To understand the beautiful mind, and to appreciate the work ethic of the kid quarterback, you have to understand his genes. You have to
understand not just where his old man came from, but how he fought his way out.
And when you do, then you’ll know why Kyle Kempt kept getting back up after being knocked down. Then you’ll know why he worked harder when his confidence was rocked. Respect isn’t given. It’s earned. Nothing has ever been given to Massillon’s senior quarterback.
Kempt will leave as Washington High School’s most prolific passer after a high school career that started in Oregon and ended in Massillon, a place he wondered about as a middle school player 2,300 miles away. His 3,056 yards this season set a Massillon record. In three seasons as a Tiger, Kempt threw for 6,034 career yards, also a school record and 47 yards shy of Stark County’s all-time mark.
• An interview with Kyle Kempt:
To understand Kyle Kempt’s journey, you have to know where his father, Mychal Kempt, has been.
He is the vice president of North American Sales and Servicing at Diebold. It is a position that brought the family from Oregon to Ohio.
Mychal Kempt, though, came from nothing.
He grew up in an trailer park in a tough, down-trodden area in Oregon. His birth parents gave him up for adoption. His adopted father left the family before he was 5. While he was a linebacker at Montana State, his adopted mother died. A teammate’s family took him in.
“As tough as it might’ve been going through it, it molded me into who I am and I wouldn’t change it for anything,” Mychal Kempt said. “I grew up on welfare. I was unsupervised and I did a lot of stupid things. I’ve shared that with my kids. I don’t give them an inch. They know I think hard work is an honorable trait. You can be a lot of things, but hard work gets you to where you’re going in life. You may not be the smartest, or best looking, or have the most money, but when someone sees hard work in you as a trait, it goes a long way.”
Kyle laughs when told the perception of what life is like for him.
He is the quarterback at Massillon. His father is a top-level executive at Diebold. Surely he is the kind of kid who comes home to white-collar parents who coddle and heap praise on him.
“It isn’t like that at all,” Kyle said laughing. “My dad is one of the hardest working and toughest people I have ever met. He grew up with nothing. He is an intense person. He loves football. He’s one of the most competitive people I know. I’m like him in that way. He takes what he’s learned in sports about leadership and he applies that to the business world.”
When Massillon’s season came to a crashing end in a lopsided loss to Whitmer last week, Mychal Kempt was one of the first people on the field. With tears rolling down his 6-foot-5 son’s face, the Kempts embraced. It was a raw moment of emotion. Father told son he was proud of him.
While proud of his son, Mychal knows Kyle is far from a finished product. He still shakes his head at the three interceptions he threw against GlenOak this year.
“If you think I’m tough on him you should meet his mother,” Mychal said. “Marlene is the best athlete in the family. She was a great heptathalete when we met at Montana State. She got burned out on it when she was a junior. She did track her whole life and competed against Jackie Joyner-Kersey. Then she went out for basketball and made the team on scholarship. So yeah, his mom is even tougher.”
MOVE TO OHIO
The move to Northeast Ohio changed Kyle’s life. On Dec. 23, 2009, Mychal Kempt was called and told of the promotion within Diebold. But he would have to move to the company’s headquarters here.
“When you come to a place like Massillon, you play for the entire town,” Mychal said. “... It was a traumatic move to make so far away at that point in his life, but it was made more tolerable by the people of Massillon.
“He’s been here for three years. That’s a pretty short window when you think about it. And I can’t imagine anything else having a greater, positive impact on his development and maturation as a person.”
Kyle had just finished his freshman year of football in Oregon and was reportedly offered a scholarship by Stanford as an eighth-grader. Meanwhile, the Kempts’ oldest son, Cody, had transferred from Oregon as a scholarship quarterback to Montana State.
The Kempts had a week to make the decision to make the move. While living here in a hotel, Mychal would look at schools. He looked at Massillon, Hoover and Jackson.
“We’ve raised our kids to be opportunists, but to have grace in everything you do,” Mychal said. “Some times it might look bleak. You move 3,000 miles across the United States of America as a freshman in high school? One might not look at that as a great opportunity. ... We made the most of what was available and we feel extremely blessed.”
Kyle’s only knowledge of Massillon came from watching the movie “Go Tigers.” Soon, the whole family was “all in,” as Mychal would describe it. Younger brother Jake is a student-athlete at Jackson.
“There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t worry about how they would fit in,” Mychal said. “Or what the competition would be like, but they’ve excelled in multiple ways.”
Kyle will graduate No. 1 in his class at Washington High School. His grade-point average is above a 4.0. He has verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati because of equal parts the school’s engineering program and its spread offense on the football field.
BOND WITH 'COACH B'
But Kyle Kempt had trials at Massillon.
In his three seasons, he had three offensive coordinators.
