Orange Coast College's Kyre Adams finds success through support outside of football

Kyre Adams is surrounded by just some of those who have helped him succeed at Orange Coast College. (Courtesy OCC Athletics)
Kyre Adams is surrounded by just some of those who have helped him succeed at Orange Coast College. (Courtesy OCC Athletics)

"When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me?"

-- Lyrics from The Beatles song, "Help!"

(Courtesy Orange Coast Athletics)

Kyre Adams has gone through more life experiences – both positive and negative – in his 20 years of life than most people experience over the span of several decades. His journey to Orange Coast College from Baltimore, Maryland began in the spring of 2016 following a successful prep career at Old Mill (MD) High School.

"I was getting some early looks at four-year schools, but because of my testing, it wasn't going all that well," Adams said. "I didn't know too much about junior college football in California, so I looked up some schools and contacted Orange Coast. From there, the coaches reached back to me and decided to make the move across the country. I was 17 years old, 160 pounds and skinny and I was basically moving myself out to California. My mom tried to help, but it wasn't easy."

In Adams' mind … it was football or bust. Dreams of playing football at the highest levels were all that mattered to him. Because of that single-minded focus, Adams excelled on the field … but struggled off of it.

As a freshman, Adams earned a spot on the team and played in four games as a defensive back, earning 11 tackles (seven solo). But off of the field, Adams struggled in the classroom and by the time his sophomore season was ready to begin, football was no longer an option.

While it might sound like a kid simply neglecting his grades, there was more to it for Adams. He was an 18-year-old kid, 3,000 miles from home. With little to no financial help, he had to not only put in his time and effort on the football, he also had to work hard in the classroom as well as put in 8-10 hours a day (or sometimes night) working to support himself with out-of-state tuition, bills and just life in general.

"At that time for me, it was all about football … nothing else mattered," Adams said. "School was a struggle for me and by the spring of 2016, I was ineligible and I was just trying to figure out how to live. I was 18, working nights, trying to get my grades up and it just seemed like I wasn't able to get a grip on things.

"The spring of 2017 was my lowest point through all of this," Adams said. "I was not able to play because of my grades … I was trying to pay my bills, working 6-10 hours a day at a moving company and trying and get my grades up by taking 1-2 classes, but I was racking up out-of-state tuition debt and I just didn't have the right mindset."

In addition to his struggles in California, Adams' life in Maryland was about to take a drastic turn for the absolute worst – the loss of two family members.

Adams' step-sister, Mia Gavin, died in the spring of 2017 due to sickle-cell anemia and just a few months later, one of Kyre's older brothers, Dantae Simmons, was shot and killed.

In spite of all of this, Adams still tried to find a way to find success at Orange Coast College in his first year, but the obstacles were not only great, they were increasing each day.

"My mom was trying her best to help from across the country, but she was struggling as well all by herself," Adams said. "Just trying to have enough money to eat and pay rent and I was also growing, so my clothes began to not fit. Then, in spring practice, that was the first time I really felt like calling it quits and going back to Baltimore."

When asked on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being a move back to Baltimore), Adams said. "I was at a 9.5."

New OCC head coach Bubba Gonzalez saw Adams struggle throughout his time at OCC and he and his coaching staff knew he needed help.

"Kyre completely embodies the 'JUCO struggle' when it comes to trying to be a student-athlete and you have to support yourself as well," Gonzalez said. "He's not a local kid, so he and his family struggled with making all of this work. That struggle affected his academics and with brother and step-sister both passing away, it was a real struggle for him.

"I think he came to California with nearly JUST the clothes on his back, myself, (assistant coach Twin Fernandes, head of OCC compliance Ashley Rippeon and then-PRESS Program leader Audrey Crouse) brainstormed ideas on ways to help Kyre and how to provide the most assistance possible."

But as important as having help and support is, for Adams, it was a matter of accepting the help and putting in the right time and effort into restoring his life and football career.

