INDIANAPOLIS - There was a seemingly endless line of edge defenders paraded out to the media on Saturday afternoon at the Combine, and after a while it was hard to distinguish one 6-3, 250-pound athletic pass rusher from another. The Wake Forest's Kyle Wilber had his turn and he quickly separated himself from the pack.
Wilber is indeed a talented and versatile edge player who would translate into the Patriots 3-4 looks, and he even met with team officials at the West-West Shrine Game to discuss such a possibility last month. But that's not why his story was any different from a number of other similarly talented and versatile players.
After explaining how he worked both as a defensive end and outside linebacker for the Demon Deacons, even dropping into coverage "about 75 percent of the time" in the latter situation, Wilber was asked what he would do if he wasn't playing football.
"I really want to work with kids," said Wilber, who is projected as a mid-round pick. "The reason I majored in sociology and communications at Wake Forest was because right after I graduated I contacted the Winston-Salem community trying to help kids with gang intervention and prevention. I'm on the student-athlete advisory committee. We help out at the children's home, a homeless shelter, we have a program called Project Desk, where we build desks for children in the Winston-Salem community. So, I really want to do something with kids."
An impressive response from a 22-year-old who is basically in the middle of the most important interviews of his life at the Combine. But then Wilber was asked why he felt so strongly about helping kids and soon peeled back some layers that explain exactly where he gets his drive to succeed.
"Growing up I had a rough childhood. I was born in Orlando and me and mother moved to Chicago. I never knew my biological father," Wilber began. "When I was 6 or 7 my mother left me and my sister to my aunt, and then my stepfather worked out a deal with my aunt to take custody of me. My mother came back into my life about a year or two later and I was back and forth with my stepfather and my mother.
"Then my stepfather wanted me to go down to Orlando to live with my grandmother - that was when I was in seventh grade. For a year I was living with my grandmother and in the eighth grade my grandmother died. Then in the ninth grade my mother committed suicide. My stepfather moved down to Orlando and I've been living with him ever since."
Given such hardships to deal with at such a young age has obviously given Wilber a different perspective on the NFL than most players at the Combine. His toughness on the field will never match what he's been through off it, and by playing football he hopes to ensure his family never has to deal with those types of problems in the future.
"I never wanted to see my children live a lifestyle like me," Wilber said. "I've been blessed with my stepfather, Darryl Wilber, he's been the real stabilizing force in my life. Without him I really don't know where I'd be right now. My sister is struggling right now living in Missouri with three kids. I really want to help her out and put her through college so she can have more income.
"There are a lot of people here that had a rough background, probably worse than mine. They're just not willing to talk about it. I've learned from my experiences in my younger years and I just don't want anybody to have to go through stuff like that."
Wilber may not be the most gifted player working out at Lucas Oil Stadium over the weekend, but few if any will match his courage.