who played with legendary Cleveland Browns backer Jim Brown, has been a blessing.
“He’s the best head coach I’ve ever played for,” Bilchik said. ” There is no doubt. He’s not just a super competent coach, he’s a great person and he cares about us a lot. It’s a great feeling after playing for some coaches who didn’t feel the same.
Bilchik knows his physical limits. He knows the NFL is not in his future, knows it will be his last season playing football.
Of his punching helmets last season with 300-pound linemen, he says, “There’s nothing withheld at all.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.