"With all of the things that were happening to me, with my step-sister and brother passing away and all of the other issues that I was dealing with, my head just wasn't in the right place," Adams said. "I didn't think it was possible for me to get to where I needed to get to."

In 2018, things began to turn around for Adams. He was trying to improve is grades and he and his roommates re-dedicated themselves to the game and focused on improving their lives.

"Me and my roommates really tried to focus on doing the right things, on and off of the field," Adams said. "We all didn't come out here to just enjoy California. We wanted to get on the football field and become successful. We all tried to pitch in and help each other out. We started going to church and working out every day … even if we had to sneak into 24-hour fitness to get it done."

But life wasn't done teaching Adams about adversity. In the spring of 2018, the 19-year-old blew out his knee, stopping his forward momentum to return to the football field. In addition, Adams' hard work in the classroom improved his grades, but not to the point of becoming eligible, further hindering his hopes and dreams.

"I never thought I was going to get back to the game again," Adams said. "I would call my mom every day for advice and guidance. I was trying to figure out how to get my life back in order and I was still grieving over the loss of my brother and step-sister."

Once Adams got to that level of hopelessness, it was then that the path back to his goals and dreams could begin. He knew he needed help to make this happen and he needed to not only seek out this help, but he also had to believe and trust the people who were trying to help … something that's not always easy to do.

"I needed help."

PART II: THE LONG ROAD BACK

Adams was stopped on all fronts … physically, academically, spiritually, financially … he was across the country from his family and there didn't seem to be a positive outlook anywhere in his future.

Time for the "Pirate Family" to step in and show Adams the right path to success.

OCC has tools for success, both on the athletic fields and off.

  • The OCC PRESS Program … a service that helps with tutoring and maintaining a solid educational pathway.
  • Student Equity Department, which offers a guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all students, while working to identify and address barriers that stand in the way of student success.
  • Athletic Training and Sports Medicine, which helps athletes overcome injuries and assists on returning the athlete back to competition.
  • Pirates Cove: A pantry and resources hub that is available to assist students facing food insecurity and in need of other basic needs.
  • In addition to these services, the Pirates are lucky to have several members of the athletics staff who simply care about each and every student-athlete that comes through the doors and wants to genuinely help and support these young people. Staff members like men's basketball assistant coach Jamaal Lee and Athletics' Compliance Specialist, Ashley Rippeon.

JAMAAL LEE

"While we all go through tough times in our lives, it's not always easy to truly connect and relate to each athlete that comes in here," Gonzalez said. "After working with Kyre for two years, I knew that we had a guy in our department … Jamaal Lee … who could possibly get through to Kyre and give him someone who has experienced some hardships in his life, but still succeeded."

Lee, a former OCC player who fought back from a rough path as well, not only succeeded as a standout player for the Pirates, he went on to Vanguard University, where he played for the Lions for two seasons before earning his degree and returning to the Pirates as an assistant coach for the past two years.

"In 2018, Coach Bubba wanted me to talk to Jamaal from the basketball team and my first thought was, 'he didn't play football,'" Adams said with a laugh. "At that point, I had a hard time trusting people and when people would try and give me advice, it usually went in one ear and out of the other. I agreed to meet him, but it was more of me doing a favor than actually really wanting to.

"I was ready to hear some type of 'motivation speech' and Jamaal didn't do that. He wanted me to write down my goals and work on things that I could control. He really helped me with the mental side of all of this and after a while we really began to form a bond between us. I began to trust him and I opened up to him. I liked his energy and with his past experiences, he and I definitely connected on a lot of levels.

"He showed me that I needed to talk to the professors more and explain to them my goals and aspirations and to not procrastinate. My priorities changed with all of this. Since I couldn't play football, I needed to switch my focus to my education and work and getting my life in order. Once I did that, I could then focus on playing football again."

