By Geoff Morrow:
4th Down Magazine
As exhausting as it might be to power through an early morning workout or even a classic Mid-Penn Capital weekend showdown, Middletown senior Kyle Truesdale undoubtedly prefers that physicality to the dreadfully awkward or inane action of chatting up a reporter.
"He's not an easy interview," Blue Raiders football coach Brett Myers said during a dual telephone chat earlier this week. "[He's] not a guy who likes to talk about himself. None of that stuff really matters. The guy's not into getting interviewed. He just wants to play."
Yet the conundrum is this: Truesdale's level of play for the unbeaten boys in blue and gold demands at least some media attention, even if the 5-foot-11, 185-pound weakside safety would rather study game film until his eyeballs bleed.
Whether it's the media members whose jobs include unbiased observation, or opposing coaches who've stressed over preparing to attack his vaunted defense, those who should know recognize what the somehow under-the-radar defensive back and block-first running back means to Middletown.
"No nonsense and versatile," penned PennLive's longtime football guru, Eric Epler, when asked for his Truesdale take. "He's the glue for that defense, always around the pill."
Added 4th Down Magazine contributor Andy Shay: "Best player on that team you don't read about. So versatile. He could literally play almost anywhere for them."
While those opinions probably feel pretty good, what matters even more is the recognition bestowed upon Truesdale by the Mid-Penn Capital coaches, none of whom have managed to beat the Blue Raiders in either of the last two seasons.
"Kyle is the quarterback of that defense," Milton Hershey coach Jeff Boger said. "He's the guy who gets everyone in place and is responsible for making it so tough to run against them. You knew he was coming up to support the run but still couldn't block him.
"They have a good defense without him but a great defense with him."
Boger and the rest of the Capital chiefs voted Truesdale as the defensive Most Valuable Player for the 2017 season, an honor that might now make it impossible to label him "under-appreciated" even though that somehow still feels like an apt moniker.
"There's a lot of star power on this team," said Myers, the 1993 Middletown grad and fifth-year head coach who's directed the Blue Raiders to a record of 25-1 over the last two seasons.
His team (11-0) faces Wyomissing tonight in the District 3 Class 3A championship game at Hersheypark Stadium.
"Through all of that, this guy was still picked defensive MVP. He still got the attention of coaches. We have a nice blend of personalty and athletic ability, guys willing to sacrifice their own stats for the good of the guys next to them."
While Truesdale's defensive stats certainly stand out -- he leads the team with 104 tackles, with 1.5 sacks, two force fumbles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), seven batted balls and a blocked extra point -- teammates like Jose Lopez, Brady Fox, Tyreer Mills, Tre Leach and even lineman Brendan Douglass generate most media coverage.
"Kyle will check into a game offensively, block a 240-pound defensive end, and leave the field after the [running back] scores," Myers continued. "That guy will get a lot of press, but there's Kyle, running down to get himself back on kickoff team."
Myers, who might be considered the biggest no-nonsense coach in the Mid-Penn Conference, knows the value of unselfish players like Truesdale.
And he can't hide his appreciation for the relentlessness and perseverance that preceded Truesdale's varsity success.
The youngest of five siblings and step-siblings -- brother Jared Truesdale (Class of 2013) was a quarterback, and step-brother Luke Mrakovich (Class of 2017) was also a standout athlete with the Blue Raiders -- the three-sport athlete wasn't even a varsity starter until Week 7 of his junior season.
Kyle Truesdale was starting junior varsity and serving as a varsity backup at free safety when starting weakside safety Corbin Stetler broke his collarbone in Week 6 last year vs. Palmyra.
"I was just working from the bottom of the totem pole," Truesdale said of when he finally got his chance to start last October. "I was just thinking I have to prepare, and I can't let my team down. But no matter what, we'll be OK because we all have each other."
He was an immediate success.
"We didn't have to make any adjustments taking a JV football player and putting him out there," Myers said. "He was pretty darn good."
By the time the season ended with the team's only loss in the state championship game, Truesdale ranked third on the team in tackles despite starting only half the season.
And he's proven his value over and over by being more than just a standout weakside safety, which Myers argues might be the most important position in the team's 4-2-5 defense.
He'll slide into linebacker or even onto the defensive line without missing a beat. He also plays myriad roles on special teams.
"Kyle is pretty much our answer to every position if something happens," Myers said. "We can take Kyle and put him at wide receiver, and he can catch the ball as well as anybody because he's constantly playing sports."
That's the key to his rapid learning curve, the coach suggests, as Truesdale also stars at shooting guard on the basketball team and second base (among other positions) in baseball, just as he has from the time he started playing sports as a youth.
"You develop skills you can't develop in the weight room," Myers said of both Truesdale and the community-wide approach to embracing the multiple-sport athletes.
So when Truesdale lines up against 6-foot-8 tight end and Penn State commit Zack Kuntz from Camp Hill, or any of Steel-High's stud athletes in man-to-man, or East Pennsboro's 2,500-yard rusher Onasis Neely, he's unafraid and simply there to do his job.
"It doesn't really matter who's on the other side of the ball," said Truesdale, who's looking toward either the Air Force or Navy after high school. "We focus on being the best we can be at what we do."
So, despite some of those insightful answers from his star defender and honors student, Myers knows his guy can't wait to finish talking so he can shift to schoolwork, then to watching game film so that he'll be fully prepared for the Blue Raiders' next big showdown.
"It's an attitude -- not a bad attitude -- but an attitude of playing as hard as he possibly can and not accepting anything less," Myers said. "As a coach, I enjoy watching the interactions with his teammates, because there's a level of trust to know that we're going to have that kind of effort every game because of guys like Kyle."