WARMINSTER, Pa. — It’s hard to imagine lanky 6-foot-5 Florida signee Kyle Pitts as anything other than the highly-rated tight end that two Gators coaching staffs so coveted.
For that matter, it was even harder for Pitts to accept as a high school sophomore that his coach was insisting he play quarterback.
Or the way that message was delivered.
“I didn’t really like it at all,” Pitts recalls. “I asked them could I like try to go tight end. He said, ‘OK, well, get in a three-point stance.’ I did that and then he said, ‘You’ll never make it.’ So that’s when I came here, and I’m showing now that I can make it at tight end.”
Pitts transferred from Abington Senior High School to Archbishop Wood after that season, and the change of scenery — and change of positions — indeed paid immediate dividends.
He went to a camp at Temple prior to his junior season, worked at tight end even though he didn’t yet have film at the position and earned his first scholarship offer from the Owls. Pitt, Penn State and Maryland soon followed with offers as well.
Later, Tennessee would become Pitts’ first SEC offer and after working out at Florida’s Friday Night Lights camp last summer, he committed to the Gators.
Pitts, rated a 4-star prospect and ranked the No. 5 tight end in the 2018 signing class by the 247Sports Composite, didn’t waver through Florida’s subsequent coaching change.
Just as he had been steadfast in believing he could turn himself into a productive tight end, he was just as resolute in his college choice. Later hearing from new Florida coach Dan Mullen and new tight ends coach Larry Scott about how they planned to utilize the position only reaffirmed that he had made the right choice in both cases.
Sitting in an empty cafeteria at his high school last month, he reflected back on how everything has fallen into place — and his excitement for what’s to come.
“I think it was a bumpy ride. My freshman year I played a little bit. My sophomore year I started, didn’t do too well that year. And then I came here, to Archbishop Wood, and it’s like my whole life changed,” Pitts says. “I went up in recruiting, I got to play the position that I got highly recruited at. Where I’m at now, it’s just a blessing.”
The first big decision
That scene from his sophomore year at Abington High School still sticks with Pitts. He tells the anecdote a couple times and the wording changes a bit, but the message was clear.
“That’s not going to cut it,” he remembers his coach there saying as soon as he settled into his tight end stance.
“I was just like, ‘Wow,'” he says. “… I just was talking to my parents, ‘This is what he said. I’m still going to work on it on my own time.'”
His mother, Theresa Pitts, recalls her son handling that situation maturely and simply biding his time until he got the chance to prove himself.
“His first two years at the previous high school, he was just being a team player even though it wasn’t exactly [what he wanted],” she says. “He was playing out of position and just being patient to get to where he needed to be. … He didn’t really talk too much after the games as far as being frustrated. He was going with the flow.”
Pitts already had been thinking he wanted to transfer, though, and he’d settle on one of the most successful high school programs in the area at Archbishop Wood, where he’d win PIAA Class 5A state championships each of his two seasons there.
Kyle Adkins was the defensive coordinator the last two years before succeeding former head coach Steve Devlin, now the defensive coordinator Ursinus College, this spring.
Adkins says he recalls hearing something about Pitts being a quarterback prior to joining the program, but he’s not sure the newcomer said all that much about it. The Archbishop Wood coaches were sure of one thing, though.
“He certainly was not going to be a quarterback once he came over to us. I can assure you we never had a conversation about that,” Adkins says.
He recalls Pitts was still a bit raw at that time, adjusting to his body following a growth spurt, but the potential was obvious. Between his size and the hand-eye coordination he flashed immediately at his new school, the coaches knew he would be a top recruit before he was done.
Pitts would actually become a two-way standout for the Vikings, being used as a versatile tight end and sometimes wide receiver in a mostly power-run-oriented offense, as well as playing a key role at defensive end.
Ask Adkins what he recalls as Pitts’ breakout moment and he’ll talk first about his defense. Archbishop Wood had a pivotal late-season game in 2016, Pitts’ junior year, against Archbishop Ryan. It was a November rematch in the Philadelphia Catholic League 5A championship game prior to the state playoffs, and the Vikings would dominate in a 41-7 win to move on to the city championship.
“He had the most dominating individual defensive performance I’ve ever seen in my life, affected the game in so many ways,” Adkins says. “I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head, but everything from sacks to forced fumbles other guys were running back for touchdowns, tipped a ball and it was picked off and returned for a touchdown. They tried to hit us on a trick play, a throwback and he was right there. It was amazing. It was the most dominating individual defensive performance I’ve ever seen in my life and it would be really hard to top it.”
Adkins wasn’t primarily involved in Pitts’ recruiting process, so he doesn’t know if any college programs pursued him as a defensive end, but he says there’s no question Pitts could have played there at the next level.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I don’t know how many teams or schools offered him as a defensive end, but if Kyle said ‘I want to play defense,’ trust me there would be schools knocking down his door,” Adkins says.
Pitts didn’t have any interest in that, though. Again, he saw himself as a tight end. He got that idea by watching Eric Ebron (formerly of the Detroit Lions and now with the Indianapolis Colts) and well-traveled NFL tight end Jared Cook while seeing himself in that same mold.
As a tight end at Archbishop Wood, he finished with more than 300 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns as a senior while helping the team to it latest state title. Pitts had a touchdown catch and 2 interceptions in the 49-14 win over Gateway for the PIAA Class 5A state championship.
He was also a key blocker for the Vikings’ prolific rushing attack, and Adkins believes Pitts’ versatility at the position will accelerate his transition to the college level.
“If you watch our offense over the past few years, people have described us as kind of Wisconsin almost, a power-run team, so Kyle certainly blocked a fair amount with us being a pro-style,” he says. “But we threw to him a lot as I’m sure the stats bear out, and if you’ve seen his film, we split him out and played him almost in a receiver role.
“He’s certainly going to be one of the most versatile tight ends entering the college ranks this year, and I think it’s a major advantage for him [that] he has experience splitting out and being almost a receiver and coming and being a true attached tight end and blocking defensive ends and linebackers. I think he’s really prepared for the next level.”
While Pitts was sold on Florida by the previous coaching staff, with former assistants Greg Nord and Ja’Juan Seider playing key roles, he didn’t panic when the coaching change was made last season.
In fact, before leaving for Penn State, Seider reassured Pitts he was still in a good situation with the Gators, and Scott made a quick impression upon taking over as Florida’s new tight ends coach.
Pitts especially liked how Mullen and his staff planned to utilize the tight ends in the Gators’ new spread offense.
“Coach Mullen was saying he’ll put them in the slot, in-line and on the outside and flex them out a lot,” Pitts says. “When I was down there for the spring game, C’yontai [Lewis] had told me a lot of balls had been thrown their way and it should be a good season for those guys.”
The tight end spot is quickly becoming crowded for the Gators, with Lewis projected as the starter as a redshirt senior, fellow redshirt senior Moral Stephens also returning with experience, redshirt freshman Kemore Gamble looking to emerge, former walk-on R.J. Raymond getting some work as a tight end/H-back in the spring and fellow 2018 signee Dante Lang also joining the program this summer.
But Pitts is hoping to make an early impact.
“I’m coming in to compete for the first spot, make my name known,” he says.
Whether that happens as early as he hopes or not, Pitts has certainly made his name known and is one of the most intriguing prospects in the Gators’ 2018 signing class.
More to the point, he proved something to himself and perhaps others these last couple years.
Yeah, he admits, he still thinks back to that conversation his sophomore season when he was told he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — play tight end.
It drove him then and, in some way, it still does.
“I always think about it,” Pitts says. “That’s just like a chip on my shoulder, him saying that. That’s just something I always remember in the back of my head.”