Here is what Jamaal had to say about his relationship with Kyre …

"I first heard about Kyre through Ashley and Audrey," Lee said. "They mentioned Kyre to me upon starting my new position last year as the athletic mentoring specialist for student equity. They thought that I would be the perfect person for him to meet.

"When I first met Kyre he had a story … a story that quickly had me engaged and interested in being a part of. He shared some things with me that he had not been able to share with anyone since he had been here at OCC. After quickly gaining his trust, I was able to build a relationship with him and that led to an abrupt change in his daily process. 

"What I saw in Kyre that paralleled from my experiences was a kid that wanted to do things the right way but did not know how to go about it because it was hard for him to trust people because of prior exposure to constant letdowns and people not following through with certain promises, guarantees, and/or opportunities.

 "I knew I could make a difference in a way no one else could in Kyre's situation because of my experiences, relationships, and credibility that I had gained over time. Being able to share those experiences with Kyre quickly helped him open up to a bigger picture perspective. 

"The highs were watching Kyre transition into trying and being a part of something different than he's ever experienced. I enjohyed watching him start to take ownership in his actions and holding himself to a higher standard of accountability and taking his sport habits with work habits and start to apply them to everything else in his life.    

"During this process, I wanted Kyre to gain some confidence in the classroom that would help his process become superior rather than mediocre. After setting Kyre up for a road for success, he gained some confidence, and soon latched on to the endless possibilities his opportunity was really presenting.   

"It was all about creating a trustworthy environment, building a realistic plan, and gaining confidence through that realistic plan and attack it! 

"Since Kyre was my very first student, I got to work with and I saw him persevere through some tremendous amount of adversity. One thing I remember vividly, is the day Kyre told me he was appreciating school more than his sport! This blew my mind, because this was a kid who really never had success in school and had a huge overload to his sport. However, he found a new love for school that he had never experienced and is committed to stay and finish to get his AA degree. I am so proud of this kid on so many levels. He has shown tremendous growth both on and off the field. I knew that if Kyre had a realistic chance to have a reset or as close to a fresh start as possible, he would take advantage of it. He has been my success story and a true inspiration for our campus as he continues to knock down obstacles because he has gained true purpose in his life and it is amazing to watch. 

"I cannot wait to attend Kyre's graduation and watch him walk across that stage knowing what he went through to get there! OCC is a place that opened up huge doors for me, and I am extremely proud to pay it forward.  

PIRATES COVE

There is an alarming number of students throughout the California Community College system who are trying to better their situation, while still not having the basic necessities of life. Kyre Adams was one of those people and through on-campus services like the Pirates Cove, Adams was able to stay on his path to redemption without having to worry about things like where/when his next meal was going to come from.

"When I first heard about the Pirates Cove, that couldn't have come at a better time for me," Adams said. "I was struggling with everything and eating nothing but cereal and oatmeal every single day. This service does an amazing job of not only helping with food, but also hygienic items that people can't afford when times get tough, like deodorant and toothpaste and things like that. The Pirates Cove really was a blessing for me and I can't thank them enough."

Pirates' Cove accepts donations of non-perishable goods all year round in Journalism 108.

Pantry Donation List:

  • Applesauce
  • Boxed milk
  • Canned Fruit (water packed)
  • Canned Meat and Fish (water packed)
  • Canned or Boxed Soup (low sodium)
  • Canned Vegetables (low sodium)
  • Dried Beans
  • Granola, protein or breakfast bars
  • Jelly
  • Mac n cheese, mashed potatoes
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Natural Nut and Seed Butters
  • Oatmeal, Whole Grain Cereal
  • Raw Nuts and Dried Fruit
  • Rice-Brown or White (bagged)
  • Whole Grain Pasta

For more information please contact Pirates' Cove at (714) 432-6892.

STUDENT EQUITY PROGRAM

In addition to basic food and necessities, students throughout the country struggle with affording the basic learning tools required to succeed at the community college level. If people are struggling with life at the most basic of levels, things like text books and other various forms of educational requirements are next to impossible to obtain. OCC Student Equity shows students on campus that opportunities for success are available for ALL students, regardless of their current situations. 

