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Penn State football helped prepare former walk-on for his next adventure — the Space Force

PARTH UPADHYAYA
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Kyle Lucas

Kyle Lucas remembers vividly what it took to make his lifelong dream come true.

In the summer of 2010, the former Penn State walk-on linebacker spent most of his days in his hometown of Bellefonte, training vigorously to give himself the best chance to make the Nittany Lions' football roster. Kyle had just transferred to Penn State after playing two seasons at Division II Lock Haven University, and his mind was set on continuing his football career with the program he grew up a die-hard fan of.

"It was a lifelong goal, pretty much," said Kyle, now one of the first members of the year-old United States Space Force. "And I wasn't gonna let anything stop me. So, I remember I spent that summer busting my ass in the gym ... just doing what I could to make myself better."

Kyle lifted weights, ran hill sprints and worked on his overall endurance. He even camped outside the Lasch Football Building a few times, hoping to run into someone in the program who could tell him how to try out. Eventually, his relentlessness paid off — Kyle spent two seasons playing for the Nittany Lions, starting his career under legendary head coach Joe Paterno.

Chasing new dream: Now, nine years removed from the end of his collegiate football career, the 30-year-old is using everything he learned while a part of the Penn State football program to chase his new dream as a technician in the Space Force, a military branch founded in December 2019.

"One of the biggest things about being a walk-on is you have to work a little harder to get to where you wanna go," said Rodney Lucas, Kyle's father and a 21-year U.S. Air Force veteran. "And I think that was one of the aspects he got from that."

Though Kyle has a keen interest in space, he didn't find his path immediately after college. Following his graduation from Penn State's communications program in 2013, Kyle tried to pursue a career in sports journalism. When that avenue didn't pan out, though, he didn't know what was next.

Life-changing meeting: All of that changed when he met an Air Force recruiter who was visiting State College from Colorado in 2015. The recruiter told Kyle about the Air Force Space Command — which operated as a major command of the Air Force until the Space Force was founded in 2019. And after doing his own research and finding out he could potentially communicate with astronauts in space and work with the International Space Station, Kyle was all in.

"I was like, 'Aw, man, that's cool,' " recalled Kyle, who admittedly grew up a "space nerd." " 'That could be me doing that type of stuff.' And I was kinda hooked from there."

So, soon after, he enlisted in the Air Force and eventually ended up in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Blair Burdick II, a retired Senior Master Sergeant who worked with Kyle from 2018 until his retirement this past May, immediately noticed Kyle's work ethic and his ability to work well in a team.

In the two years that Burdick oversaw him, a couple of Kyle's responsibilities included sending commands to GPS satellites as a satellite systems operator and ensuring that proper signals were being delivered to the Air Force's war fighters. Burdick watched as Kyle worked his way up to becoming a crew chief, also known as a senior enlisted leader, of a 10-member team.

Walk-on experience a big help: Through Kyle's various roles, Burdick could see the foundation that being a walk-on college football player had provided him.

"When you look back and you look at Kyle and what he's accomplished in the Space Force, I definitely believe you can attribute a majority of his successes to what he went through with the Penn State football program," he said. "Looking at it from a teamwork aspect, working together, bringing a group of folks together to accomplish one mission."

Finding his calling: Even though Kyle has realized a new dream with the Space Force, he hasn't forgotten his first love of football.

He tries to return to Penn State every fall to attend the annual White Out game. Naturally, every time he steps foot in Beaver Stadium, he misses the game and thinks of what could've been had he continued to pursue a career in football.

Still, he's grateful he's found what he believes is his calling. And he has football to thank for that.

"It just looks like a light bulb went on," Rodney said. "Now you can see that was what he was meant to do."