“I look at that as an opportunity to learn from three people,” Kyle said. “I learned something from all of them, but me and Coach B made a connection.”
Coach B is Badre Bardawil. He was hired last spring and immediately started working with Kempt in the film room. Bardawil and Kyle Kempt both have quirky personalities. Kyle is almost always the smartest teenager in a room. Bardawil the smartest offensive mind in a coaches office.
They first met in Massillon’s weight room after Bardawil was hired.
“He was working out and I wasn’t going to go over to him and interrupt him,” Bardawil said. “He eventually came over and I could tell he was nervous. I instantly thought, ‘This kid has got to relax.’ ”
The entire time, though, Bardawil knew what he wanted to say. He remembered watching Massillon’s regular-season loss to GlenOak in 2011. The Tiger offense failed to move the football late in the game with a lead.
“I sat him down in the film room and said there’s something I want to show you,” Bardawil said. “I popped in the film from the GlenOak game. ... There was a second-and-5 play and there was a hitch route called and Kyle threw the ball in the dirt. On third-and-5, he almost threw a pick. I told him, ‘I don’t know much about you, but I do know if you’re a Division I quarterback, that will never happen again.’ The point was a big-time quarterback doesn’t throw a hitch route into the dirt with a lead, and he’s a big-time quarterback.”
That is the kind of verbal challenge Kyle Kempt grew up with at home. Bardawil was striking the right tone early. He earned the quarterback’s respect.
“I think we started to gel when we started talking football,” Bardawil said. “He’s a football dork and so am I.”
Talking with Kempt isn’t like talking with most high school players. There are thoughts behind his words. He has lived in four states, having been born in Washington, then the family lived in Hawaii when he was a toddler before settling in Oregon and now Ohio.
One of the reasons he struggled, at times, as a junior
wasn’t because of his arm or his mechanics. It was his head.
He analyzed too much. Thought too much.
“We don’t want players over thinking,” Massillon head coach Jason Hall said. “We want it to be muscle memory. Instead of seeing, thinking and reacting, we want it to be see it and just react. ... One of the things Badre says to him is you can make plays no one else can, just go do it and quit thinking.”
That was Kempt’s senior season. See it, react.
He is the first one to credit his teammates for his own success. He has BCS-level recruits in Nathaniel Devers and Chase Lash on the offensive line. Receiver Gareon Conley is a Michigan recruit. Receiver Marcus Whitfield is BCS-level recruit as a junior.
But Kempt is like having a coach on the field, a high school version of Peyton Manning.
Bardawil wondered, silently, if Kempt had taken a step back earlier this season. It was after his third pick against GlenOak. The coach and player had a conversation in the middle of the game.
Bardawil assured Kempt he was the best player on the field.
“Now go play like it.”
“It’s a requirement to play with confidence as a quarterback,” Kempt said.
It is also a requirement to know the expectations that come with it, especially in Massillon. Before Kyle moved to Stark County and lived with his father in a hotel for nearly a year, Mychal Kempt got to know some of the “old timers” in Massillon.
He took Kyle to the McDonald’s in downtown Massillon to meet the “old timers.” He wanted his son to understand what football meant to the community.
“I tell my kids if you’re going to play quarterback or be a head coach, you’re going to get too much credit when things are going good, and too much blame when they’re not,” Mychal Kempt said. “But if you don’t like that, play a different position. That’s just the way it is. He carries that on his shoulders.”
It was a heavy load at the end of last season. Massillon finished 7-3 and missed the playoffs. Some wondered quietly if Kempt was as good as everyone thought.
Kempt spent weeks in a self-reflection mode.
“The lowest point was at the end of last season,” Kempt said. “It wasn’t a good season for me. I realized I had to put in a ton of work if I was going to get anywhere in this sport. That’s when I learned to become a leader.”
He organized throwing sessions. Extra time in the weight room was a requirement. He watched more film, trying to learn the whys and hows of a defense’s scheme.
There were times when Mychal Kempt wondered if coming to Massillon was the right move. His son would be on his third offensive coordinator in three seasons.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a doubt here or there,” Mychal said. “But I have a trust and respect for Jason Hall and that never wavered. You always look back in hindsight and want things to go different than when you’re in the moment.
“But I look back and I see that every step along the way aided in his maturation. If he had to go through two changes of offensive coordinators to get to Coach Bardawil and the special relationship they have, I’d want it to be the same way.”
Hall saw a new quarterback in August. Bardawil saw the kind of player he knew Kempt could be.
In the end, Kempt didn’t get to play the 15 weeks he wanted. He led his team deeper than anyone else in county.
Kyle Kempt was good for Massillon.
More importantly, it seems, Massillon was better for him.
“My life would have been substantially different if we didn’t move here,” Kyle Kempt said. “I’ve grown up a lot and I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t move here.”