"A mission of our office is to meet the student where they are and provide them with a community, resources and academic support," said Carlos Amescua, OCC's student success & equity specialist. "Our office was first introduced to Kyre in 2016, he was struggling academically due to financial barriers that included food and home insecurity. This was before Pirates' Cove opening and our office was starting to receive referrals from campus constituents of students who were in need of basic needs. Through our office efforts, we were able to help Kyre secure housing accommodations, furniture for his apartment, and grocery items. Along with the resources that the Student Equity Program provides to include transportation support, textbook stipend and laptop lending program. It is students like Kyre and his resiliency through challenging times that demonstrate the great potential that can be reached when they are provided with resources to flourish in school. As an office we are proud of all of Kyre's accomplishment's and excited to see where his hard work ethic takes him in his academic journey."

It was this type of support and guidance that helped Adams focus solely on getting his academics and his knee injury in order to get back onto the football field.

"I wouldn't be able to get my education without the Student Equity Department," Adams said. "Kids that are struggling to pay for rent and food simply don't have the ability to pay for textbooks and things like that. This department was able to help me find a way to make my education a reality. Carlos Amescua and Rachel Norman were like counselors for me and really helped me stay at peace with everything that was going wrong around me. I learned how important it is to talk to people … people I normally wouldn't have talked to before. When I was my most stressed out, they really helped and they became some of my best friends. I'll never be able to thank them enough."

OCC PRESS PROGRAM

The PRESS Program is designed to support the academic goals of student-athletes at Orange Coast College by connecting them to the resources needed for academic success. This program is committed to supporting and equipping student-athletes with the skills necessary to be successful in the classroom, on the field or court, and in the workplace.

Audrey Crouse was the PRESS Program coordinator during Adams' journey back to the football field and she immediately saw the program work for him.

"Kyre has demonstrated an incredible amount of perseverance, persistence and dedication in the two years I have known him," Crouse said. "The ways in which he values and expresses loyalty is a critical component of his success and something that I am encouraged by when I see him on campus: he has remained loyal to his goals (by never giving up, even when barriers stood in his way), to his team (referring to his teammates and coaches as family), and to the people that have and continue to support him along his journey (nurturing those relationships by remaining connected, making weekly visits to the office to share updates, etc.). He changed his mindset from 'I can't' to 'I will' and he has not allowed any obstacle to stand in the way of making progress toward his goals.

"He now smiles with joy and satisfaction, rather than defeat and frustration. He is gracious, kind and focused."

 For Kyre, just getting the foundation for academic success was the key ingredient to allowing his competitive personality to work to his advantage in the classroom.

"My parents were always pretty strict with grades, but for whatever reason, school just never clicked for me," Adams said. "I needed help in improving and people like Jamaal and Carlos and Audrey were there for me. They never put me down and they all just kept telling me to keep smiling and work hard. But I learned that it was OK to ask for help. You can't always do what you want to do and with people like them around me, I was able to believe that I could get back on the field again. When I become successful in life I want to come back and donate whatever I can to this school because of the support they've given me."

ASHLEY RIPPEON

Sometimes all you need to get through a tough spot in life is someone to simply BE there. Someone who opens their office door for you and just listens and offers unconditional love and support. OCC's athletic and compliance specialist, Ashley Rippeon, provided that type of support in the simplest form ... she simply was there and listened.

 

"I always tell athletes that I am not here to judge their situation and circumstances, that we are only here to support them through what's next," Rippeon said. "Kyre was one of the first student-athletes to really lean in and trust those words. The moment I felt a shift in him was summer of 2017. I had no idea that a football athlete from Baltimore, Maryland was going to change my world, professionally and personally. We were leaving a meeting with the football team and something felt off about the way he was carrying himself. I asked him if he wanted to talk and he hesitated but came back to my office. The vulnerability and courage it took for him to open up and ask for help created a space for an opportunity to say 'what's next?'

"At the end of the summer he came in after a tough few months and I decided that we needed more. This young man deserved more, he was capable, articulate, driven, and more than ready to jump into a plan we created to surround him with all the right people. His whole body/mind changed that semester. He was standing tall, smiling all the time, and checking in beaming with excitement that he knew he was turning things around. He was inspiring. He is the type of kid that walks into a room and instantly changes the dynamic based on what he brings. His smile is utterly contagious and he is a natural leader.  

"I learned so much about myself through him. He let me in, he trusted me to be something I didn't know I could be. We've cried together, laughed, and most of all, he created an impression on my life that will never go away. I know that he has tasted success and that he will crush whatever the next obstacle in life comes his way because he is by far, the strongest young man I have had the honor of getting to know. I felt connected to the athletes I coached, but getting to be a part of Kyre's journey at OCC has been my favorite season of my professional career."

Said Adams  ... "Ashley was one of those people who always had faith in me. Right away, I felt like she knew me and her positive attitude really kept me motivated. She was my happiness. I knew that if I was struggling, I could just go to her and she'd always be there for me. She helped me bring peace to myself. She has her own life and her own family and her own job, but she's always putting us first."

ATHLETIC TRAINING/SPORTS MEDICINE

With Kyre's life finding stability, next up was his physical rehab to return to the football field ... enter into the picture OCC athletic trainers Chaz Kekipi and Mike Nakahara. 

"Kyre and I have been down a pretty long road together," Kekipi said. "He started here the same time as I did in the fall of 2016. He was in a group of athletes that I remember seeing on campus and thought to myself, 'those are the type of kids I can get to buy into my philosophy of athletic training.' In this business it's all about rapport with student-athletes. If you can earn the trust of a few, you will be rewarded with the trust of many. He was with three or four other football players and they were asking me if I had any good tips for them to stay healthy. I invited them to come by and see me so I could show them a few things. I didn't know it at the time, but in addition to earning the respect of this group and the ones to follow, I formed a relationship with Kyre that has seen highs and lows along his journey at OCC.

"Kyre played in four games his freshman season. While he wasn't a standout player, he was a good athlete and he had passion for the game. I saw him in the spring of 2017 as I was setting up for a baseball game. I asked him how he was doing and he told me that he likely wouldn't be eligible the following season. It was one of those low moments hearing that news, knowing that he could potentially be a big contributor come fall 2017. I reminded him that academics are first and that football would be waiting for him on the other end. He sat out the next fall (2017) and was preparing himself for a return the next year.

"In spring 2017 I saw a totally different person. Kyre was ultra-focused on the season ahead. He seemed to have found his way in the classroom and was a healthy, thriving contributor to a team – now without a head coach – looking to prove themselves. An injury would threaten to steal away yet another season. Kyre was determined to return from the injury he sustained in spring 2017. He promised to take time off to let it heal but unfortunately it didn't work out. That didn't keep him from attempting a return literally every single day. At one point I had to sit him down and flat out say I wouldn't let him attempt a return again for a couple weeks. Kyre's determination to make a return to the field was fierce and almost vengeful in a way. So much had been taken from him over the course of three years that he would not relent.

"This fall was the first time Kyre and I both felt good going into a season. He was healthy and I was excited to see his growth play out to potential on the field. Kyre has matured into a great young leader and my hope is that he can use what he has learned here at OCC to better the people around him."

Nakahara added, "I haven't been at OCC for very long but have had the opportunity to work with Kyre since starting back in March. My time working with him may not be as long as anyone else's but from the first day that I met him, I could tell that he was a very determined individual. I wasn't around for his injury but I could tell how detrimental it was to him. Kyre was in the clinic every day over the summer and into training camp. He has a busy schedule balancing out football, school and life. Regardless of how busy his schedule is, he still manages to find time to get into the clinic and rehab."

THE HARD WORK PAYS OFF!

After two long years of struggle, sacrifice, pain, doubt and hopelessness, Kyre Adams overcame it all and began to see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. 

"Once we were able to provide some support, Kyre really came around," Gonzalez said. "He took the help and he soared. His grades improved and he's been a leader for us, on and off the field.

"Sometimes kids at this level, just have too much to face. Now, Kyre has the foundation to succeed and he's focused on his dream of playing at the four-year level. He's been able to not only stay eligible, but he's excelling in school now. This young man has carried and is still carrying a heavy burden and he's always here with a smile on his face. He loves being here and not many ADULTS, let alone a teenage kid, can overcome what Kyre has had to endure over the past few years.

"This kid knows what he wants and nothing is going to stand in his way. He's not going to stay down when things get tough. I've got so much respect for this young man.

"When he told me he was eligible and allowed to play football again, he gave me the biggest hug and thanked me. This is why I do this for a living. He's an outstanding young man and he wants to be a leader and a mentor for others."

OCC Athletic Director Jason Kehler was there and he provided the good news to Adams and to the rest of his Pirate teammates.

"Two moments really stood out to me as those 'yeah, this is why we do this' times," Kehler said. "The first came at our eligibility roll call, where I call out the names of eligible football players prior to the first game. Coach Gonzalez got the team lined up on the goal line and I stood on the 10 to call out the names. I had to take a moment before calling the first name because I looked down at my sheet and it was Kyre. He did it. He was eligible and it was so fitting in that moment that he was the first name I called out.

"The second time was at our first game at Ventura when I saw Kyre in uniform. That's when it became real, that was the culmination of everyone's efforts. But most importantly, it was the culmination of Kyre's efforts. All of his hard work paid off and he got back to his ultimate goal; playing football."

Adams knows that even with all of the love and support he received outside of the football field, he could have easily been forgotten about from the football team, simply because he wasn't playing. But, Gonzalez and the rest of the coaching staff would not allow that to happen.

"I've known Coach Bubba since 2016, but it really wasn't until 2018 when I really got to know him and he got to know me," Adams said. "I started to mature more as a person and the fact that he still was concerned with how I was doing … even though I couldn't play on the team … really uplifted me. He took the time to help me and care about me even though I couldn't participate. It was the first time I really began to talk to the coaches and they always included me with the team.

"He showed me that I needed goals beyond the football field. I need to get my degree so I can help support my family and be an example for my younger brother.

"Once I got healthy and I was eligible to play again, I couldn't wait to get back out there," Adams said. "I take NOTHING for granted anymore. I love the early-morning workouts … I love the grind and the process that, in the past, I took for granted. I've been playing football every year since I was five-years-old and to have that taken away from me, I truly appreciate now. This break made me enjoy working and I know not everyone gets the opportunity. I need to not be so hard on myself.

"The first game at Ventura … the night before the game … I slept in my cleats. After the warmups, I was the first player in the locker room dressed and ready to go. I was listening to some music that my late brother and I would listen to for motivation and I just broke down and cried.

"On the field, I try to give my 100% on every play and to lead by example. If players get hurt and we are down to just a few guys at our position, we need to go out there and battle through the injuries. Win or lose, those guys and this team will always be my family."

Back on the field as a defensive back and return specialist for the Pirates, Adams has played in all five games for the Pirates this year and has six returns for 111 total yards. On defense, he's fourth on the team in tackles with 21 (14 solo). But in the grand scheme of things, the numbers on the field do not come close to the success Adams has created for himself off of the field. With a little help from those in the OCC family, Adams is now flourishing and the sky is the limit for his future.

"I'm still looking for that right fit for me as far as a career goes," Adams said. "I'd love to become an entrepreneur and be able to give back to OCC as well as my community in Baltimore. I want to be an example for others. Everything is possible in life and I don't want people to struggle the way I did.

"Life is a BEAUTIFUL struggle."